I remember a little stack of communal burned CDs and a little CD player that was perhaps always playing. Not far away was a freezer full of fruit flies, and a variety of lab equipment. This is where I spent long tedious days counting fruit flies and messing with spread sheets.
When I think about that lab, the stack of CDs was probably seen as a staple necessity – as much as food or water. That stack was the result of a lot of contributions from students all over the world, and through it I was introduced to a lot of the music that stayed with me for years. One of the CDs that was on my personal rotation was Cat Power’s ‘You Are Free’. The funny thing is that I don’t know if I realized how much I liked it until I’d heard an offhand comment by my supervisor about it, causing pause for thought. At some point that I realized that I’d been looking for something like her music for a long time — something soft and melancholy, but… well, it was exactly this. Cat Power.
I remember seeing her in concert one winter, when she was playing with The Memphis Rhythm Blues Band. In a lull between songs, a man in the audience spoke up, and said, in as careful a tone as he could muster, “Could you … please … please play Metal Heart?”
If you’ve ever seen her in concert, especially back in the 2000s, you may be familiar with a kind of brittle tension held by the crowd. No matter how well things are going, it seems to be there. Now, this was a song that I didn’t know… but i had the idea that the majority of the crowd was holding its breath, and after a pause… the memory is vague at this point but I want to say that Cat Power looked up from tuning her guitar and said something like “Well, thank you for asking so nicely. But I don’t play that song anymore.”
The first song on You are Free (“I Don’t Blame You“) has a line
you were swinging your guitar around
because they wanted you to play that sound
but you didn’t want to play
But I’d always heard it as “They wanted you to hear that song/that you didn’t want to play” and I wondered if “Metal Heart” was the song she was talking about.
There were 3 albums that I listened to regularly over the past couple of decades: The Covers Record, You Are Free, and The Greatest. I just wasn’t able to listen to the other albums – I tried, but they never stuck. And after that concert, I made a special point of listening to Metal Heart, but I just couldn’t do it. I mean, I pressed play and I sat down to listen, but I heard the music play, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t really hear the song — it wouldn’t register — it wouldn’t sink in. I couldn’t really hear it, and I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what the song sounded like, or to hum it or anything.
It was like one of those dreams, where you just can’t understand someone, or you can’t pick something up, or you can’t make a noise or get someone’s attention. No matter how many attempts you make; no matter how hard you try.
Sometimes that happens to me when I’m outside, and I see someone that looks interesting or familiar, but I can’t see their face. Either they walk by an obscuring object and match my pace and remain obscured, or they turn away at just the right time — and then you look up and notice that you can’t see anyone’s face. And you wonder if you are in a dream or nightmare, but you are not — you’re awake. And when that his happening I got out of my way just to see another persons’s face — just to make sure that other faces still exist, and that I am not, in fact, in some kind of nightmare.
And so it was with this song. Until yesterday. Yesterday when I put on one of her newer albums that I hadn’t really listened to yet, Jukebox. Listening idly, a song came on that caught my attention, and when I looked, it saw that it was a newer recording of Metal Heart. And I could hear it. And it was a song that I liked. I then pulled up the original version, and listened to it — and I could hear it, too! I wonder if perhaps now, this newly unlocked song will act as a gateway to listen to the other albums — the ones I couldn’t seem to hear before. Perhaps all of her older albums would now open up to me.
But how strange, that something would keep me from hearing a song for so long — for so very long until now. I can’t help but wonder ‘why?’
Perhaps time will tell…