Favorite music videos of 2006: #1

Cat Power: "Lived in Bars" directed by Robert Gordon

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Some people who've watched this on TV complain that the quality of the video is murky, something that already lo-res YouTube has a way of hiding. All I know is that it looks great to me on YouTube.

Even with the quality issue aside, I have some reservations about citing this as my favorite video, which I'll get into below -- but I will say that no other video filled me with as much feeling as this one, and that feeling carried through the first three or four times I watched it.

Only then did I start to feel that some things were off, like the with framing device of her waking from bed in that party dress (great dress though) with the Cassius Clay jacket draped garishly across her. Then there's the matter of her presence in this bar -- she's obviously not a local so there's a contrived feeling to her interacting with these undeniably authentic folks that comes off a tad condescending. (How rude to interrupt those two nice old folks in the middle of their conversation -- "We know your house so very well" indeed!) However, I think the video turns this potentially fatal flaw into a source of fascination. Whether or not the director is conscious of this, it was brilliant of him to cut to the solo shots of Cat (or Chan as people who pretend to know her on a first name basis call her) mugging to the camera. There's just something about her flexing those scary biceps in the open air that makes her more than just a sleek-looking singer/songwriter exploiting a Memphis bar for credibility. In those brief moments she shows goofiness, pride and a bit of awkward vulnerability.

So when we see her back in the bar with her trucker hat put on backwards (something that normally would make me want to groan) it's all part of the party. Delightfully, she's able to turn it into something clever with her parody of a hip hop video midway in the song -- like she's saying "This is my hood!" with a wink to all the rich rappers who, in order to retain street credibiltiy, film their videos in neighborhoods they wouldn't otherwise give the time of day.

Then something miraculous happens in the third minute -- whatever boundaries or contradictions are manifest in this set-up dissolve. Authenticity and contrivance somehow blend into a moment and everything else is forgotten. It's about 30 seconds of pure joy, the kind of feeling of escape from life's failures and disappointments that drives people to bars in the first place.

Of course it can't last... we end back in the world of contrivance, Cassius Clay jacket, faux trailer trash setting and all.  But the memory of those 30 seconds lives on.

And yes that's William Eggleston on piano.