Real Life Rock Top 10


1) Great Pop Moments (That Should Have Happened Even if They Didn’t Division): Valerie Mass, “People” column (Denver Post, Aug. 6)

Elton John spilled the beans about his former liquor-soaked, drugged-out life in an interview with The London Mirror … John said he met Bob Dylan and George Harrison at a party he was hosting in Los Angeles but was unable to talk any sense to them. ‘I’d had quite a few martinis and [God] knows how much cocaine. So I started babbling on about how [Dylan] had to come up to my room and try on my clothes …’”

2) Bob Dylan, “Summer Days,” from “Love and Theft” (Columbia)

Speaking of trying on new clothes — four years ago, Dylan’s celebrated “Time Out of Mind” mapped a country of abandoned roads and emptied cities, and nothing like what’s happening here could have happened there. “Waaaal” — in this song, “Well” is always “Waaaal,” “Yes” is always “Yaaaaaaassss,” pure minstrel diction, as befits an album seemingly named for Eric Lott’s 1993 study “Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class” — “Waaaaal, I’m standing on a table, I’m proposing a toast to the King,” the singer shouts from inside a roadhouse where a Western Swing band is running a jitterbug beat as if it’s twirling a rope. On the dance floor women are flipping in the air and couples snap back at each other like towels in a locker room. The singer high-steps his way across the room, Stetson topping his Nudie suit. How much proof do you want that the night can’t go wrong? “Why don’t you break my heart one more time,” he says happily to the woman at his side, “just for good luck?” He stretches out the last word as if he can’t bear to give it up.

3) Erase Errata, “Other Animals” (Troubleman Unlimited)

This four-woman San Francisco combo sings and plays in the clipped, impatient manner of the 1980s Leeds punk outfit Delta 5 — until at the end of this first album, with “Dexterity Is #2,” they’re breaking up their sound in the manner of Gang of Four, which sparked Delta 5. The difference is that Delta 5 and Gang of Four premised their music in their leftist-feminist milieu while Erase Errata’s sound comes free of any political context — anything a listener could assume as a premise of what they’re impatient about, or what the break-up of their sound might signify. With borrowed voices they’re beginning their own story from the beginning, and it’s a bright, scratchy experiment — with one eyebrow raised in sardonic doubt.

4) Gillian Welch, “Time (The Revelator)” (Acony)

New old-timey singer Welch had the Walker Evans FSA look down from the start. Now, with sententious, self-absorbed singing, in a tone that sounds weirdly like David Baerwald — though God knows without his passion — she comes forth as barefoot seer, offering oddly abstract songs about Elvis’ death and Lincoln’s assassination. The idea is that both events are best understood, or felt, as folklore: The Elvis song is put to the tune of “Casey Jones,” while Welch’s second Lincoln song, “Ruination Day Part 2,” explicitly compares Lincoln to both Casey Jones and the Titanic and for good measure rewrites “500 Miles” to shoehorn Lincoln’s funeral train into the number as well. This might be interesting if Welch didn’t sing as if she figured all this out a long time ago and can’t be bothered to get excited about it now.

5) Thalia Zedek, “Been Here and Gone” (Matador)

Or, for her band Come, “Came and Went.” There’s a dead spot for a Leonard Cohen song, Zedek’s own tunes in Marianne Faithfull/Weimar cabaret mode when she seems bored, but mostly you might hear a singer-guitarist wondering what would happen if she followed the Rolling Stones’ “Moonlight Mile” to the very end.

6) Madonna, “La Isla Bonita,” from “Madonna: Drowned World Tour” (HBO, Aug. 26)

In her Eva Peron getup, but looking more like the love child of Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl, finally she came up with an oasis in a desert of strutted shtick: a good beat everyone could actually dance to.

7) Heavenly, “Heavenly Versus Satan” (K reissue)

This column shamelessly worships the Oxford ground Amelia Fletcher floats above, be it with Talulah Gosh from 1986 or Heavenly since 1990, when this album, never before released in the U.S., was made. “Shallow” is the perfect moment: a modest guitar pulse, no high notes, a sweetness that can’t last and wouldn’t be worth the time if it could.

8/9) “The Presidential Pen” (New York Times, Aug. 8) & “Satan Gets 2-Year, $6.8 Million Deal” (New York Times, Aug. 9)

And speaking of Satan, why is it that the latter headline led a mere two-inch item, while Bill Clinton’s book deal was covered like a new pardons scandal, with padded news reports followed by arch Op-Ed page lampoons and an editorial that for all of its schoolmarmish distaste (“The one thing that would be most helpful now, to all of us, is candor”) had already collapsed into gibberish? “It’s hard to tell just what Mr. Clinton will sound like in print,” the editorialist wrote. “The man is most himself when winging it in front of a crowd, which means that this may be one of the few presidential memoirs ever written before a live audience.” Monty Python had Thomas Hardy doing that years ago with “The Return of the Native,” but somehow I don’t think that’s the reference here.

10) John Moore, “Lucinda Williams gives stellar, if subdued, concert” (Denver Post, Aug. 9)

“Williams was genial but somber, and not as talkative as usual. Ironically, it was when she began dedicating songs to her favorite dead musicians that the pace picked up …”

The Rude Mechs' theatrical adaptation of Greil Marcus' book "Lipstick Traces" will play Jan. 30-Feb. 1 at DiverseWorks in Houston. For more columns by Greil Marcus, visit his column archive.

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    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

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    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

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    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

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    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

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    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

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    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

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    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

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    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

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