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A Mighty Wind: Neko Case’s “Middle Cyclone”

Coastal California in January is a setting for unpredictable bursts of melancholy and joy. Scandinavians or Minnesotans would barely recognize “winter” here, but we have impossibly thin skins for ours. We have too many sunlit summer teaser days to steel ourselves for the bleakness, and when the big storms hit the Bay Area, you might as well be walking through an Ingmar Bergman movie or a Leonard Cohen album. This makes January the perfect time to listen to Neko Case‘s weather-obsessed 2009 album, Middle Cyclone.

Calling a musician a “force of nature” is a tiresome cliche, because who isn’t? We humans are a bunch of animals, and the “artificial” music of Kraftwerk and Gorillaz comes from nature just as much as Delta blues. (I’ll exclude Coldplay and Sting, since they appear to be pure cylon.) But I digress. What matters about Neko Case isn’t that she’s “natural,” but that she has such a fluid force. Galvanizing calm and rage, she can take a phrase lesser lights would turn into mushy prattle (“I’m a man-eater” or “never turn your back on Mother Earth”) and make you believe her life and your life depend on it. She doesn’t just sing about stormy weather, she is the weather.

On “This Tornado Loves You,” perhaps Neko’s best song yet, she is the speed of sound, stalking lost love like a funnel cloud ready to strike. She is the force of love and danger spinning out of control. She’s the perfect soundtrack for a continent hanging on to hope while flirting with impending doom. She’s even the cool hood ornament on a 1967 Mercury Cougar. For those of us who emerged from the Zeroes with our attention spans twittered into submission, it’s a revelation to hear in Neko’s “Tornado” a rock musician with an ace geologist’s sense of timing:

I have waited with a glacier’s patience
Smashed every transformer with every trailer
’til nothing was standing
65 miles wide
Still you are nowhere
Nowhere in sight

I’ve played Middle Cyclone repeatedly while reading Dead Pool, James Lawrence Powell’s gripping account of how decades spent denying the forces of nature have left the western landscape vulnerable to climate change, potentially turning places like Phoenix into dusty, uninhabitable ghost towns. The rivers whisper and scream with the violence of lost love, but still we are nowhere in sight.

In the first clip below, Neko Case performs “This Tornado Loves You.” In the second, she chats with a Canadian talk show host about mesocyclones and animal instinct, Goethe and Harry Nilsson, Loretta Lynn and PMS. At the end, she hallucinates about George W. Bush visiting a taco wagon dressed in a grimy tank top.

Neko Case, “This Tornado Loves You”

Neko Case Interview

One Comment
  1. shacker permalink

    We humans are a bunch of animals, and the “artificial” music of Kraftwerk and Gorillaz comes from nature just as much as Delta blues.

    I dunno… I have trouble with that. You know I loves my Krautrock, and the Gorillaz are still fresh, but “nature” is exactly what I don’t hear in them. They’re all about industrial civilization to me (in a good way). Kind of reminds me of when I was taking a Pranayama yoga class and we were meditating and the cars were rushing by outside and I asked the guru how we could achieve peace in the middle of the city. He gave me a similar line about how it’s all nature. If we can consider the sound of rushing cars as nature, then I feel like we’re destined to lose our roots.

    For those of us who emerged from the Zeroes with our attention spans twittered into submission,

    Twitter may have shortened my attention span even farther (as if that were even possible), but it’s also vastly widened it.

    Looking at the poster frame of the QTV video, imaging I could paint one of her eyeballs green and she’d be David Bowie’s blazer-wearing sister.

    Great piece Roger.

    Someday I still hope to draw a crooked line from Nico to Neko.

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