I’ve never had the opportunity to formally interview Neko Case, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a story that involves her. About six years ago, before one of her shows in St. Louis, I sat next to and talked with Ms. Case for a good two hours. We were sitting at the bar, sort of behind the stage, listening to her two opening acts. She had a hoodie on, and I had a drink in my hand; it was dark, and I really couldn’t see her face, unless she was looking right at me. Of course, I had no idea it was her.
During these two hours where we talked about music, photography, and even Neko Case (!), I thought I was making a new friend. I tapped her shoulder. I whispered near her ear. Of course, she played along the whole time, and even had her band in on the fun. Later, after the show, in full realization of what had happened earlier, I talked to her again. She just laughed and thanked me for the conversation. That was when I knew Neko Case is as real as they come.
If you’ve seen her live, you know what I’m getting at. In that setting, she’s far from the woman you see on the Middle Cyclone album cover—Case doesn’t perform with a sword or jump on top of any cars. She rarely even graces the stage with makeup on her face. Instead, she lets her voice, her most powerful weapon, surround you from every direction. I’m not sure if there is a more perfect concert moment than when Case decides to begin “I Wish I Was the Moon” right in front of you. If that doesn’t get you, I don’t know what will.
And if there is to be a better album released in 2009 than Middle Cyclone, then this is going to be a banner year for music. I loved it when I first heard it, and it keeps getting better with each listen. The track that has grown on me that most is “I’m An Animal;” I am in awe of her voice throughout the song, but mostly when she sings, “so let’s not waste our time thinking how that ain’t fair.” Something about that line and her delivery gives me chills. This is probably because my favorite Neko Case song is about a subject that isn’t fair at all—tragedy.
Sure, there’s tragedy in many of Case’s songs; but the best tune resides on her second album, Furnace Room Lullaby. It’s titled “South Tacoma Way,” named after a street in the city where Case grew up. Written in the first person, it’s a deeply personal song about a person close to Case who has passed. Lyrically, it’s one of the most honest songs I’ve ever heard—we’re told how Case doesn’t “make it” to the funeral. How she “couldn’t pay respects to a dead man.” How the ways she misses this person only “come to light in (her) mistakes.”
Neko Case has a special gift of always making you feel like you’re right there with her—even in her most personal moments, or at times when you don’t immediately realize it’s her. That’s real.
She said it: