Monday, June 29, 2009

Madness: An Interview with Marya Hornbacher

While in college, I was diagnosed as bipolar II, also known as manic depression, where moods cycle between highs and lows over time. The "manic" episodes in bipolar II, however, are less intense than those with bipolar I. Being diagnosed as mentally ill with all the stigmas attached would have seemingly been a low point in my life but, instead, I was finally able to put a name to the "oddness" in my brain. It was very liberating to find that many others shared the same condition and some of them were even well-known: Kurt Cobain, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tim Burton, William Faulkner, Sylvia Plath, Charlie Pride, etc., etc. The list goes on and on.

But it wasn't enough for me to know that I had bipolar disorder and that others were in the same boat. I wanted to devour as many books as possible to better understand my condition and one of the best accounts that I've come across is Marya Hornbacher's Madness: A Bipolar Life. Impossible to put down, Madness is a hellacious roller coaster ride that documents Hornbacher's battle with bipolar I disorder in such a manner that it seems improbable that someone could survive such an ordeal for so many years and, yet, she is here to tell the tale. Thankfully. Still, the most haunting part of the book may just be the facts that she compiles at the end regarding bipolar disorder:

*Life expectancy of an adult with serious mental illness: 25 years shorter than that of a person without
*Bipolar patients who have attempted suicide: 25%
*Bipolar patients whose suicide attempts have been lethal: 15-20% (This is the highest suicide rate of any psychiatric disorder, and more than 20 times higher than the rate of suicide in the general population. About half of all suicides in the U.S. can be attributed to bipolar.)
*Odds that a person with bipolar I will also struggle with substance abuse: 60:40
*Odds that a person with bipolar II will: 50:50
*First-marriage divorce rates for people with bipolar disorder: three and a half times higher than the rate of divorce in the general population

To say that I was enormously impressed by her book is an understatement, and she was gracious enough to grant me an interview which I can't thank her enough for.

PopCultureJihad: To me, the moral of your story is one of acceptance. Accepting that you will never defeat this illness and that it will always place limits on your life, but there are so many people out there who refuse to accept the fact that they are mentally ill either because of the stigma surrounding mental illness and/or the pressure to "fit in." You've struggled with this yourself and it's not exactly an overnight transition. What could have possibly helped you to reach the point of "acceptance" at an earlier point in your life?

MARYA: I think if I'd known how much pain I would cause myself and others by refusing to accept the reality of my mental illness, I might have thought twice about resisting it so hard. The simple fact is that a failure to accept is a failure to live fully; in refusing to accept my situation, I made a de facto decision to live in fear, antipathy, and outright battle on a continuous basis. Those are states of mind and emotion that are incredibly corrosive and ultimately destructive of the human spirit. By the time I came to realize that acceptance was the only way I would ever learn to manage my mental illness, I was absolutely beaten down, and beaten down by my own choices. I think if there had been people in my life who also experienced mental illness, but chose to accept and manage it, I might have learned from their example that theirs was the way to a peaceful co-existence with the mind that I have. There's no question that the stigma surrounding mental illness makes it exceptionally difficult to accept, and I believe that continuing to work toward education and understanding about mental illness will lessen the stigma, and therefore lessen the stigma that we internalize ourselves. The less we fear the illness, the less we fight, and the better we manage.

PopCultureJihad: There's a recent article in Newsweek magazine entitled "Listening to Madness" - - that talks about the Icarus Project in Manhattan - a "mad pride" collective - in which its members are forgoing medication and "embracing mental illness as creative force." I count myself as part of the nonmedicated population, but for very different reasons. What are your thoughts on the "mad pride" movement and others who forgo their medication?

