James Franco’s Face: A Subjective Account of the New Yorker Festival


7:30pm – Neko Case Talks with Sasha Frere-Jones: A Conversation with Music (Acura at Stage37) “I want to be man and ladies all the time.” – Neko Case Conversation with Sasha Frere-Jones The space had community. It was the only space that seemed to have been arranged with the idea that people would move and mingle in it and might even want to stay. People walked silently in sneakers from the cafe carrying cups of tea and coffee. A silver car sparkled in the corner. The stage was dark but you could see the silhouettes of guitars standing upright. The light went on and Sasha Frere-Jones and Neko Case were in directors’ chairs surrounded by instruments. The words used most frequently by Neko Case were “organic,” “Civil War,” “ghost balls,” and “cobra.” They talked about doing Spectacle [the new television series produced by Elton John and Elvis Costello] where she performed live with Sheryl Crow. They talked about her farm in Vermont. Sasha Frere-Jones said, “How intense is your farming?” Neko Case said, “I’m going to have an indoor goat.” I don’t know if this was in reference to Spectacle or farming, but Neko Case said, “It was like can you bring the tractor with you because I want to operate the bucket on that.” She has four dogs and eight pianos. About playing solo, Neko Case said “I find it very lonely.” But with her band members she said, “We work as an organic pack.” Neko Case said she had a show coming up at the Beacon. “Hopefully I’ll whip it out in a way that it was not properly whipped out before.” Her hair was red, loose and stood out behind her. She was sitting with her shoulders back and her elbows resting on the arms of her chair and her head cocked up. She snapped her fingers. I read that Neko Case left home when she was fifteen. Sasha Frere-Jones said, “Is there ever a time you feel like afraid?” Neko Case said, “I feel like afraid all the time.” When she’s tuning her guitar. Afraid that she can’t do it. “Music is so disposable,” she said. “Now it’s like bzzzt–we’re going to make it virtual.” Puts hands in the air like she’s pushing against an imaginary ceiling. They talked about Grace Jones. Assuming the voice of Grace Jones, Neko Case said, “I can’t destroy myself because I’m too vain.” She said, “She makes fun of her own diva-ness…. Who can pull that off?…. She wore a giant strawberry.” Sasha Frere-Jones said, “You’ve got to figure out what you’re giant strawberry is.” Neko Case said, “I don’t want giant boobs” Neko Case talked about getting old. Sasha Frere-Jones said, “Look you have all your hair. Come on.” Neko Case said “People don’t call you cougar.” She looked at Sasha Frere-Jones and then out at the audience. One of them said, “attack from the back,” then they both said “weird,” at exactly the same time. Sasha Frere-Jones said, “Jinx.” “What would Little Neko do now?” he said. Neko Case said, “I was such an aggressive kid.” “How aggressive did you get? Were you like breaking stuff?” Neko Case said, “Sure. People can hate my record. I don’t care. Rrrrrrr…. I know I’ve had Frances Farmer moments.” [Referring to the Hollywood actress who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.] “Is this the early early Neko…before the cobra came out of the basket?” Neko Case said, “Can’t wait until my sex drive is totally gone.” Sasha Frere-Jones said, “Does the cobra still come out?” Neko Case, “Oh yeah…. “When I was a nine-year-old all I wanted was a cobra.” Performance They tuned their instruments. Neko Case said “Ricky dicky,” and apologized for sounding “complainy” but she hates it in interviews when musicians say “I just feel so blessed.” “This is a song about Paul Rigby… and revenge feelings” and mouthed something to the audience. She made a lot of sounds with her mouth. Neko Case looked out at the audience then turned her head stage left where Jon Rauhouse was leaned over his guitar. “Jon Rauhouse on the banjo,” she said, “matched his jacket to his beard.” His hair was grayish-brownish like a nest in his jacket, so you couldn’t see his face. Neko Case said something like, “Soon your beard will grow into your jacket and your jacket will be your coffin…. He went so peacefully, so organically.” He did not look up. I wondered if she picked on him every time they performed. They played “Margaret vs. Pauline.” They played “Middle Cyclone.” Neko Case sang, “…to ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love.” Kelly Hogan played a music box that plinked as she spun a red knob slowly around. She wore a black dress from the forties. Paul was tuning his guitar. Neko Case flipped her hair to the side and looked back at Paul. She said, “Tuning cuts into your drinking time.” She wore a large black vest, like a vest for a man’s suit, with big buttons. She said the next song was about a “homicidal killing picnic.” But today “there’s no bass drums or tambourines so it’s going to sound like ‘Scarborough Fair.'” Neko Case sang, “I’m a man man man man man man eater…” Paul drank from his bottle. Neko Case said he had “camel toe.” I wonder if she insults all the men she performs with. “Like a pants tourniquet in the Civil War. Kelly my ghost balls hurt.” Kelly Hogan said, “That’s how the high notes happen.” Q&A A young boy asked when she first started making music. She said 16 or 17. “Drumming was a gateway to other instruments.” And added that it was a “good” gateway. Someone said it was ironic that she had a “Star Trek” following without having signed to a label. Neko Case said, “There’s a blue-collar level then a 65-mile chasm.” She stretched her arm up over her head. “I feel very blessed that I was rejected at a young age.” Earlier she had said, “If Elektra signed me when I was 23, I would have fucking signed it. Valuable lesson: maybe you should read what you’re signing.” Someone asked her what the difference was between playing solo and playing with the New Pornographers. She said because she doesn’t have to write for the New Pornographers it’s “a rock ‘n’ roll luge…without having to sign the release form.” Someone asked asked something and Neko Case said, “The Carter sisters didn’t worry about being called lesbos…. I want to be man and ladies all the time…. I’m everywhere at once.” “I mean it more in a Nikola Tesla kind of way.” Someone said, “If I had a taser to your ghost balls–” Neko Case said, “How did you find my ghost balls?” The same person asked her what two covers she would play.  Neko Case said “Free bird,” and songs from the Everly Brothers: “I don’t want to love you but I do,” and “If I could be with You,” by Louis Armstrong. Neko Case said, “It’s the saddest song I’ve ever heard.” 9:15pm – Walking Down Tenth Avenue I walked down tenth avenue. It was wide and empty. I saw the Empire State building–only the top half. It was yellow. The writer Clancy Martin said once that yellow is the color of despair. But he said Dostoevsky had said that. I wondered if the people who made decisions about the lighting scheme knew that, or if they thought it meant “friendship,” or if they thought it was the most neutral or the most meaningless of colors. A stretch limousine slowed down by me. It was old, like from the eighties. For ten blocks it was empty except for a man. And he was alone too. When the street was full of people I had a Caesar salad.

Rozalia Jovanovic is a founding editor of Gigantic, a magazine of short prose and art. She is the Deputy Editor of Flavorpill and has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Columbia University. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Unsaid, The Believer, Everyday Genius, Guernica, elimae, and Esquire.com. She blogs at The Astonishing Egg and is The Rumpus New York Editor. More from this author →