Real Life Rock Top 10

By Greil Marcus
September 5, 2000 11:23PM (UTC)
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1) Eleventh Dream Day, "Stalled Parade" (Thrill Jockey)

This Chicago trio got it right a long time ago: the sound of fate (taking its time) on the guitar, vocals that seem like whispers no matter what their volume, an overwhelming sense of displacement combined with a refusal to leave. They first found their voice under George Bush; here guitarist Rick Rizzo, drummer Janet Beveridge Bean and bassist Doug McCombs act surprised that after eight years under Clinton their old language of dramatic fuzztone and bitter jokes no one thinks are funny still speaks so clearly.

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2) Domenic Stansberry, "The Last Days of Il Duce" (St. Martin's Minotaur)

A murder mystery that's creepily convincing in its plot, which concerns lingering traces of fascism in San Francisco's North Beach; completely convincing about the energy of sexual obsession that drives the plot; and, around the edges of the plot, utterly suggestive about the way immigrants lose their freedom as Americans when the hyphen drops away. A man who once might have been called an Italian-American and who is now merely an American looks into the face of his dead brother's Hispanic wife: "'How are you and the kids set?' I asked. 'Maybe I could help out.' It was a lie of course. I didn't have any money in the world and she knew this. Besides, she had her friends and the community around her, and after the funeral she and her two kids named Julia and Juarez Jones would disappear into that great other population of California the newspapers and television always mentioned but seemed to know nothing about ... I wished I could disappear into that other world too, but the magic hour for people like me had long since passed."

3 & 4) Aug. 22: The Radio Speaks out of Both Sides of Its Mouth

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KALX, the Berkeley college station, is playing "Anna-Letmeinletmeout," from the minimalist-repetitive German band Trio's 1982 "Trio and Error." As a dumb love song it seems so fresh, paradoxical, intelligent, the few syllables it bothers to use reaching the level of, say, the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann" -- but that high plateau reached not in spite of sophistication and art theory but because of them. Then click click clickacross the stations into the middle of Wet Wet Wet's version of the Troggs' "Love Is All Around." It's the opposite of Trio: mindless, a big, stupidly overblown arrangement, phony nightclub singing, and still it's moving: You can't hurt this song. Axl Rose or Lucinda Williams or Fred Durst or Lauryn Hill could do this song and sound sincere.

5) "Great Moments of the 20th Century" (Rhino Word Beat)

The century as sound bite, and over three CDs it's a game to see who will return to the ether and who will get under your skin. Winners: Andrew West of KRKD, on the air reporting the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy as it happens ("Oh my God ..."), pure panic, diving into the event itself ("The gun is pointed at me right this moment ... Hold him, Rafer!"); California Gov. Ronald Reagan on Arthur Bremer's assassination attempt on presidential candidate George Wallace. Handed a dispatch as he was speaking at a fundraiser, then breaking the news to the audience, Reagan is absolutely calm, like the radio pro he'd been; he speaks in an unsurprised, reflective tone, wondering what, really, could be happening to the country, as if for once he didn't know.

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6) The Band, "Don't Do It," from "Cahoots" (Capitol).

Remastered versions of the original albums by the Band are coming out, each with extra tracks. This is the best of them, from the early '70s: a rather laconic Marvin Gaye number pulled inside out until all that's left is speed and heat.

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7) Nell Dunn, "Up the Junction" (Counterpoint)

In 1963 Dunn, then in her mid-20s, published this book of stories about women in London's Battersea slums. The dialogue and the action are blunt, cruel, pointless, life as one big non sequitur. What's most striking, now, is the way Dunn describes a world so class-bound it is absolutely impervious to change: Either the events Dunn, a reporter, drew on took place before the Beatles arrived to change the world ("Sonny fiddled with the jukebox, which suddenly burst forth 'Rambling Rose, Rambling Rose/Why she rambles no one knows ...'"), or else nobody noticed.

8) North Mississippi All-Stars, "KC Jones (On the Road Again)," from "Shake Hands with Shorty" (Tone-Cool)

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A standard collage made out of a few of the countless versions of the 100-year-old song, not well-sung, not particularly well-played -- but on the radio, in the Colorado Rockies, it sounds so in time, as if it has all the time in the world to get to the mysterious lines you can imagine are what the song is really about, no matter how many other songs they turn up in. Never mind heroic engineer Casey Jones and his train wreck -- what's that against "I told her my name was on the tail of my shirt/Natur'l born Eastman don't have to work"? The first phrase is easy enough to translate: Kiss my ass. But the natural born Eastman is still on the loose. And speaking of which --

9) Bill Clinton on "The Second Year of a Process of Trying to Totally Rebuild My Life from a Terrible Mistake I Made," Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Ill. (Aug. 10)

Howard Hampton: "Bill's happy, discursive visit to the evangelical lion's den was remarkable, not least for the format and the seated body language, which could not help recalling Elvis '68 sitting and addressing the audience during the taping [of his comeback TV special] with the Rev. Scotty Moore as interlocutor. (I'm referring to the full session that ran on C-Span, not just the confessional stuff that made "Nightline" and the headlines.) God only knows what he'll say or do [at the convention] but after this performance, if he strode out in leather jacket with Rosa Parks on one arm and the Playmate of the Year on the other, I wouldn't be entirely surprised."

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10) Lynn Harrell and Caitlin Tully, Aspen Music Festival (Aug. 12)

Acting as master of ceremonies for a special benefit day, the renowned cellist Harrell, in his 50s, played in busker's street clothes with 12-year-old violinist Tully during an intermission. After introducing Tully as someone the audience would be listening to for decades to come, Harrell turned to her and said, "I have to ask you -- do you listen to the Backstreet Boys?" "No," said Tully hesitantly, as if suddenly and definitively embarrassed by her own age. Too bad she didn't say, "No, but have you heard Eminem's 'Stan'?"


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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