MARYA: While it's worth noting that the Icarus Project calls itself "pro-choice" about meds, and suggests that its members can take them or not, at their discretion, I think the general tenor of the movement is fairly firmly anti-med. This is not entirely unfounded, by any means; God knows I've been put on meds that have nearly killed me, that have indeed poisoned me, and that have caused intolerable side effects. But at the end of the day, I need meds, because without them, I'm simply not as highly functional as I want to be. Similarly, I share the Project's antipathy/skepticism toward/about psychiatric hospitalization, diagnoses, et al; but I've also had my ass and life saved time and again by exceptional doctors at hospitals who have had the insight to see what kind of treatment was going to pull me out of a severe episode. I, too, struggle with what Icarus calls forced treatment, and others call mandatory hospitalization; anyone who struggles with these disorders recognizes the deeply discomfiting notion that our minds may cause us to lose control of our choices. The trouble is, our minds occasionally make dangerous and problematic "choices" for us when we're sick, and some of us, some of the time, become a danger to ourselves or others; it's difficult not to see, then, the appeal of mandatory hospitalization on those occasions. I myself would very much like to know that I will be put in a safe place if I am not in my stable state of mind, and am therefore not making safe decisions. I think, in some ways, that the whole struggle with the psychiatric establishment and its treatment modalities comes less from a proactive place, and more from a reaction to the exceptionally, spectacularly bad treatment many of us have received over the years--misdiagnosis, dangerous and poorly chosen medications, disrespectful professionals, ignorant professionals, misguided treatment decisions that gave us little room to move as individuals, and a general sense that we are not actually seen as individuals but as "cases." The psychiatric industry is, forgive me, a total fucking disaster, and the casualties are the people who are treated so poorly. The excellent professionals are definitely out there, but they're hard to find. So, after a certain number of years of poor treatment, it makes sense that people would finally opt out of the entire business and make an attempt to deal with their illness on their own. That said, it's not how I do it, because I can't. I've tried doing this without medication, and it just doesn't work. That's not because I'm being spoon-fed a bunch of garbage about how I'm "sick" when really I'm a "genius"--it's because I have a disease that requires treatment, and medication is part of the treatment I need. I do see mental illness as an illness--it is, in fact, a brain disease, no matter how many "gifts" it may bring. Which leads me to the part of the Mad Pride movement I have the biggest problem with, viz. the idea that madness and giftedness are one in the same. They certainly tend to cluster, genetically, in the same people and the same families; there's no denying there's a connection between mental illness and creativity. But I get tired of the line that my madness is the source of my creative work. Frankly, my madness does nothing but interfere with my creative work, on a practical level. When I'm having an episode, I flat out can't work. I speak for a number of the artists with mental illness that I know when I say that sustained, quality creative work--a lifelong creative career--requires a level of mental clarity that my illness denies me when it's at its worst. People with bipolar often don't want to take their meds because they're afraid they'll lose their highs, and with them their manic artistic productivity. What I've found is that, with my highs gone, I no longer generate reams and reams of manic garbage. I produce more slowly, but I produce better work, and I produce consistently, and over time I build a body of work that is of a higher level of quality than the very mixed bag my manic/depressed work was. Also, simply put, a whole lot of artists with mental illness killed themselves. I'm not interested in doing the same. ALL THAT SAID: I agree with the man quoted in the Newsweek article who speaks to the point that the Icarus Project has created something badly needed within the mental health world: a community of people who connect with one another on more levels than simply "we're sick." The Mad Pride movement may be an important move toward lessening stigma, by virtue of the fact that it sees us as individuals who have a shared challenge, rather than as a massive, unknown, feared, teeming Illness.

PopCultureJihad: I have reservations regarding genetic engineering in which they may be able to someday tinker with the genes that cause mental illness and possibly eradicate it, creating what I've imagined to be a world of "robotic" humans who all think and act the same. A bipolar perspective is far different than someone who is not mentally ill. A person growing up poor is going to have a far different perspective than someone who grew up wealthy, etc., etc.
On the other hand, I personally do not want to bring a child into this world knowing that I may possibly pass this condition on to my offspring. I'm very conflicted on this issue. With all that you've been through with bipolar disorder, how would you personally feel about bringing children into this world if you could? And, If you knew the child was going to be bipolar and you could eliminate the bipolar gene, would you?

MARYA: In short, yes. If I was having a child, and had the opportunity to prevent that child from having bipolar, I would do it. I would think hard, but I would do it. It's a matter of wanting to prevent what is sometimes an excruciating amount of mental and emotional pain. I wouldn't wish bipolar on anyone. There are people who've asked me if I could go back and live my life over, would I want to NOT be bipolar? Indeed, I would want to not be bipolar. I appreciate some of the experiences I've had; I appreciate that my mind has the advantages it has; but I don't believe those advantages are the sole purview of someone with bipolar, and I'd love to be one of the people who has the advantages and not the bipolar (because I, like anyone else, want life to be easier). But, I'm with you in the uneasiness about the idea of genetic engineering. With our knowledge of genetics in its infant stage (and it is), we still don't know how the genes for mental illness relate to other genes, such as (most obviously) those that are related to creativity. The perception that they are the same genes (madness = genius) is inaccurate, but it is true that the genes are related in some way; until we know what way that is, we need to be careful before we go removing genes willy-nilly, or we're not going to like what we get.

