March 21 — “Shaking Paper” by Cat Power

Chan Marshall (Cat Power)

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Shaking Paper” by Cat Power (2003, from the album You Are Free). Cat Power is the stage name of 40-year old singer-songwriter Chan (pronounced like “Shawn”) Marshall, who has recorded six proper albums and two albums of cover songs since 1995. Her music could be categorized as soul- and blues-influenced indie-folk-rock.

The Atlanta native now lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend, the actor Giovanni Ribisi.

She became an indie darling straight out of the gate with the release of her album Dear Sir in 1995. One year and two albums later, she had signed to Matador records, which made her even more of an indie darling. And a mystery woman. What Would the Community Think was a breakout success in 1996 and it set her on a path to become indie rock royalty.

Unfortunately, at that point in her life, she wasn’t doing a good job of promoting her albums, or even presenting herself. She was having mental health problems and was struggling with alcoholism. This may or may not have played a role in the fact that she had horrible stage fright (or at least horrible stage presence) in those days. The one time that I saw her play live was in support of What Would the Community Think, and I was a little put off by her stage presence. Her hair was messy and pulled over her eyes. She had on an unbecoming outfit. She spent the majority of the show playing with her back to the audience. There was little or no banter. It was easy to tell that she didn’t want to be there. I started to read similar accounts of her live performances, so I figured it was more than just a “bad night”.

I haven’t seen her since that night many years ago, but I’ve heard and read that her shows are much better these days, and she enjoys playing.

Despite her demons, she kept putting out really amazing records. Not as rapidly as most fans would have liked, but every album was as good or better than the one before it. At least in my opinion. I don’t usually count covers records or novelty records as part of an artist’s discography, and I didn’t even bother getting The Covers Record (2000) or Jukebox (2008). Also, in fairness, I don’t have The Greatest(2006), which was her last “proper” album. The point is, though, that I like each “proper” record more than the one before it. Free is my favorite, but I’m left to wonder a couple of things. First off, I wonder why I never got The Greatest. Secondly, I’m left to wonder if it will temporarily become my new favorite when I finally get around to getting it. There’s a new one coming out this summer, if all goes as planned.

Part of the answer to the first question is that the years 2005-2007 were kind of rough around here. I didn’t buy or even listen to very much new music, and I wasn’t very aware of new releases. How I fell out of the loop, I don’t know.

Today’s song, like a lot of Cat Power songs, features some stream-of-consciousness lyrics with no real thread.
“Shaking Paper” by Cat Power

I won’t try to make sense of the

Big shot guns with no guns at all
Big shot army with no army at all

lines other than to guess it means that there’s a lot of “talking loud and saying nothing” in the world.

I don’t know what the following means, but I like the way it sounds

Demons despise the sound of shaking paper
But guess what
I found out
that you do too

What I like the most about this song is the rhythm. That’s Dave Grohl (of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame) on the drums. On a couple of songs from this album, Eddie Vedder lends backing vocals. Warren Ellis of Dirty Three also makes a guest appearance, but not on this song.

Actually, this song is nothing without the brilliant drumming of Dave Grohl. I’ve tried to imagine the stripped-down version of the song. And it’s probably okay, but absolutely nothing compared to this.

Normally, I only suggest the use of headphones when there’s something special going on in the stereo field. There isn’t with this song, but I still recommend the use of a good set of headphones for this song. Just make sure that you’re not supposed to be doing anything else at the same time. It’s easy to get completely immersed or submerged in it.

The LP of You Are Free appears to be out of print, but you can get a new CD or digital download or FLAC from the Matador store here.

For extra credit, watch the staggering slow motion video of Manny Pacquiao working the speed bag while a new version of an old Cat Power song “King Rides By” plays. The video was shot using fancy high-speed cameras by her fella Giovanni Ribisi, and is a joint effort by Chan Marshall and Manny Pacquiao to raise money for The Festival of Children Foundation, which helps “improve the lives of children by strengthening the charities that serve them”. The “new” song, which may or may not appear on the new Cat Power record, scheduled for release some time this summer, is available as a download with a contribution to The Festival of Children. The original version of “King Rides By” appears on What Would The Community Think.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

3 responses to “March 21 — “Shaking Paper” by Cat Power

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