Real Life Rock Top 10

Teddy Morgan and the Pistolas top the author and critic's biweekly accounting of pop and its discontents.

Published November 16, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Nov. 16, 1999

1) Teddy Morgan and the Pistolas
"Lost Love & Highways" (Hightone)

This trio starts in the country, and by the time they hit third gear they're not just in the city, they're so in love with their own momentum they grind right past the club where they're supposed to go on in 10 minutes. Grunge seeps out of the woods like a dead animal, then pulls the singer down by his feet and steals his guitar. The sound Morgan, drummer Chris Hunter and bass Jon Penner make as they take it back would have Hank Williams and Kurt Cobain high-fiving if they weren't so pissed they didn't see this coming.

2) Mark Sinker
"Concrete, so as to self-destruct: The etiquette of punk, its habits, rules, values and dilemmas," in "Punk Rock: So What? -- The Cultural Legacy of Punk," edited by Roger Sabin (Routledge)

In this complex and worried piece of criticism, Sinker wants to know how communities emerge out of nothing and then create a milieu in which individuals find each other and themselves, wants to know how such people then decide what to do in their shared space and time: "Imagine the ensuing centuries of Judeo-Christian moral debate had Moses returned from the mountain carrying not two stone tablets inscribed with five commandments each, but the first Siouxsie and the Banshees LP." And that's just the first sentence, on which Sinker builds a rickety heretics' church where all questions get asked in the right way. And no questions are closed, except whether or not it's OK to wear flares.

3) "Bob Marley: Chant Down Babylon" (Tuff Gong)

"Bob Marley duets featuring today's hottest artists": Wake up, dead man. For this necrophiliac gangbang, remixers fool with old Marley vocal tracks as Lauryn Hill drops her Laconic Goddess of Disdain routine all over "Turn Your Lights Down Low," MC Lyte makes a note to fire whoever got her into this and a clueless Rakim croons like Crosby across a slowed-down "Concrete Jungle," which as the Wailers' greatest recording (once there were giants in the earth, and Marley was part of a band) was made out of equal parts despair, syncopation and menace. Out by the skin of their teeth: Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry on "Roots, Rock, Reggae," proving that trashiness can so conquer all.

4) Douglas Gordon
"Through a Looking Glass" (1999) at the Venice Bienalle (June 13-Nov. 7)

Gordon ran a slightly fuzzy video of Robert De Niro's "You talkin' to me?" sequence from Martin Scorsese's 1976 "Taxi Driver" in a loop on two screens, with a stuttering echo on the soundtrack. Ten years old in Glasgow when "Taxi Driver" came out, Gordon removed the scene from its status as a clichi in cultural discourse, a punch line without a joke, and allowed it to communicate on its own, as a thing in itself, a drama of absolute presence. At the same time, by means of repetition, Gordon isolated each word and gesture to the point where from second to second one could read De Niro's eyes flashing altogether different messages. You might have hit a mental pause button for the instant when the eyes were not taunting but mad, demanding revenge without regard to object -- and you might have then seen the same eyes in De Niro's Rupert Pupkin in Scorsese's 1983 "The King of Comedy." You might have seen the footage Gordon was playing with folding itself into the scene in which nowhere would-be stand-up comic Pupkin seats himself in his basement room in his mother's house, the room all made up as a set for the Jerry Langford Show, and Pupkin happily acting out his big break, his routine, his confident banter with the legendary host, his ease in the light of fame. You might have seen the scenes from the two movies as one and the same, two dangerous men rehearsing what they plan to do next, and the one without the gun infinitely the more terrifying.

5) Pipilotti Rist
"I'm a Victim of This Song" in "Himalaya" (Oktagon)

Rist is a Swiss video artist; leading off "We Can't," the CD included in the catalog for a recent exhibition, is her version of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game." An insinuating guitar and a careful, Germanic male chorus take the performance away from karaoke; Rist lets the song draw her little-girl voice back to hopscotch days, lets it skin her knees, and then steps forward to sing with poise and balance -- just as her alter ego, trapped in the locked room of any overplayed hit, begins screaming for her life.

6) Atmosphere
"Overcast!" (Rhyme Sayers)

With voices Slug, Spawn, Beyond, Ant and Stress, this determinedly right-here-right-now Twin Cities hip-hop collective looks for the sound of thought. "In 200 years people will be studying Atmosphere," you hear, and there's such modest desperation in the way the line is spoken you can sense the singer reaching that far into the future, grabbing the first person he sees, shouting: "Why aren't you listening?"

7) Nat Finkelstein
"Andy Warhol: The Factory Years, 1964-1967" (Cannongate)

One day in 1965 Bob Dylan and entourage arrive at the Factory for a screen test -- or, really, in photographer Finkelstein's account, for a showdown in which hip is pitted against cool, and loses: "A Jewish potlatch commenced. Andy gave Bobby a great double image of Elvis. Bobby gave Andy short shrift." The real winner was Finkelstein, who came away with a perfectly framed back-shot of Warhol and Dylan facing each other as Warhol's "Flaming Star" Elvises, their guns drawn, aim blank-eyed at both -- a concatenation of American iconography unmatched in this century. Dylan knew a curse when he saw one: He traded the picture to his manager Albert Grossman for a couch. The couch is probably long gone, the picture is worth millions, but guess who's still alive?

8) Absinthe (74-75, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Paris 1e)

On the way to the Picasso Museum, stop here and find yourself plunged into the turn-of-that-century haute bohemia of Barcelona, Picasso's first city. All the staff are in costume (you sort of hope): hair plastered to their skulls, black spit curls on their foreheads that a typhoon wouldn't dislodge, suits and dresses of outrageous and seductive design, the floor man and woman moving from customer to customer like tango dancers, the madame of the place sitting behind the counter like a madam, a dead ringer for an older, dissolute version of the woman in the Picasso Museum's 1918 "Portrait of Olga in an Armchair," a magical painting of Olga Khokhlova, Picasso's first wife. The store is magical. But in the window, seen from the street, is something more magical still. On a brilliantly attired male mannequin is a peacock feather scarf, gleaming with gold and beads, but somehow subtle in its splendor. It was the essence of dandyism: If in the 1830s Paris poet Girard de Nerval took his pet lobster for walks on a leash, this was as close as you could come to wearing one around your neck.

9) Sweetwater
"Cycles: The Reprise Collection" (Warner Archives/Rhino)

A recent VH1 film chronicled the Tragic Story of this band: adventurous hippies open at Woodstock, car crash sidelines lead singer and kills the group, the world turns, and 30 years later they reform for heroic comeback -- reincarnated as, among others, Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas and Frederic Forrest of "The Rose." This lovingly compiled set lets you hear the band as it really was: As Nansi Nevins makes a breakthrough to diffidence, her most passionate mode; as her sub-Grace Slick affectations give way to a shared aesthetic rooted somewhere in the final choruses of Marcia Strassman's "The Flower Children (Are Blooming Everywhere)"; as on the Woodstock stage one of the guys announces the band as "Sweetwawa" and is not immediately struck by lightning. These people were so bad it's embarrassing to be in the same room with them, and they're still resentful that they missed their "chance."

10) Marianne Faithfull
"Vagabond Ways" (It/Virgin)

And when she gets it right, it can still be scary to be in the same room with her. Thanked, among others: Anita Pallenberg, Herman Melville, Kate Moss and Elizabeth I.

By 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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