PopCultureJihad: I personally think that any sort of mental health care program should incorporate a neurologist as well as a brain scan to provide a sort of physical landscape of the brain. Though it has come a long way, we are still somewhat in the dark ages of mental health care. If Marya Hornbacher was in charge of overhauling the mental health care system, what would it entail?

MARYA: Research. The amount of money devoted to researching the mental illnesses is positively pathetic. You're right, we're still in the dark ages. We still have the New York Times referring to "mental illnesses" as opposed to "physical illnesses," when for God's sake mental illnesses are physical illnesses. If the Times can't get it right, do we expect the average person to know that mental illnesses are physical diseases of the brain? And if people don't know that, how can they be asked to support research in to these diseases of the brain at the same rate as they're supporting research into other brain diseases, like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's? The three major mental illnesses combined get a fraction of the research money that goes to Alzheimer's alone. (The disease that gets the smallest fraction is bipolar.) Until more research is done, we won't know what we're looking for when we look at the physical brain; there's early research, but very little, because it's wildly underfunded. All of this is a ripple effect of stigma. The perception that mental illnesses are not "real" illnesses leads to the perception that there's no need to fund research for their treatment, prevention, early identification, and (maybe?) eventual cure. So, research is one step. The more immediate step is to pass parity laws in every state that treat mental health care at the same rate that other care is treated. There needs to be treatment available at far-reduced cost to people without treatment through their employers. And there need to be social service centers that are trained in accessing mental health care for un- or underinsured populations, where the need for mental health care is very high. Finally, and I don't know how this is going to happen, but the medical, nursing, and other professional schools for people going into the care professions need to get a whole lot better. There needs to be far less misdiagnosis, improper medication, and poorly-planned care for people who need these services.

PopCultureJihad: There are testimonies in favor of Electroshock Therapy(ECT) as well as testimonies against it. You've personally experienced this treatment a number of times. You've said it's erased alot of your past memories. Do you feel as though it has helped you and would you recommend it to others?

MARYA: ECT has pulled me out of several severe episodes of mania and depression, and I'd do it again. It is a measure of last resort, and I wouldn't recommend it without knowing that all other efforts to break the episode had failed. But it can really be a life-saver. I do think that I've become more forgetful, and there are parts of my history that are very foggy, but on the balance, I'm glad I'm alive, and I think ECT has kept me that way more than once.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Health Care

Medicaid is a government-provided health insurance program for low-income individuals. It's free so it falls under the category of that dreaded and often criticized word we call "welfare." My mother is on Medicaid and, without it, we would be lost as I'm sure many others who are on Medicaid would be as well. So, when President Obama spoke tonight about his proposed health care plan, it would certainly seem hypocritical for me not to support it, but I simply cannot.

While I'm very thankful of the safety net that is supporting my mother, Medicaid itself is a broken program that is draining state budgets and, much like Social Security, is fading quickly into the abyss of insolvency. How can I have any faith in a newly proposed government-run health care program when the other ones are falling apart? Fix Medicare. Fix Medicaid. Fix Social Security. Fix the national debt that's over 10 trillion dollars, but please don't tell me you can fix a roof when yours is leaking.

Wilco(the album)

Yes, I know I've already blogged about Wilco's latest album entitled, Wilco(the album), but upon further listening I can honestly say that it's going to take one hell of an album to dethrone it as my favorite of this year. The mark of a great album is usually one in which you don't skip over any songs and there's not one song on here that is lacking. It has all the makings of a classic. How Jeff Tweedy and company make it look so easy is beyond me, but they do. This album is full of good, catchy pop songs that will never see the light of day on radio. With the cult status that Wilco enjoys, I'm pretty sure that they could care less.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Diplomatic Tightrope

According to the Associated Press, Republican senators have criticized President Obama today for not taking a tougher public stand in support of Iranians protesting the outcome of the country's contested presidential election, with one saying the president has been "timid and passive."

