Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The anti rock star

Last week I went to see one of my favorite musicians perform at the MFA. Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) is the most reluctant rock star I've ever seen.

She has the most beautiful, other worldly voice you could imagine, and the artistry with which she lets it rise out of her body leaves me with chills up my spine. But the reason I mention her here (besides the inspiration of her great song writing), is that she is notorious for getting on stage, stumbling half way through a song, then having a full on panic attack on stage. She rarely gets through a song with out profuse apology, or some kind of strange spastic physical reaction to performing.

At one point at the concert last week, she collapsed on the piano she was playing (mid song of course) after crying out to the sound guy at the side of the stage "I feel like you're staring at me!!!" The poor sound guy hit the deck behind the sound equiptment and stayed there for the rest of the show. Why? Because he was so transfixed by her, he wouldn't dare do anything else to interupt her singing.

What is my point? The sound guy was not the only one who felt as he did. Every person in the audience was at the edge of their seat, hoping for her success.. Chan Marshall's fans are LOYAL and they love her (as I do)... though she is possibly the worst performer I've ever seen. Her nervousness and panic are met with shouts from the audience for her to keep going, that she sounds great!

Why am I mentioning this on a children's book blog? I like to look to many forms of art for inspiration and guidence as I work my way into the artist that I want to be... and most recently I have been thinking about how I communicate about my work, and how I present myself to people. When it comes down to it, in order for marketing, promotion, and "branding" to not feel fake and uncomfortable, they have to somehow evolve out of the person that you are, to expand on a truth that exists in your work, otherwise it will just feel like selling out.

In her own twisted, self-effacing way, this is what Chan is doing- she is being herself, an extension of what she writes about in her songs, and her fans love her all the more for it, in an industry that is generally all about appearance. I think what can strike a tone in people, whether in music or books, is a kernal of truth, something genuine. Thinking about marketing as just another form of self expression makes it far more compelling to me.

This might seem like a long drawn out way to get a simple point across, but seeing her perform made me feel inspired so I thought I'd share.

What other round about experiences do you incorporate into your philosophy as writers and artists?


alvinaling said...

Ah, I remember going to a Cat Power concert with you in Boston. I was so mystified and disturbed by her seemingly imminent breakdown, and yet everyone else in the audience was gazing at her, entranced. She certainly has a beautiful voice.

I think it's a good lesson, because we're always talking about "marketability" even in children's books, but the reality is that there are all kind of authors and illustrators.

Anonymous said...

Before Cat Power there was a truly odd and truly wonderful songstress by the name of Tulip Sweet and Her Trail of Tears. She was a cabaret act in Minneapolis who would essentially get on stage and look, for all the world, like a 5-year-old performing in front of a mirror. Her songs, however, were deeply intelligent fun smart pieces. Then she moved to Manhattan and stopped performing. I've been heartbroken ever since. Someday I'll write an ode to her.