Real Life Rock Top 10


Greil Marcus
July 30, 2001 11:24PM (UTC)

1) Club 8, "Club 8" (Secret Agenda)

From a Swedish duo (Karolina Komstedt, vocals; Johan Angergard, instruments and writing), dream pop with the undertow dream pop needs. "Love in December" plays off the phrase "I'll be there for you," but where the Rembrandts' "Friends" theme song promises that the singer will make jokes when you can't decide what to wear, here the singer might be promising she'll sit by your deathbed, and the promise is sweet; in the rolling tones of "Say a Prayer" light shades and dark swirl like ye-ye singers entertaining Bateau-Mouche passengers on the Styx, not the Seine. It's a love-and-espionage sound that's been missing since the Belgian band Hooverphonic's 1996 "A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular" -- apparently a sound only Europeans can make, or hear.

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2) Allan Ball, producer, "Six Feet Under" (HBO, July 8)

Thirty-ish Nate, on the trail of his late father's hidden life, discovers his secret hideaway: a grimy four walls behind a restaurant, fitted out with ratty couch, dirty coffee table, big TV, a phonograph and a rack of LPs. It looks just like Beavis and Butt-head's video room. Nate pulls out an album and cues it up: the Amboy Dukes' 1968 psychedelic horror "Journey to the Center of the Mind," Ted Nugent's first big moment. Nate imagines his father in the place: doing the frug in his three-piece undertaker's suit, smoking dope with bikers, bringing in a prostitute for a blow job, picking off people on the street with a sniper's rifle. Nate falls asleep on the couch; in a dream, he turns to his dad as the queasy '67 sound of "Spooky" fills the dead air: "What the hell is this place, this music? Since when do you listen to the Classics IV? Who the hell are you?"

3) Mary Gauthier, "Drag Queens in Limousines" (In the Black)

A self-consciously dark, would-be Gothic set of songs -- so self-conscious, as with the miserabilist autobiography of the title song ("I hated high school, I prayed that it would end/The jocks and their girls, it was their world/I didn't fit in"; Janis Ian's "At Seventeen" was more than anyone needed to hear about this, and that was a quarter-century ago), that there's no room for Gauthier to move to her own rhythms. But on "Our Lady of the Shooting Stars" she doesn't press, doesn't worry that you might miss the point. Her voice makes shadows; the music unwinds slowly, and you have no idea where she's taking you. To the miserabilist "Karla Faye," as it happens, about Karla Faye Tucker, executed in Texas. ("'Please don't kill me!'" laughed then Gov. George W. Bush over her letter asking for clemency.) It doesn't matter. The voice in "Our Lady" is singular, beyond anything classy country singers like Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch would ever reach for.

4-7), Go-Go's, "God Bless the Go-Go's" (Beyond); "Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's" (IRS, 1994); "Belinda Carlisle Rocks Naked" (Playboy, August); Jane Weidlin, "Dear Weirdos" (Experience Music Project, Seattle)

The reformed band is more alive on the new "God Bless the Go-Go's" than it was on a few dull 1994 cuts tacked onto "Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's," its "half dive into the unknown, half heard it all before" retrospective. Lead singer Belinda Carlisle sounds more alive than she looks in Playboy, smoothed and inflated beyond nature. But of the new songs (which include "Daisy Chain," a three-minute, 45-second "Behind the Music" mea culpa), only "Insincere" even hints at the fierceness and ambition that took the group out of the new world of late-'70s Los Angeles punk and into the hearts of young girls all over America when "Beauty and the Beat," their 1981 debut album, hit No. 1. All of that is present on the first CD of "Return": dirty, late-night performances and rehearsals from 1979 and 1980, with Ventures-style guitar snaking through the noise so distantly it's as if Charlotte Caffey were playing from the back of the room; the bitterness in "This Town," which after 20 years is still unsatisfied; the defiance and delight in "Our Lips Are Sealed," which after 20 years is still undeniable. All that's missing, really, is an enhanced track with a clip of Carlisle's nervous, hard-nosed interviews in Penelope Spheeris' 1980 film "The Decline ... of Western Civilization," and guitarist Jane Weidlin's 1978 fan letter to Los Angeles punk heroes the Weirdos: a fantastic collage that, beginning on a roll of toilet paper with an ad for the Fruit-of-the-Month Club pasted onto the first sheet, proceeds from manifesto ("Who needs fruit when you can be a weirdo?") to P.S. ("John I think you're really keen") while taking in Alka-Seltzer tablets, a vinyl belt, photographs of the author, a rubber glove and instructions on how to brush your teeth.

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8) Cyndi Lauper, "Money Changes Everything," at Boston Pops (Independence Day)

Boston Blackie, aka Lindsay Waters, reports on a live performance of Lauper's greatest recording: "In 1984 I rushed to the TV when called to see Cyndi Lauper sing on national television. This was in Minneapolis and we were just about to move to Boston. We listened to 'She's So Unusual' all the way across the country as we cried because we were leaving the Twin Cities: she with her downtown manners from New York and some songs from Uptown Minneapolis from Prince. Now on the Fourth of July I found myself called to the TV again.

"Seeing her now, packed into her skimpy silver dress with the super-short skirt, was strange. There she was, doing the bump with Mr. Conventional Keith Lockhart, in the most conventional city in the U.S. The Boston Pops threatened to give us Cyndi Pops. She sounded good and fresh and peppy, but the scene put me in mind of how time and place change things as absolutely as money. In the 18 years since she first sang the song, the city of Boston, and especially the area around the Hatch Shell on the Charles River, has changed because money has poured into the city. Downtown Boston has gone and is going through a major reshaping. Boston is a city of old money, of people who would rather sit on their money than spend it. Luckily the taxpayers of the U.S. can be called on to make up the difference when the locals are frugal, so all the new bridges, roads and high-rises can be paid for by new money. The place Lauper was playing encouraged one to see her performance in the most cynical light, but she bopped so hard you could almost imagine that Boston was on the verge of the change it has resisted for at least a hundred years."

9) Michael Mann, producer, "Crime Story" reruns on A&E (Mondays)

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On July 16 it was Chicago, 1963: a 1986, first-season episode about a psycho killer who's a dead ringer for Stiv Bators. It was graphic beyond anything on network television before or since, and from beginning to end there were great cars, shot from street level, great clothes and great hair, especially the bizarre flattop pompadour on mob comer Ray Luca (Anthony Denison). But the truest moment came in the opening scene: a party for Lt. Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) and his Major Crime Unit, the whole hipster crew and their wives and girlfriends dancing slow and cool to the hometown Impressions' 1963 hit "It's All Right."

10) Flier for Gossip show at 7th St. Entry (Minneapolis, July 8)

For the unkempt Arkansas threesome, Sharon Stone crossed her legs in "Basic Instinct." The near white-out glow the artist had imposed over the too-familiar image erased the role Stone played in the picture as the object of gossip, replacing it with something sexier: the suggestion that she's about to whisper it in your ear.

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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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