Columbia author sifts through legends behind Cat Power album for 33 1/3 series

Rock ‘n’ roll lives off its legends.

Not just about the strength of marquee souls, living and dead, that transmit its strains – but smaller fables that swell and recede to the beat of the music. Mystical stories of how a guitarist got a spectral sound from his instrument. Passionate memories of walking into the right club at the right time and then witnessing love at first sight on stage.

The legend behind Cat Power’s 1998 album “Moon Pix” shakes, shakes and rolls all who hear it. According to the story, musical mastermind Chan Marshall’s fourth album delivered as much as it was designed, arising as a response to the living, waking nightmare Marshall experienced while alone on a farm in South Carolina. .

This origin story certainly captivates Donna Kozloskie.

“If people were to find her body as a result of this nightmare, she wanted to leave behind evidence of her fate,” the Columbia author writes in her new book on the album. “She grabbed her acoustic guitar, and into a tape recorder, she sang. She sang what would become most of the Moon Pix album.”

But Kozloskie, a filmmaker, festival programmer and writer, is even more interested in the myths that grew up around “Moon Pix,” the legends that clung to it like metal shavings to a magnet.

The burning question “How do you make a legend?” animates his book, one of the most recent titles in the 33 1/3 catalog. The long series, almost 20 years strong, builds a bible of modern music, one album and one book at a time.

The 33 1/3 series honors the work of venerable music journalists such as Amanda Petrusich and Annie Zaleski as well as musician-turned-author Sean Nelson, Colin Meloy and John Darnielle – all diving deep into records whose stories are worth telling. .

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“A Moon Pix Refraction”

“Moon Pix” is a remarkable album, oscillating between moods and states of being: from bouts of fever to hushed confessions, from charming coos to puffy sounds of defiance. Marshall mixes musical colors like a painter – folk, alternative rock, jazz, primary shades of blues.

Kozloskie first encountered “Moon Pix” as a teenager, following its release. Given an important focus of her book – how listeners experienced the album in a very specific media landscape of the late 90s – she found it curious and instructive to remember meeting “Moon Pix” visually. .

In a brief, beautiful moment when vinyl was cheaper than CDs, Marshall’s face looked at Kozloskie on the album cover, she said. The black-and-white photography scratched an aesthetic itch similar to “Night of the Hunter,” a 1955 thriller Kozloskie had just watched.

A video for the song “Cross Bones Style” also had a gravitational pull. Director Brett Vapnek’s clip looked like an “alternative GAP commercial,” Kozloskie said, with “normal-looking” women deliberately moving, often in sync, to Marshall’s slippery, mid-tempo song.

“I don’t know what culture it comes from or who these people are, but I’m drawn to it,” she recalls.

“Moon Pix” has “always been in the background of my life,” Kozloskie said. The physical vinyl she bought was ruined by a flood – which still suits the distorted and weathered sound of the album – but her songs remain a constant presence.

The writing of the book was an opportunity to weave several threads together: the savagery of the beginnings of the album, its creative coherence and the cultural moment at which it arrived.

The end of the 90s represented a last and long revolution for a certain musical business model. Creativity, delivery, music journalism and listener engagement were all about to change with the crescendo of the internet, becoming more democratic, direct and, in some real ways, more slippery.

Kozloskie envisioned the book as an episodic reading experience, much like scrolling through a stream, allowing information to snowball, she said. Gathering history and collecting personal legends, she hoped to at least address the question of how we create collective impressions.

“This book is a refraction of Moon Pix,” she wrote in her first author note. “It’s a smashing of each track into pieces that bring it to life and reflections on your place in that splintering and that life – yes, you!”

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Kozloskie discusses “Moon Pix” with sound engineers, photographers, filmmakers, journalists and tour managers who collaborated with or orbited Cat Power at the time.

Viewers and writers like former New York Times scribe Ben Ratliff discuss shows where Marshall broke down or left his cocoon to become a folk darling — depending on who you ask. Since “Moon Pix” is considered a break-up album, touching the end of Marshall’s relationship with fellow freelance bard Bill Callahan, Kozloskie delves into the music and mythos of break-up records in Q&As with his own ex.

And seeking to understand how stories and songs find us, she said, the book traces the story of “Moonshiner,” a folk song that Marshall covers on the record – “You’re already in hell,” screams she on one of the album’s most popular tracks. disturbing and beautiful moments.

“How do you write a story that’s representative of everyone?” Kozloskie wondered during the creative process. Bringing these voices together to summon a kind of rock ‘n’ roll choir, she both models and explores a response.

The book acknowledges that we still collect our facts and fictions, Kozloskie said — and that our collective memories are sometimes more accurate than “official” stories.

“…It’s the narrative that lingers, a porous memory smoothed with age and constantly seen across different lifetimes,” she wrote early on. “Collectively it is decided which parts of which stories will remain and what futures those stories may become.”

“Moon Pix was my salvation”

Cat Power performs onstage at Vulture Festival Presents Cat Power at Webster Hall on May 20, 2017 in New York City.

Kozloskie saves his own story with “Moon Pix” for the book’s final chapter.

The album “has always been on the periphery of my vision, in short, intense shards of memories that have deeply marked who I think I am. Some of these shards are told here as stories, others m ‘belong,’ she wrote.

Spending so much time with the record, “Moon Pix” still feels like an “enigma” to Kozloskie. It is perhaps a cliché to describe art as leaving us with more questions than answers – as this book does. But Kozloskie seems to believe that asking better questions frees us to breach the world in which art is created and continues to evolve.

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Getting into the conversation around “Moon Pix” and Cat Power, the book doesn’t rely on legend as much as it does, Kozloskie said, adding to a cultural moment in which we sift through the ways in which the art and history are collaborative. In this way, the book is an extension of his life’s artistic goals, regardless of project or medium.

“I consider writing about music and making art and programming movies … part of the art, not part of the story,” she said.

Kozloskie leaves the book’s final word to Marshall, capturing a quote from a 2018 Guardian interview: “Moon Pix was my salvation as a very confused youngster. And suddenly I see it.”

What else might be seen through the striped lens of the album, suddenly or gradually, is left off the page, for the reader.

Aarik Danielsen is the Features and Culture Editor for Tribune. Contact him at [email protected] or by calling 573-815-1731. Find him on Twitter @aarikdanielsen.

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