‘Cat Power: A Good Woman’, by Elizabeth Goodman – review

Cat Power: A Good WomanCat Power: A Good Woman by Elizabeth Goodman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first saw Chan Marshall singing in 2007 Chanel Haute Couture, while models were swanning around like ethereal fairies in gorgeous Chanel wardrobes. Better known as her stage name “Cat Power,” she was the Queen of the Show in her graceful poise whimsically mixed with her super cool urban retro-chic fashion singing a soulful and powerful melody of ballads like a stylish bohemian troubadour. So I downloaded her songs from iTunes and loved her solitary lyrics imbued with Southern blues soul and offbeat timbres probably as a result of her elbow room in the beloved New York City. To top it all off, Chan Marshall became one of My Nine Muses.

Cat Power: A Good Woman by Elizabeth Goodman is a beautifully written memoir of the enigmatic singer as a result of Goodman’s own adoration of the singer as a fan. Of all other books on Chan Marshall, this book is par excellence in the context of regarding the beautiful play of words, the elliptical table of contents, the journalistic efforts to sleuth for buried truths, and the audacity to publish all of it against her adored heroine’s own disapproval thereof afterward because the book seemed to lay it all bare in public. But Ms. Marshall’s worries could have been assured, for the book makes her all the more human and real, imparting a sense of empathy and sympathy because all her frailties and foibles, in one way or another, strike the chords with ours as well. Does everybody not have a dark registrar and think the cold star on a wide sea seems to betoken one’s life? Goodman whose writing feat had achieved grace in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and NME (“New Musical Express”) knew the universal ethos of such human conditions that had also enveloped the beautiful musician in the person of Chan Marshall. The title of the book is a summation of Goodman’s reality of the star.

In sum, the book is a comprehensive memoir of Chan Marshall, who reminds me of a cross between Francoise Hardy in style and Patti Smith in music. In the peculiar alchemy of literature, Goodman wielded her writer wand to conjure up the image of Chan Marshall in the book that also appositely strikes the cover of the book. Pace the criticism of the book as a rip-off from Ms. Marshall’s privacy and of the author as a jilted ex-friend for the reason unknown, it is worth the reading by the sheer enjoyment of good writing and Goodman’s affinity for popular culture, especially in music.

Spreading the Word knows no limits

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According to Greek historian Herodotus, there was the Egyptian pharaoh Psamtik I ruling in the 7th century B.C., who was keen on finding humanity’s primal language. Ergo, the inquisitive Pharaoh gave 2 infants to a shepherd to raise and told him not to speak to them because he believed that the first words the children spoke would reveal the Mother Tongue of all of the Human Race. Quite creative, even feasible, but highly abstract; the hypothesis resulted in one of the children’s utterance of the word “bread” in what sounded Phrygian, the language older than Egyptian. Nevertheless, the Pharaoh’s the Up series-like experimentation on human linguistic origin tells us something of a human desire to find anthropological aspects of languages in their origins even before the proverbial Tower of Babel was set about to begin forming.

Here in the States, one does not get bored with a mono language: English (American English, to be precise), Spanish with continental and regional variances, Hindustani, Pakistani, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, French (mostly of former French colonies in Africa), Tagalog, and etc. So the story of Psamtik I’s ambitious experimentation to parse the root of all languages chimes with the cosmopolitan landscape of everyday life. Apropos of a diverse group of languages, Benjamin Franklin, however, seemed not to be in favor of multilingualism in the States in fear of the country’s being disseminated into a variety of different language communities. To Franklin, the importance of English as a unified official language of the States meant a national sovereignty and cultural identity that would bind people living in the States into one cohesive cultural group. In this respect, the English language as an official national language of the U.S. is the sine qua non for a lingual and social unity of a country as much heterogeneous as the States. That said, it is beneficial to know of the lingual root of the English language as well as of the other related language.

One of the most popular Indo-European languages in terms of active speakers, English belongs to the Germanic along with German and Norwegian under the Indo-European lingual branch, which also includes the following groups of language:

  • Indo-Iranian: Persian, Urdu, Bengali, and Romani
  • Greek: belongs to its own family
  • The Italic: Latin and the Romance
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Sir William Jones (1746-1794)

The reader may be surprised by the fact that Persian, Urdu, and Bengali spoken in the Near East Asia and Asia are also a lingual family with English, but according to British jurist and amazing polyglot William Jones in Calcutta, India, Sanskrit, an ancient Indic language, had common ancestry with Greek and Latin because many of the words were similar to those in Greek and Latin. For instance, take the word “Fathera”. The Indo-Eurpean term is pater. Sanskrit is Pitar; in German, Vater; in Latin, Pater; in French, Pere, and in Spanish, Padre. In fact, Jones’s elation of the ancient Indic language in his industrious study of its deep cultural influence as well as lingual traits on the Germanic paved a way to modern comparative linguistics. In terms of the cultural theme of Indo-European cultures, the idea of trinity in aspects of life that are sacred, social, and economic can be traced in the old caste system of India comprised of Brahmans (the Priest), Kshartyas (The noble and the King), and Vaishyas (the Commoner). Likewise, in Greek myth the 3 Fates who are the beginning, the middle, and the end of each mortal’s life and the Holy Trinity of Christianity adumbrate a cultural connection between the continents that look remotely different at a first sight and yet interestingly alike with deeper insight.

To encapsulate, the relationship between language and culture is the sine qua non of human civilization, the inseparable archeological, anthropological, historical, and linguistic artifacts to study the origin of humanity and its misty pasts. The development of languages also relates to an expansion of its influence by means of trade, war, and migration that are still in progress in our time. It is a product of collective enterprise in the form of textual artifact. Otherwise, who would have thought that English, an obscure west Germanic language, would become a modern day lingua franca spoken across the five continents and six oceans? For what it’s worth, T.S. Eliot elegantly summed it all thus: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

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