Neko Case's amazing coincidence -- The alt-country singer discovers she has a long-lost relative when watching a documentary about female wrestlers

By Michael Berick
February 07, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

When alt-country dynamo Neko Case sat down last year to watch a rough out of the lady-wrestling documentary Lipstick & Dynamite, she was only thinking about contributing to the soundtrack. She didn’t expect to find a long-lost relative.

But then she heard former ”girl wrestler” Ella Waldek, 76, mention on screen that her original last name was Shevchenko, to which Case yelled out, ”Hey, that’s my [family’s] name. Nobody has that name!” (It was changed before Neko was born.) When Waldek further disclosed that she was born in Custer, Wash. (from where Case’s kin hail), the singer knew she had to shake the family tree. So she called her grandmother, who confirmed, ”Oh, yes, Elsie was a famous wrestler” — as well as being Case’s great-aunt.

The discovery was a surreal experience. ”It’s like seedy daytime television,” says Case from a Toronto studio, where she’s recording a new album, due early 2006. But it was a validation, too. ”I always thought there must be some tough ladies in the family hiding somewhere.”

The odd family bond extends even further: Waldek was a roller-derby queen prior to entering the squared circle, and Case tried to start a roller-derby team before turning to music.

Ruth Leitman, director of Lipstick & Dynamite, which opens March 25 and features the twangy belter’s version of Nick Lowe’s ”Ragin’ Eyes,” eventually arranged for Case and Waldek to meet at a film festival last year. ”I felt so proud,” says an elated Case. ”She’s such a sweet, funny lady. We exchange Christmas cards!”