Real Life Rock Top 10

Chris Isaak, ‘N Sync and the favorite albums of Minnesota Senate candidates: Ten observations on pop and its discontents, from the noted author and critic.


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Greil Marcus
June 26, 2000 7:13pm (UTC)

1) Oval/Markus Popp, "ovalprocess" (Thrill Jockey)

Techno as surf music: blips, buzzes and hums, with a dream in the background and moving like water.

2) Don Asmussen, "The San Francisco Comic Strip: On Microsoft, Monopolies and Breaking Up" (San Francisco Examiner, June 11)

"What Judge Jackson did took guts," Asmussen began in a panel featuring the Examiner headline "JUDGE JACKSON SPLITS UP MICROSOFT." "But then the power got to him ..." Second panel: "JUDGE JACKSON ALSO SPLITS UP 'JOURNEY' Annoying '70s Band Has Gone on Long Enough, Says Jackson. Judge vows to 'never hear that lovin' touchin' squeezin' song ever again.'"

3) Chris Isaak and Kelly Willis on "Sessions at West 54th" (PBS, June 3)

Isaak was his usual diffident self until he cut out with rockabilly guitar on "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing." Willis, in a simple, gorgeous red dress, melted the walls from the first notes of "What I Deserve." The words of the song wound into each other; nothing stood in the way of Willis' expanding voice, which seemed to seek out all the corners in the room that other voices might not reach. She got more out of a word than some people get out of a career. With Willis digging into "that" or "happy" with no sign of pushing you could hear, just the grimace on her face, it was real soul singing -- not the mindless melisma, the vocal equivalent of an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo, that rules female singing on the radio today. "I Have Not Forgotten You" is a hurting song that in the almost thrown away "So many got it tougher than I do" makes room for the whole world without identifying the singer's suffering with the world's. This is Willis' most striking number, but it wasn't allowed to speak for itself, as it does on her 1999 album "What I Deserve." It had to get bigger: BIGGER, as if you might mistake the showcase for a mere tune. It was an insult to the listener: No one needs cues to understand how much is at stake in this melody, but three lines in the drums fell on the song and nearly toppled it. There was a guitar solo the song didn't want and didn't need. And then Willis sang a verse almost a cappella, time stood still, and the world could have ended for all you'd have noticed.

4) 'N Sync at Network Associates Coliseum (Oakland, Calif., June 11)

Kayla D'Alonzo: "I had been waiting two months for June 11th. My dad got press passes for my friends and me. Since we are only 11 years old my dad went with us. We got to the concert at 7:30, it was really crowded. Pink was on stage when we arrived, it was really loud. After she was done a huge poster came down of 'N Sync, that's when the screaming began. Finally at 9 'N Sync came out, on strings like puppets, it was cool. Smoke and fireworks were coming out from the stage, it was so loud, all the girls around me were screaming and jumping up and down. They were screaming 'We love you Justin, Joey, Chris, Lance and J.C.' J.C. looked the best because he had the best clothes and he rocked the concert. My favorite song they sang was 'It Makes Me Ill.' They were dressed like patients in a hospital. They sang 12 songs; I wish they had done more songs. They are pretty good dancers. They ran all over the stage. My eyes never left the stage."

Pete D'Alonzo (48): "The most important experience was scrutinizing my youngest daughter and her peers chanting/gazing wild-eyed at the icons of rock music of their time. The time wasn't right before, during or after the concert to relate to them what the experience was like for me during my rock extravaganza of years past. It was their moment to cherish, and I'm not one to remove that time they will remember for a lifetime . . . My overall view? The band was giving the audience the most their money could put out, with all the rigid guidelines they must conform to. It was definitely a memory that will be etched in my mind for a lifetime."

5) Les Primitifs du Futur, "World Musette" (Sketch Studio, 4 Passage d'Enfer, 75014 Paris, sketch@easynet.fr)

Featuring Dominique Cravic (writing, vocals, guitars) and two dozen others, among them proud moldy fig R. Crumb, this is old-timey music, with Paris in the '20s and '30s standing in for Memphis or Mississippi at the same time. The feeling is impossibly romantic -- and as pretentious as a postcard. "Robert Johnson on the radio," mutters an American voice in "Portrait d'un 78 tard" ("Belated Portrait of a 78"). There's a tribute to Louise Brooks with lyrics so corny ("I saw your face/ And heard your voice/ Which sang only for me") you can imagine someone crooning them while strolling along the Seine. There's "Kid Chocolate," a sentimental cartoon of Jack Johnson. There's even music that, while all about Paris, doesn't seem to depend on America, though it probably does.

