This week’s episode of Lost Notes is a sincere and touching ode to Cat Power’s phenomenal 2006 album, The Greatest. The episode features songs from the album and anecdotes from fans who were interviewed at concerts or called KCRW’s Lost Notes hotline earlier this year.
But the episode is rooted by a poem/letter to Cat Power’s Chan Marshall, written by author and poet Hanif Abdurraqib. On the face of it, you might puzzle over the how and why a writer - largely recognized for his poetry and writing on hip-hop and young male black identity in America - would be so taken by Cat Power.
That is until you remember that Cat Power’s The Greatest. With its tiny golden gloves and down but not out woozy punch drunk spirit, the album is a winking reference to a hero of hers. And his.
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In a piece Abdurraqib wrote for MTV on the connection between Muhammad Ali and hip-hop, he went in deep on the original “Greatest.” In his essay, “The Greatest: Muhammad Ali’s Hip-Hop Legacy,” Abdurraqib delves into how in the ring and on the streets, Ali was always fighting both literally and figuratively. And how words are what help us get through it.
Abdurraqib’s letter to Chan is lovely and I asked him for a couple more words on a couple more albums.
KCRW: In your heartfelt open letter to Chan Marshall you touch on the ways in which The Greatest expresses a sincere coming to terms with vulnerability and personal struggles, while simultaneously being a triumphant clarion of redemption in the face of adversity.
It’s a love letter to her and her album, which it seemed you were immediately taken by on first listen. The combination of a stunning record and your embrace of it was an album that felt like a lifesaver. Have there been any albums by artists you love that felt like a heartbreaker but in a bad way? Have there been any albums by artists that felt like the opposite of that lifesaver feeling for you? Furthermore, did that feeling remain or did that change over time?
Hanif Abdurraqib: Sure, I think Tegan and Sara's The Con comes to mind as an album that, at the time, served as a really odd album of my own interior spiral. I was going through a breakup and dealing with crawling out of heartbreak, and that album is a swift tearing off of an emotional bandage. I couldn't handle it at the time. Now, of course, I think it is one of the best breakup albums ever made. It gets in and gets out and leaves all the doors locked when it leaves.
KCRW: For example, I’ve read that initially for some fans U2’s Achtung Baby felt too abrasive and mechanic. On the heels of the success of The Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nail’s The Fragile was seen as a bloated, meandering and moody affair. Personally, on first listen, Beck’s Mutations was a miserably bleak and ugly affair. But over time that changed for me and now it’s one of my favorites.
What album didn’t save your life, but eventually became (or didn’t) a revelation?
HA: I think all of the time about Mary J. Blige's My Life and what it is for an artist to give of themselves endlessly, even if the people taking don't deserve it.
KCRW: As a writer and poet do you write to music or to your impression/memory of it?
HA: I write to the memory of songs I love, and I write a lot to the idea of songs I have loved, but I rarely write to the actual music I have loved.
Check out the 2nd episode of Lost Notes: