The clubs in South Beach are packed on Friday nights and filled with people unlikely to know who Cat Power is, and even if they did, it might not resonate with the same intensity as R Kelly, whose bass is bouncing out from the club before us. After paying a hefty cover charge from the wrong side of the velvet ropes, Marshall and I go upstairs to the lounge area of a place called Amika, where “Ignition (Remix)” is playing. Every time Gimme that doot doot/ Gimme that beep beep comes on, she alternately raises and lowers her hands, shimmying but still sitting down at our table on the side of the room. There is talk of dancing and then Marshall leans in and says, “This is Will Oldham’s favorite song!” I think she says this twice; she is drinking what I roughly count to be her fifth Red Bull of the evening. Downstairs where the dancing is, hot ice begins filling the room and a fashion show begins, the models sashaying on the bar—poetic symmetry with the Deuce bar before. It is 3:00 am. We are at Amika in the hopes of meeting the same maybe-crush from much earlier in the evening. He is downstairs. We are upstairs. He texts, Marshall texts. We wait 45 minutes and go downstairs. She does not text him to tell him that we are downstairs, and she does not text him to tell him that we are leaving.
In every interview ever written about Chan Marshall, there is mention of her breaking into a chorus of “Do you hate me? Are you mad at me?” At a karaoke bar somewhere around 4:15 in the morning, this chorus begins over the Shania Twain song on the jukebox—it is exhausting and terrible-feeling. The very last track on The Greatest is called “Hate” and the session musicians are gone, leaving Marshall alone with her guitar to sing the last lines of the album, Hey, come here/ Let me whisper in your ear/ I hate myself and I want to die/ Do you believe she said that?/ Can you believe she repeated that?/ I said I hate me, myself and I/ Said I hate myself and I want to die. The song ends with a few chords from the guitar that seem to pick up momentum but then trail off into nothing. Then there is a long silence—almost long enough to make you think it’s deliberate, but not quite enough to make you sure that it is—and Marshall’s voice echoes in from the darkness of a finished track and asks, “You get that?”
No one, of course, is mad at Chan Marshall, and few question her—but she likes to second guess herself. Perhaps these feelings of inadequacy act as security blankets or artistic muse or maybe she can’t control them at all. Perhaps it’s why she keeps putting herself at risk in places like Miami or New York or LA— where she feels untethered and small and lonely, where she can keep leaving without saying hello or goodbye, and remain inspired to make music out of all that hurt. Maybe, Marshall is mourning something that never happened, someone she never met, someplace that was never hers, but one that she already misses. What a lovely, impossible way to live.