Cat Power recorded a song with Iggy Pop. It’s a great song, sort of a slant cover of Bowie’s “Heroes.” The arrangement and themes are very similar but it also stands on its own. It’s got that same sort of slow, steady, driving propulsion and Chan sings about how it’s up to you to be a superhero. For as much as I’m always going to love her earlier work, this might be the best song she’s ever done. It’s a long song, and I’m usually on board for long songs. Every time I listen to it I get lost inside it, and then just when it passes the six-minute mark and I feel like it should be about to fade out, Iggy comes in. It’s so amazing. Chan has been singing her heart out for twice the length of the standard pop song, and her voice is as powerful and mysterious and beautiful as ever, and then right there at what ought to be the end of the song this croaky old man’s voice joins in on the harmonies and it should be jarring or derailing but instead it’s just the opposite and the song keeps on going for almost another five minutes. That Iggy appearance gives you exactly what you needed even though you had no idea you needed it until that very moment. It makes a great song into a perfect song.
You would love it. I think you would, at least. Knowing you, you might disapprove of the whole second phase of Cat Power’s career, the bigger sound and the soul-influenced production. You might have rolled your eyes at everything from The Greatest on and just cued up Moon Pix or Dear Sir for the thousandth time. I remember being annoyed when Modest Mouse had their big hit record and you dismissed them and said Isaac Brock had forgotten how to write good lyrics. Maybe it would have been the same way with Chan Marshall, but I doubt it.
I don’t think we talked much about these past few Cat Power albums, if we ever discussed them at all. That’s a shame. I remember when You Are Free came out and I got an advance copy from the magazine I was writing for. The first thing I did was drive over to the coffee shop we worked at to show it off to you. We popped it into the CD player and did our best to soak in “I Don’t Blame You” while customers bobbed in and out of the periphery. It’s still one of my favorite albums by anyone, even though the live show we saw her play later that month was maybe the worst show I’ve ever seen by an artist I loved. Even that felt kind of special, though, you and me and Myra standing in the front row at The Howlin’ Wolf, staring in confusion as Chan and her band slugged back whiskey and played sloppy, mumbly renditions of all the songs we came to hear. It may not have been good but it was memorable. Sometimes I think that counts for more.
It’s a funny thing. Every now and then I’ll be out at a record store or driving home from work or in the kitchen making dinner for my family and a song will come on that I remember listening to with you, something that we talked about and bonded over years ago. “Papa Was a Rodeo,” or “Grandma’s Hands,” or “Hang on St. Christopher,” or “I’ll Be Yr Bird.” Or something from You Are Free. I’ll hear those songs and of course it makes me think of you and miss you and miss me and miss us back when we were young dummies with the time and inclination to talk about our favorite songs for hours on end.
But what happens more often than that is that a song comes on that you never got to hear, and I’ll think about how much you would have liked it or hated it or been unimpressed by it at first but learned to like it once it had time to grow on you. And suddenly it will feel like the most tragic thing imaginable that you’ll never hear that song. And I’ll think that if I could get you back for just an hour I wouldn’t even need to speak to you, just sit you down in front of a stereo and play you some of the songs you’ve been missing and then send you back to wherever with a brand new tune stuck in your head.
Cat Power recorded a song with Iggy Pop. I’ve read that she asked David Bowie to be on it first but he was unavailable. It came out two months too late for us to talk about it. I think you would have liked it. One of its refrains says, “You ain’t got nothin’ but time, and it ain’t got nothin’ on you.” I think about that a lot, how it could mean either that you have all the time in the world or that time is the only thing you truly have in this world. I wonder what you would have made of it. I suppose I always will. I think you would have liked it.