Excuse the adjective, but Lou Barlow's "The Ballad of Daykitty" is as an adorable a song as has ever been written. Yes, adorable: As beckoning as its paramour, the smile 'n' cry folk ditty frolics through a grown man's feline affections, literally bouncing through percussive, six-string slaps and Barlow's lilting, gentle picking. About two years ago, Barlow--the Dinosaur Jr./Sebadoh/Folk Implosion staple who, at 38, could qualify as an elder statesmen of the indie rock universe--was leaving his Los Angeles home when a neighbor's orange tabby became his accidental muse. As he watched, "this orange fluffball of a kitten" crossed around and between his legs, playfully glancing at him before heading back to its home across the street.
The kitten--which Barlow instinctively feminized "because it was just so cute, it just had to be a female"--began to peer through Barlow's windows during the day, oddly befriending his three territorial felines, led by Hector, "the son of a mountain lion." Barlow, charmed by the cat's enormous overbite and Asian-like tilted eyes, began feeding the cat and preening its fur, increasingly frustrated by his neighbor's own inability to care for the kitten. Every night, though, the cat would cross the street, returning to its owner. And so, "Daykitty" was born.
Barlow decided Daykitty should become a full-time pet as the weeks went on, especially after she had been left outside, soaked by an all-night thunderstorm. Months later, Daykitty (he toyed with the name Ray, but the original stuck) disappeared. Barlow was beside himself.
"She had a very distinctive meow, so I kept imagining I would hear it all the time," says Barlow from home, six days before he begins the first tour behind his Merge Records debut, Emoh. "I started to realize that I was in love with this cat. I had this really hollow feeling."
The first two verses took hold over the next two days, Daykitty returning to Barlow on the third. A veterinarian informed him that the kitten was a boy, sealing the songwriter's deal--and the punch line--of the Emoh-closing "Ballad of Daykitty."
"Took her to the doctor, the doctor did say/ The kitty weren't a woman, The kitty was a man," he playfully sings over what he has described as perhaps "the best song I have ever written." "Took him home, he ate a whole can/ Now he and Hector are friends, I think he's gonna stay/ Think he really loves us, all he wanna do is play."
Barlow remembers that it has been exactly a year now since Daykitty crossed the street for the last time. He was on his way to do a tour in Belgium, and he called every day to see if Daykitty had returned.
"I think I hear him all the time, and I still dream about him," Barlow says, the sincerity plain in his voice.
And he's still waiting.
Lou Barlow plays Local 506 with David Karsten Daniels on Tuesday, March 8. Tickets are $8, and the show begins at 10 p.m.