Real Life Rock Top 10

Published October 2, 2000 7:30PM (EDT)

1-4) Campaign events (September)

With Al Gore recently citing "He not busy being born is busy dying" as his favorite Bob Dylan quotation, David Hinkley of the New York Daily News suggested a contest on what Gore's favorite Dylan line should be.

"Bury the rag deep in your face/ Now's the time for your tears," sneered Nader supporter Dave Marsh. But Marsh also volunteered that perhaps more to the point would be a question recently raised by Berkeley, Calif., photographer Liz Bordow: "Everyone remembers where they were when they heard that Kennedy was shot; I wonder how many people remember where they were when they first heard Bob Dylan's voice. It's so unexpected."

Marsh: "Gore's answer? Bush's?" Yes, that would settle it -- assuming Bush has heard it. On the other hand, the recent Radio City Music Hall benefit for the Gore-Lieberman ticket, where, at the end, Bette Midler, Sheryl Crow, Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmidt, Glenn Frey, Lenny Kravitz, Matt Damon, Paul Simon, Julia Roberts and Salma Hayek came out to sing "Teach Your Children," would have raised an even more awesome question, had Dylan been there too: When was the final time you heard Bob Dylan's voice?

5) "Nurse Betty," directed by Neil LaBute, written by John C. Richards & James Flamberg (Gramercy Pictures)

This hilarious and affecting movie is remarkable in that after two unrelentingly cynical films ("In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends & Neighbors") LaBute has exchanged realistic stories and utterly contrived emotions for an unbelievable story that turns up real emotions. One result: In a dark bar in Williams, Ariz., empty except for the middle-aged bartender and the regular drunk, Ricky Nelson's beautifully underplayed 1958 No. 1 "Poor Little Fool" is on the jukebox. The song doesn't fill up the room, it simply lives in it. The message is that nothing ever changes here, nothing ever happens, and for a moment the tune takes the scene outside of the violence of the plot, which has just pulled into the parking lot.

6) Telluride Film Festival Diary: to name the movie would be to give away the ending, so . . .

It's an almost generic scene: after an increasingly edgy buildup following a beginning that promised little more than a comedy of skits, there's a terrific payoff in the form of a double killing by a hitman. As the bodies tumble in a basement, rising up on the soundtrack are the Dells, from 1956: "Oh What a Night," still a lot of people's favorite doo-wop song. Playing over a scene of really convincing carnage, the music is sweet, confirming, and most of all complete. Which made me wonder: Why does it work? The same association is all over Martin Scorsese's movies, starting with "Mean Streets" and Johnny Ace's "Pledging My Love."

The director stood up for a question-and-answer session; "Why does doo-wop seem so appropriate for killings in movies?" I asked him.

"Well, doo-wop is Joe. And it's his night, so -- 'Oh What a Night.'"

That couldn't have been the whole story. There is something about the simplicity and directness of the emotionality in doo-wop that speaks to the lack of complexity in the desire to see bad people who are troubling your life dead -- and which, on screen, confirms that desire: confirms it, makes it beautiful, for the moment.

The director: "But he committed a crime. He'll get caught." But not that night, and not on his screen.

7) Anthony Frewin, "Sixty-Three Closure" (Four Walls Eight Windows)

A cool, then panicky book about a man and a woman in a small town in England stumbling on an anomaly in the who-killed-Kennedy story: Photos collected by a dead friend seem to say Lee Harvey Oswald was in the U.K. when he should have been in the Soviet Union. What makes the story work is the confidence it gives you that the couple will get out of the story sadder but wiser, not with the discovery of who-killed-Kennedy but that, after a lifetime palship, they were meant for each other, that the past really is another country, and a valid passport will get you home.

8) Waco Brothers, "Electric Waco Chair" (Bloodshot)

It seems certain now that on record the self-proclaimed Last Dead Cowboys will never get close to their live sound, where a vehemence that seems to come out of the ground is summoned to overwhelm any mere songs, and so burns the songs into your heart. On record they're closer to the '70s English country band Brinsley Schwarz, which is nothing to be sorry about, unless you want to judge all those you find wanting, which dead cowboys tend to do. Here the vocals alternating between Jon Langford and Dean Schlabowske produce the sense of a conversation between friends who see the world in the same way and feel everything differently. Defeat is the primary condition of their lives, but while for Langford defeat is the only condition of life he trusts, and so in a way he loves it, can trust himself only when he's looking up from the bottom, Schlabowske will never be at home in his misery, even if he's never lived anywhere else. He's Hank Williams, still singing about hope long after he should have learned it'll never knock; Langford is Williams' biographer, saying all those things Williams could never say out loud.

9) Telluride Film Festival Diary: Wilkinson Library Dedication Stone, 2000 (Telluride, Colo.)

"Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilizations. Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone in accomplishing this mission." -- Toni Morrison

OK -- but it's a library. How about access to syntax?

10) Minimalist poet found hiding in New York Times daily TV log listing of "Law and Order" repeats (Sept. 21)

A&E, 6 P.M. "The Troubles." Violence.
A&E, 11 P.M. "Silence." Murdered.

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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