CAT AS MUSE
WRITTEN BY KATHERINE LEE I EDITED BY STEVE SEONG
Vladimir Nabokov and Vera, Salvador Dali and Gala, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda… Relationships between artists and their muses are an endless source of fascination. I’ve always found the connection magical: a single inspiration, combined with the artist’s talent and grit, translated into a work of art to be consumed and understood by millions. When I go through fragments of old interviews and preserved letters, I always discover romantic and artistic connections between the artists and their muses.
If some artists leave behind a trail of gossip and mystery through high-profile romances with their muses, it is likely the more withdrawn and literary types will also leave traces of their love. Ernest Hemingway left traces of his colony of polydactyl cats that he loved and cared for. Thoughtful lyricists in their own right, many of the indie musicians on my radar would identify with this type. Not surprisingly, the most popular muse for Korean indie musicians tends to be a cat. It bounds into the musicians’ lives and lyrics with more ease and grace than a human lover, and more often than not, it is one of the few types of companions that the musicians will openly profess their love to.
The cat is a creature that defies classification. A person can identify as a “cat person,” or “dog person,” even be “catlike,” but the cat itself transcends all descriptions. Countless adjectives have been prescribed to its agile movements, alert eyes, and even its reticent yet proud attitude. However, no one word has managed to summarize the existence of cats, just as how the word “loyal” has come to define all dogs. Perhaps that unfathomable sense of mystery is what makes these feline companions so attractive as inspirations. In this series, the cats of indie musicians come to life in their owners’ songs and stories, often assuming not just in the role of their beloved pets, but in the role of their mysterious lovers.
The first musician that came to mind when I thought of cat lovers in the indie music scene was Casker. Both Yoongjin and Juno are cat owners, and in interviews, journalists have always inquired about their cats. Indie musicians, by nature of their work, may be limited in the volume of work they can produce and release, but Casker has already dedicated two of their very popular songs towards their cats: “Cat’s Letter (고양이편지)” and “Cat and Me (고양이와 나).”
“Cat and Me” is from the opposite perspective–the owner sings to the cat, a simple and unsuspecting creature that is unaware of the fact that the owner is leaving for good. The innocent, unconditionally affectionate cat has all of the traits that artists imagine in their ideal lovers. In fact, many artists have used cats to describe the traits that can be hard to expect of human companions.
“Cat’s Letter” is a letter to an owner from a cat, a pet and an unconditionally loving, carefree companion. Written as a sequel number to “Cat and Me,” Casker meant to portray the loneliness of people reflected in the eyes of their cats. “When you’re sad and tired, I don’t know how much help I can be to you, but remember me, looking at you and blinking my big eyes,” sings the cat.
Talented vocalist Lucia’s quietly cheerful song about a thoughtful and shy lover, sung in a waltz rhythm, was named “The Cat Waltz (고양이 왈츠).” Lucia rearranged this number for her fans a second time in the album, “A Room of One’s Own.” All of the songs in the album, she had said earlier, reflected the way she had chosen to “spend her life”--through the expression of raw emotions, unfiltered in her songs and music. Lucia’s songs of sadness reflect sadness at its greatest depth; her joys are neither exaggerated nor downplayed as they dance to her waltz number.
In “If You Were a Cat (네가 고양이면 좋겠다),” Fanny Fink vocal Hong Jae Mok sings that he wishes his lover was more like the cat he has at home–always welcoming him when he returns at the end of the day, expecting none of the fancy trappings (“A fancy car, a big house”) of “grown-up life” that beckon to the youth. The cat’s day is sleepy and peaceful, “because she lives a slower day, walks a different day, [he] needs her.” In fact, Hong Jae Mok wrote this love song to the cat to portray an innocent love that would draw sharp contrasts with the materialistic views of marriage so common in real life.
People never cease hoping to be accepted and understood. In the often light-hearted melodies and lyrics about the sleepy and adoring house cat, we find each and every one of our yearnings to be understood and loved for who we are. The cat’s first role in the indie musician’s life is in its loyalty, surprising as it may be, and in its unaffected stance from its isolation from the world. In the end, we can never fully understand our lovers, nor can we say with confidence that we fully comprehend our cats. People find themselves bewildered and clueless even as they stare into the eyes of their lovers, which is the same occurrence with cats. Indie musicians’ sheer curiosity, excitement, and irrepressible love for these creatures continue to encourage observation and expression, and at the end of the day, we are left with yet another long list of adjectives and stories that grant us only one thing—the freedom to guess the truth.