"Star Witness" by Neko Case is by far and away my favorite song in recent memory, and I have a pretty good memory. (You can, and should if you ain't knowing, download it from Anti- Records website. It's about halfway down the "related downloads" on the left hand column).
It is, in purely visceral terms, an emotional body-blow of a song. Neko's voice is gigantic, monolithic, stratospheric, and her band has this completely unique sonic palette, all reverb-drenched country songs for a Cold War spy noir. The end of the arms race in front of a Nashville woodstove. It's claustrophobic but expansive, sort of sounding like floating in an oil drum in the middle of the ocean might feel. I know, that's two hammy, over-the-top metaphors in two sentences. This song inspires hyperbole.
Here's a stripped-down live version that bleeds mercury guitar all over. It's kind of bad quality Minicam-mic'ed, and it doesn't do justice to the studio version, but it highlights her voice and her harmonies with Kelly Hogan, who's plugging her ear like a pro, and it's pretty much gorgeous in spite of itself.
I saw her live once, and I don't think I've ever heard anyone so obviously drunk sing better than she did and seems to do all the time. Since I heard this song, it's been on the shortlist of songs that give me chills nearly every time I hear them. (Most of the other ones are by the Mountain Goats or Husker Du.) So I really didn't think it could hit me any harder. But a few weeks ago, I was reading up on it a little bit, and I came across some interviews she did. Holy cow.
Pitchfork: From Fox Confessor, on a song like "Star Witness", I'm guessing there's a car accident involved but the details are sketchy.
Case: I spent a while on that song. It's about an actual event that occurred in front of me. It wasn't actually a car accident but someone being shot to death. That was a real event that happened in
Pitchfork: What happened?
Case: It was one of those things where there's gang violence and somebody gets shot right in front of you, and you live it and it's horrible. And, of course, it doesn't make the news because the kid is black. Nobody gives a shit except for his family, and you see how much nobody gives a shit and it's fucking heartbreaking. He wasn't even the kid they were looking to shoot. He was just some kid who they mistook for somebody else and they shot him. I saw it happen. I didn't make the song about me either. The song is pieces of different people but the event is in there.
AVC: Your Chicago neighborhood, Humboldt Park, is notorious for crime, but not that kind of crime.
Case: Yeah, it's a different kind of thing. I've lived around crime my whole life. I don't really feel threatened by it; it makes me intensely sad. I can feel it all the time. People have been shot to death right out in front of my house. You can hear their sister in the street screaming for two hours, and the ambulance never leaves, and they die right there. You hear every word. These houses are old—you can hear everything that happens in the street.
AVC: Is that the inspiration for "Star Witness"?
Case: Yeah, that song's about Humboldt Park.