Real Life Rock Top 10

Real Life Rock Top 10


Greil Marcus
September 7, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Sept. 7, 1999

1. The Best News of the Week: Denver Post, Aug. 22

"Universal Records has confirmed that Spin Doctors lead singer Chris Barron ['Little Miss Can't Be Wrong' etc.] has been diagnosed with a rare paralysis of his vocal cords. Barron is meeting with doctors who have indicated that he may never regain the full use of his voice. He now cannot speak above a whisper. All promotional activities for the band's new CD, 'Here Comes the Bride,' are on hold."

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2. Trailer Bride "Whine de Lune" (Bloodshot)

A small cowboy combo that plays as if it's not expecting more than the 10 people in the audience to show up, fronted by a woman who sings like she's wondering who she has to fuck to get out of going through everything twice. As if anybody knows.

3. Alison Krauss "Forget About It" (Rounder)

For the title song, built around the way they say it and mean it not in mob-movie New York but in the rest of the country -- not far from the way Bob Dylan said "Don't think twice," a whole lost world in three words. As always with Krauss, whose voice has the unsatisfiable yearning of her own bluegrass fiddle -- unsatisfiable because the sound remembers a land of milk and honey -- she needs hills and valleys in the melody to come to life, to pull away from the music and the listener, to get lost, then to come back just far enough to pull your string: to pull it right out of you. Songs on an even plain defeat her every time.

4. Marine Research "Sounds from the Gulf Stream" (K) and "Parallel Horizontal"/"Angel in the Snow"/"I Confess" (K single)

Moving from Talulah Gosh to Heavenly to her new five-piece, Amelia Fletcher of Oxford, England, has lost a step each time. The fatigue now drawing her voice back still doesn't hide what makes that voice, all sweetness and worry, one of a kind.

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5. Aspen Festival Orchestra, Kyoko Takezawa, soloist Elgar's "Violin Concerto in B Minor" (Aspen Music Festival, Aug. 15)

In "Allegro" -- deliriously romantic and ominous -- the whole first movement seemed to resolve itself into chase, run. The piece was the apparent source of all the high-class, high-gloss film noir music of the '40s ("Gilda," "The Lady from Shanghai," "Double Indemnity," any production that could afford a real score) -- so much so that the music, played now, isn't merely familiar, it's fabulously generic. You cannot attach, say, a certain gesture by Rita Hayworth or Orson Welles or Barbara Stanwyck to a given lift in the music, a particular door opening into a darkened room to a threatening slide on Takezawa's special "Hammer" Strat -- I mean, Strad, her 1707 "Hammer" Stradivarius. But moment to moment the piece, read back on the films that plundered it, gives up near-images that stop the soundtracks as they play in your head. The plot rushes forward, breaking over the hesitations of the actors, smearing all of them into one.

6. Robert McNamara at Elgar's "Violin Concerto in B Minor"

"The Architect of the Vietnam War" -- or, if we give that honor to McGeorge Bundy, "The Contractor." "Do you remember Mr. McNamara?" said the woman next to me, who'd come in with McNamara, who was sitting next to her. "He's had such a hard time lately, what with all the criticism," she said, referring to the reception given Kennedy/Johnson Secretary of Defense's recent I-Knew-It-Was-Folly-and-I-Wish-I'd-Mentioned-It-at-the-Time books. ("McNamara made a 'bad guess'/ 'Bad Guess' chorused the Reporters?/ Yes, no more than a Bad Guess, in 1962/ '8000 American Troops handle the/ Situation'," Allen Ginsberg wrote in his great Vietnam poem "Wichita Vortex Sutra": "Your magic errandboy's/ Just made a bad guess again/ that's lasted a whole decade.") Now he looked old, fastidious, resolute: like an executioner-monk.

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7. Howard Hampton e-mail report (Aug. 13)

"Wisecrack from the finale of 'Mystery Science Theater 3000,' a few minutes into 'Danger: Diabolik,' swinging '60s Italian-cum-Modesty Blaise send-up/rip-off, as a bunch of leather-boy motorcycle cops swarm by: 'If Hitler had won the war and hired Stu Sutcliffe as a fashion designer.' Besides summing up the dream life of 'Scorpio Rising,' that line seems to have bottomless pop resonance, even if there are only six people in the world who got it, and I'm not even sure I'm one of them."

8. Bob Dylan "Highlands," Madison Square Garden, July 27 (www. bobdylan.com)

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An audience tape of just the second performance of the song since it appeared at nearly 17 minutes on the 1997 "Time Out of Mind." In this 10-minute version the tone shifts from the original bitter weariness to something much sharper: sly, sinister, the sound of a scary old man whispering from a doorway. He could be a prophet; he could be trying to sell you dope. Only one way to find out.

9. David Lynch, director "The Straight Story" (Disney)

In a bar where they're the only patrons, two old men who have just met have told their awful stories of fighting Nazis in the Second World War -- stories of what they saw, what they did, stories about their own guilt. Jo Stafford's "Happy Times" plays in the air; the young bartender stands in the half-light, trying to fade into the woodwork, trying not to hear, not to invade the privacy of the men speaking in this public place, shamed by his own youth.

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10. David Bohrer/Los Angeles Times news photo (Aug. 10)

The picture was carried in countless papers across the country: "Children from a Jewish Center in Los Angeles were escorted to safe ground yesterday by police officers after a gunman opened fire at the center," in the New York Times' caption. The shot was from above, with an officer in the middle of a line of 10 children, all holding hands; the curve in the line made it seem as if the police and the children were dancing. It was a rare instance of true dija vu. Framed by the photographer and then chosen by editors, by intent or by a common, silent memory, the shot was a match for the famous image from the end of Ingmar Bergman's 1957 "The Seventh Seal": men and women, holding hands, dancing off a hill, all led by Death.


Greil Marcus

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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