At issue in Iran is the current Presidential election between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir Hossein Mousavi. Supporters of Mousavi are claiming voter fraud which is why an outpouring of demonstrations have occurred on the streets of Iran. Regardless of who won the election or who should have won the election, the power of the President in Iran is of little consequence to begin with. Who truly runs Iran is the unelected Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He appoints the head of the judiciary, six of the members of the powerful Guardian Council, the commanders of all the armed forces, Friday prayer leaders and the head of radio and TV. He also confirms the president's election which is why the demonstrations are mostly aimed at him.

To understand the current situation in Iran and how the U.S. government should respond, you need to first understand its history. On August 19, 1953, the CIA directed a successful coup overthrowing the hugely popular Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. After the overthrow of Mosaddegh, the U.S. put in place a "puppet" ruler by the name of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi(better known as the Shah of Iran), a corrupt and brutal monarch who came to be resented by the Iranian population. This resentment led to the Iranian Revolution of 1979 in which the Shah was overthrown and a religious theocracy was instituted led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. To criticize Iran on matters of democracy, given its past history on the situation, is a tightrope walk that the government of the United States should be very careful to engage in.

Earlier this month in Cairo, President Obama, addressed the role the U.S. played in the 1953 Iranian coup:

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward.

What do Obama's critics want him to do? The religious leaders of Iran want so badly to blame the social unrest in Iran on "western influences" instead of looking inwardly at their own corrupt policies and Obama isn't playing into it, nor should he. This will only allow the theocracy in Iran to expose our own hypocrisy regarding the matter. Besides, do you really think the religious leaders in Iran actually give a shit what the U.S. thinks anyway? And what actions, other than lip service, should the United States take? Obama has already extended sanctions that have been renewed annually since 1995, which bans US companies from trading or investing in Iran.

There is nothing I would love more than to see true democracy take root in Iran rather than the farce of religious theocracy that is currently in place. The United States government simply lacks the moral authority based on its past history with Iran to meddle in its affairs. If change is going to happen in Iran, it has to come from within.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

St. Vincent

In a 2007 article in The New Yorker, music critic, Sasha Frere-Jones, lamented the state of rock music and it's lack of soul after attending an Arcade Fire concert.

There’s no point in faulting Arcade Fire for what it doesn’t do; what’s missing from the band’s musical DNA is missing from dozens of other popular and accomplished rock bands’ as well—most of them less entertaining than Arcade Fire. I’ve spent the past decade wondering why rock and roll, the most miscegenated popular music ever to have existed, underwent a racial re-sorting in the nineteen-nineties. Why did so many white rock bands retreat from the ecstatic singing and intense, voicelike guitar tones of the blues, the heavy African downbeat, and the elaborate showmanship that characterized black music of the mid-twentieth century? These are the volatile elements that launched rock and roll, in the nineteen-fifties, when Elvis Presley stole the world away from Pat Boone and moved popular music from the head to the hips.

As I watched St. Vincent play to a sold out crowd at Mohawk's last night, I thought about Jones' article because it does seem rare these days - white kids with soul - in the world of rock music, but St. Vincent definitely has it. It is, at times, subtle but it's definitely there. And it's funny that Jones would talk about the transition from Pat Boone to Elvis Presley because St. Vincent sounds like a collision of both, more along the lines of Doris Day getting into a fight with Prince. After watching St. Vincent's performance last night, I can safely say that Sasha Frere-Jones has nothing to fear - rock n' roll will never die.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I love Wilco but I wouldn't say that I am the most rabid of fans. However, as I watched the premier of Wilco's new live documentary - Ashes of American Flags - at the Alamo Drafthouse tonight, several things swirled through my head...

1- Ashes of American Flags is one of the best live documents of a band around. If you are unfamiliar to Wilco, you should definitely rent or buy this DVD.
2- Wilco guitarist - Nels Cline - is one of the best guitarists of this decade. Period.
3 - Before the documentary got started, they played Wilco's newest album - Wilco(The Album) - and I would have to say that it is definitely one of the best albums of 2009. Gone is the experimentation. Gone is the long guitar solos. It's another notch in their belt of great albums.

Wilco Retro-Moment...

Wilco's legendary album - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - was released on April 23, 2002. It was originally slated to be released, ominously, on September 11, 2001, but the idiots at Reprise Records refused to release it because they didn't believe it to be a "commercial" album. When I first heard it, I thought it was a post 9/11 political record based on the lyrics...

