Real Life Rock Top Ten

Why Patrick Bateman killed, the meeting of Sleater-Kinney and more.

Published May 1, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

May 1, 2000

1) "American Psycho," directed by Mary Harron (Lions Gate)

This really is Katrina Leskanich's moment. In 1985 with Katrina and the Waves she scrubbed the airwaves clean with the horrifyingly bright "Walking on Sunshine." ("Soon to be a major floor-wax commercial," one reviewer wrote at the time.) Now the gruesome thing is leaking out of Patrick Bateman's headphones as he heads into his office, serves as a hideous wake-up call in "High Fidelity" and chirps from your TV in incessant ads for Claritin allergy pills while fresh-faced folk frolic on the grass and little kids pick up the chorus. No wonder everybody has to die.

2) Sleater-Kinney "Is It a Lie" from "All Hands on the Bad One" (Kill Rock Stars)

With guitarists Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker now joined by drummer Janet Weiss as singers, the music of the band no other group is even chasing is easier to hear and harder to keep up with, especially on this trickily constructed death song -- which despite its description of a traffic accident might one day fold into the tradition of 19th-century murder ballads like "Omie Wise" or "Banks of the Ohio." The piece is all questions, and when "Was it a lie?" is asked for the last time, a plain tone exchanged for a who-cares fade, it's not a single person but a whole way of life that seems to have been run down. It's a mystery, but perhaps nothing compared to the one in the cover photo, which looks like documentation of a performance-art piece staged in a union-hall-cum-nightclub circa 1943 -- or the one in the leading guitar figure on the last cut, "The Swimmer," which is much closer to David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" than John Cheever's river of pools. The meaning of the glamorous photos in the booklet or Brett Vapnek's sparking video for "You're No Rock 'n' Roll Fun" is not mysterious: Good clothes can make you happy.

3) Green Velvet "Green Velvet" (F-111)

Techno, very playful, very accessible, very funny when dubbed with dank, deadpan monologues and the multivoiced "Answering Machine," where any number of people, all of whom I like to think are DJ Curtis Jones (otherwise known as Cajamere or Green Velvet), helpfully call up to inform the guy screaming "I! Don't! Need! This! Shit!" that, for example, "I hate to do this over the phone, but I sort of can't do it in person, I want to thank you for the engagement ring, I know you probably gave it to me after I told you I'm pregnant and stuff ... but the baby's not yours, so you don't have to worry about it, I'll always love you."

4) White Town "Duplicate" from "Peek & Poke" (Parasol)

A man surrounded by two women floats through what could be Human League's "Don't You Want Me Baby" with all the fear, fury and self-hatred removed. At under four minutes it's over far too soon, as if music-maker Jyoti Mishra didn't trust himself. "Inspired by," among others, Monkee Michael Nesmith, late physicist Richard Feynman, preening role model bell hooks and onetime silent movie actor Lev Davidovich Bronstein.

5) Hanson "This Time Around" (Island)

Fine: Nothing as catchy as "MMMBop," but eager, jumping, edging up to the territory marked out by the Indigo Girls' "Shame On You."

6) Bruce Conner "Dead Punks and Ashes" Curt Marcus Gallery (578 Broadway, New York, through Saturday)

In 1978 at the Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco, filmmaker-collagist-sculptor Conner -- who more than a decade before orchestrated light shows at the Avalon Ballroom across town -- stood at the lip of the stage photographing punk bands for "Search and Destroy." What he liked most was to catch a group's first gig; after that, he's said, something, some measure of fear and a refusal to give into it, is lost. New York Eye, aka Emily Marcus (related to me, not the gallery), reports: "The few dozen black-and-white photos of actual punk people look like pictures of punks -- costumed, rowdy and drunk, including a stoned and skinny Toni Basil (who 12 years before performed in Conner's film 'Breakaway'). Weirder are the memorial collages for three local musicians who died, carefully but sparely decorated and surprisingly moving. 'Ricky Williams: Dead Punk' (of the Sleepers) stands out (among 'Will Shatter' of Negative Trend and Flipper and 'Frankie Fix' of Crime) for its draped hospital tubing, catheters still attached, but the pieces work best as a group; it's nice thinking of the three of them hanging out together, and I get the feeling Conner sees himself in their eventual company.

"In the second part of the show Conner brings the doom home. Black-and-white photos of motel TV screens, caught in the middle of the late-night creepshow, welcome and deceive, but the real point of the room is a collection of immodest and unattractive photocopy collages of the artist's decline into illness, pain, old age and cynicism -- autobiographical records that are not so much morbid as mundane. It's a dismal room, half full of distracting, barking TVs, with one wonderful exception, and the only piece in the show with a sense of humor: a brick neatly wrapped in an Ace bandage. Brings a smile to my lips."

7) Sarah McLachlan "I Will Remember You" in Columbine High School Massacre video (Jefferson County, Colo., Sheriff's Department)

With her tune running under April 20, 1999, footage of pools of blood in emptied, shattered rooms, McLachlan sounds unspeakably facile and insincere. "I hope that just didn't destroy that song for me for the rest of my life," a cop viewing the video said to a reporter for KRON-TV in San Francisco. But what song wouldn't collapse under this weight? The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter"? Ice Cube's "Dead Homies"? Of course they would. Nirvana's "Come as You Are" probably would not -- but maybe only because Kurt Cobain, too, is dead.

8) Neil Young "Silver and Gold" (Reprise)

Given that Young works on a pendulum, this hilariously vapid collection of acoustic musings (might want to get Buffalo Springfield back together, "give it a shot," why not, why not row row row your boat down the L.A. River) presages great things in the future. For the time being, as an old National Lampoon Radio Dinner spot had it, "The last half-hour of No Neil Young Music was brought to you by ..."

9) Bad Livers "Blood and Mood" (Sugar Hill)

The quirky backroads duo digs deep into the country that opens up out of Harry Smith's "Anthology of American Folk Music" in order to ... get really cute.

10) "Velvet Goldmine" directed by Todd Haynes (Miramax, 1998)

I rented this paean to the Ziggy Stardust era to see what Christian Bale was doing before he turned into Norman Bates, and came away touched: by Toni Collette's impersonation of broken down Susan Alexander in the "Citizen Kane" interview scenes, by Ewan McGregor's heedless merging of Iggy Pop and Kurt Cobain, by the dream their characters shared of a world redeemed by style. "We set out to change the world, ended up just changing ourselves," McGregor's washed-up star tells Bale's reporter long years after the glam utopia has vanished. "What's wrong with that?" Bale asked reasonably, but as if he knows exactly what's wrong with it. "Nothing," says McGregor without bitterness, "unless you look at the world" -- and the camera pulls back to show the bar they're sitting in, a place devoid of color, flair or self-invention, of Corin Tucker shouting, "Culture is what we make it" on the new Sleater-Kinney album, so roughly it sounds like she's saying "cut your ears."

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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