Neko Case – Blacklisted

7 06 2008

Neko CaseBlacklisted
2002 – Bloodshot Records

I can’t help it. I’m a country girl.

This will sound pretty stupid to most of you. I was born and grew up in a city that was about 500,000 people when I came into it and is about 1,000,000 now, when I’m set to leave it. Though I spent a couple of highly significant summers on an acreage out in the country (I even had to catch sheep a couple times and know how to deal with belligerent geese), the vast majority of my time has been spent living in cities. The thing about my city, though, is that it’s a big city surrounded by miles and miles and miles of open prairie. If you want to go anywhere from where I live, you get in a car and drive for hours and hours through flat, grassy plains, and if you’re anything like me, you love it. While I grew up in a city, I grew up in kind of a country city, where people who are old enough can remember not being able to get fruit in the winter and where driving out to go berry picking is still a pretty popular thing to do.

I say all this because Neko Case is a country city girl too. Maybe that’s why I love her music so much. I’m cheating a little bit with this writing today. See, I went to see Iron Maiden last night unexpectedly, and when I came home, my ears were ringing too much to listen to anything to write about, and my head was too full of Powerslave to recall the stuff I listened to earlier to write about, so this morning, I finally listened to Blacklisted all the way through with no interruptions.

Neko Case - Photo by Nancy (flickr)

Now, Neko Case was born in Virginia, but considers her hometown to be Tacoma, Washington. I don’t know what it was like in the 70s when she lived there, but when I was last there a couple years ago, it was a weird and depressing place. Not far out of Seattle, Tacoma is (or was) apparently a steel town. It apparently used to be bustling, but now it seems deserted. There are all kinds of ornate buildings 5 or 6 stories high with nothing in them but pigeons and probably the occasional hobo. She left home really young (15, I think) and ended up spending a few years in Vancouver, BC, where she played drums with a bunch of bands, including Cub. She was forced to return to the US and moved to Seattle, which is where she recorded her first solo record, The Virginian.

Case’s story is pretty familiar around certain parts of the world. “City girl” strikes out on her own, gets caught up in punk and rock music, eventually turns to country music, find success she never thought possible. It happens on a smaller scale all the time in my hometown, and I imagine that if I were more familiar with more country musicians, I’d find more stories like those as well.

At any rate, one of the things that makes Neko Case’s music so appealing, I think, is that it’s informed by this non-traditional background. She didn’t grow up in backwoods Texas or the Appalachians. She grew up in a poor industrial town, and maybe that’s a more fertile place to grow your “country” feelings these days. Case doesn’t sing about patriotism (in the sense that most country musicians sing about it, anyway, plus, I get the distinct impression that Case would be pretty happy to be a Canadian…) or pickup trucks or kids getting killed in car wrecks or how things just ain’t like they used to be or any of those traditional country music tropes that have been twisted and annexed by Big Contemporary Country. Sure, she sings about heartbreak and love and the place she grew up, but while there’s longing (sorry, I hate that word too, but it is what it is) in her songs, she isn’t wishing for some kind of xenophobic country paradise with church picnics and barbecues. What I’m getting at is that there’s room in Neko Case’s brand of country music for all kinds of people, and maybe that’s why it has such a broad appeal.

Blacklisted is a good example of this. The lyrics on this album (and I don’t really ever pay attention to lyrics, but I looked up all the songs for this writing today) are cryptic and evocative. They don’t tell stories so much as evoke scenes and feelings and moods that I imagine most girls like me (and probably lots of people who aren’t much like me at all) get something out of, even if the thing we each get is very different from each other. I can’t put my finger exactly on what it is about Neko Case’s lyrics that gets me so deeply. Maybe it’s that I want to buy in to her reality, where things are screwed up pretty much all the time and life may be difficult, but at the end of it, everyone is together and okay enough to sing and play their instruments, and everyone has a drink at the end of the night and walks home under the stars. Then again, maybe it’s just her voice, which is, bar none, amazing

Also Listened:
El Madmo – S/T
Sloan – Navy Blues
Lou Reed – NYC Man: The Collection
The Drones – Wait Long By The River And The Bodies Of Your Enemies Will Float By
The Draft – In A Million Pieces
The Last Deal – Berdache
Iron Maiden – Killers
Iron Maiden – Number of the Beast
Iron Maiden – Powerslave