As she tumbles out of the Hudson Hotel one summer morning, it is
obvious why such designersand, despite her protestations,
very good friendsas Jacobs and Ghesquière are inviting her
to their shows and describing her as a muse. She's even featured
in a new series of ads for the Gap, alongside Joan Allen and Alan
Cumming. She looks glamorous, in a louche, Jane Birkin folk-rock
way, despite the fact that today her long hair hasn't been washed
and she is wearing a gray sweatshirt and jeans. Beside her is Daniel,
her lanky 22-year-old runway-model boyfriend, with his T-shirt wrapped
on his head like a turban.
Marshall, 29, is known onstage as Cat Power, a name she stumbled
on as a teenager in Atlanta. "I started down there with a group
of my guy friends," she explains. "I had a guitar because I liked
the way it looked. And then suddenly we had a show." Charged with
coming up with a name for the band on the spot, Marshall lifted
the name from a Cat Diesel hat.
She moved to New York nine years ago, not necessarily to become
a musician. "I came here to get away from down there," she says.
"The colors are pretty and there's frogs and things and nature and
tobacco fields or whatever, but it's totally religious and conservative
and the whole idea is that if you don't have money you're nothing."
And she had a hard time with her family -- her mother moved around
a lot, and her father threw her out when she failed tenth grade.
So it's not surprising that she liked the anonymity of New York.
She started hanging out at ABC No Rio, a punk collective and performance
space on the Lower East Side. A friend arranged for Marshall to
open for Liz Phair in 1994, and after the show she was deluged with
offers. "Steve Shelley was there from Sonic Youth," she says. "He
was like, 'Oh, that was great what's your name who are you do
you have a record?,' and I said, 'I can't do a record with you.'
Mostly because I was intimidated." Eventually, she relented and
signed with Matador Records, home of local indie-rock types like
Yo La Tengo and Stephen Malkmus.
Marshall's voice is deep and soothing and incredibly intimate.
Her most recent album, The Covers Record, which came out
in 2000, is a lonely, heartbreaking reconstruction of songs like
"Satisfaction" and "Sea of Love." On her four other albumsthere's
a fifth on the way in late fallMarshall is the songwriter.
It's fragile music; Marshall is a famously fragile person. In 1996,
she suffered a breakdown following a trip to Africa and the deaths
of two friends. She retreated to South Carolina and decided not
to make music anymore. But a horrible nightmare woke her up one
night, and, to stay awake and keep the demons at bay, she started
But Marshall is still prone to somewhat erratic behavior. While
waiting to be interviewed for a fanzine in France in 1998, she got
so frightened that she took off her clothes, stuffed them under
the covers of her bed, and sat crying in the corner with the lights
off. She's graduated from singing with her back to the audience
to burying her face in her hair, though she is still given to tears
onstage and to disappearing in the middle of showsand even
in the middle of songs. But her visible discomfort is, on some levels,
one way she relates to her audience: "I saw her live in London,"
says designer Hussein Chalayan, a tremendous fan, "and it was as
though she was performing and hiding at the same time. She has a
unique quality that I can only describe as 'shy confidence.' " After
Marshall broke down at a 1999 show, her band took off, furious,
but her fans were forgiving. They patted her back and comforted
On this summer day, though, Marshall shows a lighter side; she
mixes her pathos with a fair dose of irony. She's on her way to
Atlanta, to do her taxes ("When you're self-employed like me," she
says, rolling her eyes, "it's a real pain"). "I've got my new album
in here," Marshall says, gesturing to her computer. "I've got sixteen
songs. They graduate. They start with the big thirties radio songs,
and it goes through the morning after the sixties are over. I'm
thinking about doing a double recordsomething that goes into
rock and is more experimental." She smiles. "It's just that I don't
want it to be a total downer."
Over the last few years, Marshall's photographer friends on the
Lower East SideMark Borthwick, Terry Richardsonbegan
snapping her. (Richardson recently shot her alongside Catherine
Deneuve for a Purple magazine spread.) And soon stylists
and designers were buzzing about her neo-grunge stylethose
ornate little blazers and torn Levis. Though their looks are quite
different, there is a similarity between Marshall and last year's
ubiquitous fashion muse, Chloë Sevigny: As fashion becomes increasingly
corporate, the industry is hungry for people with a style that is
There is always the chance that Marshall, like Sevigny, will wind
up known more for her look than for her body of work. But she has
enough of a sense of humor about the fashion world to keep that
day at bay, at least for a while. "We were in Paris a couple of
weeks ago and we were invited to the Givenchy haute couture show,"
she remembers, "and I was like, 'What? I'm not going to buy
a $200,000 dress.' But I got really dressed up. I wore these high
heels and pretended I was somebody else. Everyone wanted to know
who I was."
From the August 27, 2001 issue of New York Magazine.