Neko Case’s time in Chicago inspired a crushingly sad song

Neko Case’s time in Chicago inspired a crushingly sad song

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: What song makes you cry?

We’ve touched on this topic at The A.V. Club a couple of times, from a mixlist in 2007 called “Songs That Make The A.V. Club Cry” to a 2009 AVQ&A about “music we can’t listen to anymore.” In both instances I wrote about Uncle Tupelo’s “Still Be Around,” a mournful song that’s inextricably tied, in my mind, to my mom’s death. In the interest of changing things up a bit in 2013, though, I’ll talk about “Star Witness” by Neko Case

I should mention that it takes a lot to get me blubbering—I think I may have permanently broken my tear ducts when I lost my mom—but I’m a fan of a good, sad song. I find them cathartic, so when I was going through a rough time in my personal life in 2006, when Fox Confessor Brings The Flood came out, I spent a bunch of commutes to work listening to this on repeat.

My problems had nothing to do with the song’s subject matter, which is at least partly inspired by Case’s time living in Chicago’s Humboldt Park. It’s a traditionally poor neighborhood known for crime, which Case describes with heartbreaking plainness: “Go on, go on and scream and cry / You’re miles away from where anyone can find you / This is nothing new, no television crew / They don’t even put on the sirens.” But it’s most devastating right after that, when the music comes down a bit as Case sings, “My nightgown sweeps the pavement / ‘Please, don’t let him die.’”

Considering Chicago’s current woes, it’s more apt in 2013 than it was in 2006. And it’s still absolutely crushing seven years later.

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