-"Ashes of American Flags"
-"War on War"
-"Tall Buildings Shake/Voices Escape/Singing Sad, Sad Songs"

...little did I know that the album was recorded in the autumn of 2000 - early 2001, which makes this particular album even more mystical. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot will always be considered Wilco's crown jewel in their discography, made even more important as the making of it was documented by Sam Jones in I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. Years from now, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot will be considered a classic from this decade and nothing illuminates this band's greatness more than the live documentary I saw tonight. By all means, check it out when you get the chance.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


A Zaireeka listening party is the musical equivalent of seeing Haley's Comet - it doesn't come around very often. This Saturday at Clementine Coffee Bar(2200 Manor Road) in Austin, however, Zaireeka madness will go down around 6pm complete with visuals.

Zaireeka is the 1997 four-disc classic by the Flaming Lips meant to be played all at once on four separate cd players to create one psychedelic sound. I've never met anyone who actually owns Zaireeka because very few people have four separate cd players to be able to pull it off, thus meaning you have to attend a listening party to get the full experience. I'm pretty sure that a communal, psychedelic gathering was what Lips' frontman, Wayne Coyne, was shooting for anyways. I've experienced it myself a few years back and it's definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

We Have Band

If there is a front runner for music video of the year, this is it. It's called "You Came Out" by We Have Band, who I have never heard of before. The song is really good, as well. According to the band's website, the video was shot over 2 days and stop frame animated from 4,816 still images without a single moment of video footage.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sing It Sister!

In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine published a hotly debated list of what it felt were the 100 greatest guitarists of all-time. I simply shrugged the list off because a)I don't play the guitar and know absolutely nothing about the instrument, not to mention the fact that everyone has particular tastes in music; and b)it is, after all, Rolling Stone magazine - one of the worst music magazines in existence. The list created alot of buzz in the cyberworld:

"This is a silly popularity contest. The author who pointed out that Rolling Stone threw in Robert Johnson as some obligatory nod to "blues roots" was dead on; RS is not a music magazine a la Downbeat, it is a cultural magazine, and as a magazine that needs to pander to its boomer roots and sell copies, which it achieves when the 50-something driving the convertible with his skullet in a ponytail reads this list, nods his head and whispers 'Yeah, man, right on - Robert Johnson was THE MAN'".

"wtf this list is so gay, Eddie Van Halen at 70 whoever made this list is a retard, he should be 2 right behind Clapton!!!!"

"Kurt Cobain gets 12th but david gilmour gets 82 the writers at rolling stone should be fired for this."

"a lot of people seem to forget that being a great guitarist isnt about how much fret wanking you can do, its about trying to create great sounds with a bit of wood, sure guys like slash can play fast complicated solos but..who cares. The reason guys like john f and jack white are near the top is cause they make great sounds with the guitar."

Okay, I lied. I blew this list off with one glaring exception - where in god's name was Sister Rosetta Tharpe(1915-1973) on this list? A misunderstood woman in her time(and, apparently, in the modern era), her gospel style was not well received by the secular world and her electric blues style was criticized by many in the church. She was ahead of her time and influenced many in the early era of rock n' roll including Little Richard and Elvis Presley. Her 1945 crossover hit "Strange Things Happening Everyday" was later covered by Jerry Lee Lewis. It wasn't until last year that funds were raised to place a headstone at the barren spot where she is buried in Northwood Cemetary in Pennsylvania, some thirty-five years after her death. One has to wonder how much more Tharpe's legacy would have been acknowledged had she been a male.

Watch this woman SHRED at about 1:25 into this video and remember that she was doing this well before most people on Rolling Stone's list...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Tank Man?

Twenty years ago today, an unidentified man created one of the most enduring images in the world's consciousness by walking in front of a parade of Chinese military tanks, thus causing them to come to a complete stop following the Tianamen Square massacre in Beijing the day before. One lone man against the system. One man against oppression. David vs. Goliath.

He is known simply as "Tank Man" because nobody knows who he is. The footage of him in front of the tanks is all that exists of him. After he was whisked away, it was believed that he was arrested and executed, but nothing can be confirmed.

