T H E  A M P  D I A R Y

Thursday, 1 June, 2000
Cat Power

There's no way I'm going to make the same mistake twice. Last time I came to this venue, 2 weeks ago, I slunk in with no makeup on and wearing old sandals held together with a safety pin. Last time I came here, I got upset and burst into tears. Well, that's not going to happen tonight. No way.

Tonight I'm fully prepared - got my hair up in little white star clips, wearing my new green velvet skirt I got for a quid at Brick Lane on Sunday, the one with five stiff black petticoats that makes it stick out like a little lady who sits on the back of the toilet with a looroll hidden up her frock, and on my feet I'm sporting black vinyl boots with laces all up the front that I got at Sue 'Funky Diva' Bamford's clothes swapping party on Bank Holiday Monday. I look like a strange mid-Victorian urchin, or a smart working girl who was a goth in a former life and doesn't remember it, but can't stop herself occasionally twirling her hands in a funny way when she's out dancing.

Anyway it doesn't matter. No, I'm not just saying that because it's ethically and morally de rigeur for today's young lady to pretend she doesn't care about clothes. Tonight, it really doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because the moment Chan Marshall steps up onto the stage, keeping her back to the audience as long as possible, hunching over her white guitar, her hair falling into her face hiding everything but her mouth - from that moment on, nothing else matters. Nothing else exists, except her, Chan, Cat Power, a 28-year-old Matador signing with a voice like the tiny feathers on birds' legs, or dewy strands of spiders webs, or other things that are soft and compelling and utterly utterly magical.

In photos I've seen from before her hair is short, and she's smiling and holding her fingers like there's an invisible cigarette between them, but tonight, two years on, her hair touches her shoulders. It curls into her eyes and over her nose, and wraps inwards round her neck. It's like she's an animal, a baby bird, the pink of her chin and lips when she sings like the bare plucked naked parts of birdflesh you recoil from in nature programmes, because its vulnerablilty and rawness upsets you.

We're at the side of the stage so all I see is the weft of hair hanging semi-greasy down her back, her jeans pouching loosely around her bum, and her feet in their beat up brown boots. Her legs move constantly, like a cat on a duvet clenching its claws round and round your cotton sheets, but without a cat's contentment. She slides one foot across the floor, then holds it in the air for an instant, then smacks down on the stage with the right side of her foot, then the left. Even when she's sitting at the piano her feet are jostling round under there, as though she's furiously pumping the pedals, even though she's not.

She doesn't halt for applause, blending one song into another. It feels like she's so shy that it's a huge, huge effort for her to stand up there and sing in her beautiful, aching voice: like she's so shy, we're honoured to have her there, honoured to hear her sing. There are stories of her rushing offstage sometimes to be sick with nerves; of her gazing, mortified, as someone leaves the room, only recommencing her song when someone else yells that the leaver had only popped to the toilet.

I look at everyone and everyone's gazing at Chan, hardly breathing, like they're trying to be extra nice to her, gazing and trying and wanting to put love and support and hugs in their eyes, on the rare offchance she might glance through her fringe and notice them. I wish she was my kid, so I could be proud and despairing and fiercely protective of her, because that's how I want to feel about any child I have, and that's how I feel already, anyway, right now, about beautiful, beautiful Cat Power.

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