6) No Rest in Peace for Chester Burnett (1910-76) or, Can White Men Sing the Blues, Part #4789

"Today is the birthday of blues great Howlin' Wolf," read the chirpy DJ. "He's celebrating his 90th today. And today the House of Blues is ..." Putting him on display, stuffed?

7) Favorite Albums of Senatorial Candidates in Minnesota, from "So You Want to Be a Senator" questionnaire (City Pages, Minneapolis, May 31)

Mike Ciresi (Democratic-Farmer-Labor, 54): "Ann's Favorites" (wife's compilation of his favorites); David Daniels (Grassroots -- party, not group -- 45): Bob Marley & the Wailers, "Natty Dread"; Leslie Davis (Independence, born 1937): "Janis Joplin's Greatest Hits"; Mark Dayton (DFL, 53): Jefferson Airplane, "Volunteers"; Dick Franson (DFL, 71): "All of Frank Sinatra's albums"; James Gibson (Independence, 47): "my wedding album"; Jerry Janezich (DFL, 50): Meat Loaf, "Bat Out of Hell"; Steve Kelly (DFL, 47): Mary Black, "Collected"; David Lillehaug (DFL, 46): Kansas, "Greatest Hits"; Steven Miles (DFL, 50): Bob Dylan, "Time Out of Mind"; Erik D. Pakieser (Libertarian, born 1969): Beastie Boys, "Paul's Boutique," Ice Cube, "Death Certificate," Beatles' "white album"; Ole Savior (DFL, 50): Rolling Stones, no album named; Rebecca Yanisch (DFL, 47): Van Morrison, "Moondance"; Rod Grams (Republican, incumbent): did not respond.

8) Posters for More Than Food restaurant (Jung von Matt an der Isar Agency, Munich)

"Guttes Essen statt bvser Krieg" ("Good eating instead of evil war") is the slogan: Airbrushed archival graphics show soldiers on the battlefield. While one waves a huge wooden soup stirrer instead of a rifle, two others, with Nazi insignia transformed into neutral striped epaulets, carefully study a menu in a bunker. Maybe Germany is taking Gerhard Schroeder's "New Start" business too far.

9) Steve Earle, "Transcendental Blues" (E Squared/Artemis)

Anyone singing with this much growly insularity wants not to tell you how much he doesn't know but how many times he's seen it all before. For the King of Dirt Road PC, every breath goes back to the breather. Atrocity: "The Boy Who Never Cried."

10) John Garst, "Delia" (e-mail postings, June 10 & 14)

Two weeks ago I was praising David Johansen and the Harry Smith cover of Bob Dylan's rewrite of the traditional "Delia," from Dylan's 1993 "World Gone Wrong" -- a song so seemingly generic it sounds more written by its genre than rooted in any facts. The number appeared in print as "One More Rounder Gone" in 1911; early research was done in 1928 by Robert W. Gordon of the Library of Congress (who "supposedly traced the song's origins to Savannah," Michael Gray writes in his inexhaustible "Song and Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan"). Blind Willie McTell recorded it, as have Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare and Ronnie Wood, not to mention Mr. Acker Bilk; Dylan first taped a living-room version in St. Paul in 1960. "Seems to be about counterfeit loyalty," he wrote in 1993. "the guy in the courthouse sounds like a pimp in primary colors ... does this song have rectitude? you bet. toleration of the unacceptable leads to the last round-up."

Garst, of Georgia, recently went looking for the story behind the song -- someone is passing for white, a woman is murdered ("You loved all those rounders, never did love me") and the killer is calm and humble -- "and within two hours I had it." With interpolations: "Delia Green, age 14, was shot and killed by Moses 'Coony' Houston, age 15" -- Dylan uses "Cutty" -- "in the Yamacraw section of Savannah (characterized for me by a local historian as 'poor, black and violent') at about 11.30 PM on Christmas Eve, 1900. She died Christmas day in her bed at home." ("Wouldn't have been so bad/If the poor girl died at home," Dylan has Delia's mother lament). "Delia and Coony had been 'more or less intimate' (newspaper) for several months and Coony said something to the effect that he would or wouldn't let her do this or that. Delia reacted with strong words to the effect that he had no control over her whatever. He then shot her. All accounts, from the very beginning, emphasize how calm, cool, deliberate and polite Coony was ... He appeared in court wearing short pants (on the advice of his lawyer, I suspect). The jury asked the judge for a clarification at one point, 'What would be the sentence for a murder conviction with a recommendation of mercy?' The judge replied that the law specified life imprisonment. Shortly thereafter the jury returned with that verdict and the judge sentenced Coony to 'life.' He replied, 'Thank you, sir.'" In other words, a Savannah murder that was no mystery when it happened, and as a song turned into one.


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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