Other than the tragedy of his disappearance, the other tragedy is that young people today in China have no idea of this event because it has been suppressed by the Chinese government. If you do a Google search of "Tank Man" in China, no images or information regarding this man will appear. The fact that the Chinese government would do this is no surprise, the complicity of U.S. corporations, however, is less well-known.

"Prominent American corporations, including Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Nortel Networks, Websense and Sun Microsystems, have all played a part in quickly equipping China with censoring equipment,” Jill R. Newbold writes in the Journal of Law, Technology and Policy, which is published by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Cisco’s firewalls help the Chinese government monitor e-mail; Microsoft proxy servers block Web pages; Nortel aids the Chinese government in tracking its citizens’ surfing habits; and Websense contributes sophisticated filtering and monitoring techniques. Democracy, it seems, takes a back seat to profitable markets,” concluded Newbold, an editor at the journal.

Further fanning the flames, Chinese journalist, Shi Tao, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2005 for "divulging state secrets abroad" based on information given to the Chinese government provided by Yahoo.

"For the sake of market share and profits, leading U.S. companies like Google, Yahoo, Cisco and Microsoft have compromised both the integrity of their product and their duties as responsible corporate citizens," Rep. Christopher Smith(R-N.J.) said at a related hearing in the House of Representatives. Smith, chairman of a human rights subcommittee, likened that cooperation to companies that aided the Nazis in World War II.

If the United States is serious about promoting democratic values abroad, then it should hold accountable U.S. corporations that export the exact opposite.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Good Woman

Elizabeth Goodman's biography of Chan Marshall(a.k.a Cat Power) - Cat Power: A Good Woman - opens with "Chan Marshall does not want you to read this book." Being the huge admirer of Cat Power's music that I am, I recoiled as soon as I laid eyes upon that sentence thinking that the rest of the book would be some sort of sensationalist piece of gossipy trash that the author could hang her hat on at cocktail parties as being the first to expose the "fraud" that she believes Cat Power to be. I am unapologetically biased towards this artist, so the chips on my shoulder were already starting to build barely a page into the book.

The Cat Power that I and countless others have come to love writes some of the most heartbreaking songs ever recorded and though she plays both guitar and piano, her greatest instrument, in my opinion, is that smokey, fragile voice of hers - a fragility that has often spilled over into her live performances. Ben Ratliff of the New York Times had this to say about one such concert he attended in 1999:

There were a couple of places where Ms. Marshall's concentration held through an entire number. Stepping off the stage and settling down on the floor, she made it through her song ''Cross Bones Style'' with her nose pressed to the ground, while fans patted her on the back to comfort her; later she sang Dimitri Tiomkin's ''Wild Is the Wind,'' achieving the sad, serene state that admirers of her records came to revel in. But for the most part they were watching a train wreck.

Ms. Marshall gave almost every song at least one false start, visibly exasperating her musicians, which she seemed both afraid of doing and consciously trying to do. At one point she asked the crowd, enigmatically, if anyone in the audience had ever felt as if he were walking through a door knowing that a machete was going to fall upon him on the other side. After a silence, she motioned to her band and added, in a trembling voice, ''These guys hate me.''

She forgot lyrics, let the simplest strumming patterns crumble and fall apart, and by the end of her endless set arrived at abject contrition. ''It's not cool,'' she said, berating herself. ''It's not funny. I'm sorry.'' And then she walked off, leaving the crowd in disbelief. Her guitar player strolled to center stage. ''Turn the lights on,'' he instructed. ''It's over.''

This behavior continued for years until she finally hit the wall in 2006 and had to be hospitalized for alcoholism, thus canceling the tour to promote her album - The Greatest. Her inner demons that many considered "calculated" performance art had finally caught up with her and, yet, as the author delves into her poverty-stricken upbringing in the South to a schizophrenic mother and unreliable father, it's really not that difficult to ultimately grasp, to the author's credit, the roots of Chan Marshall's insecurities and self-destruction. She is now seemingly sober and content and has yet to follow up The Greatest with an original album of newly written songs. How the "new" Cat Power will sound is anyone's guess, but even if the "happy" Chan Marshall loses her core fans, at least she's alive to tell the tale.

Nothing in this book could have negatively changed my view of Cat Power. In my opinion, she is this generation's Nick Drake. The author did, however, give me new insight into the world of Cat Power that left me with even more respect for this artist which leads me to conclude that Chan Marshall should absolutely want you to read this book.