Real Life Rock Top 10

Published December 11, 2001 2:20AM (EST)

1) Jim Borgman, editorial cartoon (Cincinnati Enquirer, Dec. 1)

In 1963, for the sleeve of "Meet the Beatles" ("With the Beatles" in the U.K.), photographer Robert Freeman pictured John, George and Paul from left to right on top, with Ringo directly below Paul: the left sides of the faces white, the right sides in shadow, then-shockingly long black hair and black turtlenecks isolating the faces against the starkest black background imaginable. All Borgman did was black out the two faces on the left. On the occasion of George Harrison's death, nothing I read, heard or saw came close.

2) Paula Frazer, "Indoor Universe" (Birdman)

The former singer for Tarnation -- which always seemed to imagine itself as the lounge act at Heartbreak Hotel -- still can't crush a fly in her fist. It's not that she won't; she can't close anything all the way. Her orchestrations might be made out of swamp gas; the closer she gets to the objects of her desire, the less substantial they are. Making her way into the vampirish "Stay as You Are" as if she's pushing cobwebs out of her face with every step, she flats on her words as they end a phrase, hesitating, almost stopping. Patrick Main's organ carries her forward like a stick on a stream. You can play the song again and again, waiting for the melody to exhaust itself, to reveal why something so familiar sounds less obvious each time you hear it -- though you might also play it again and again because only three songs later Frazer is singing with a rose clenched in her teeth, which sort of ruins the effect.

3) "Flying Side Kick -- Home Alive Compilation II" (Broken Records)

For this set in support of the self-defense group formed after Seattle musician Mia Zapata was raped and killed while walking home from a show, no quarter is asked and none is given. The Gossip's "I Want It (To Write)" is pure heat, as primitive as an early Rolling Stones track. Amy Ray of Indigo Girls, here with the Butchies, is as always preaching to the converted -- but my God, can she sing! Carrisa's Wierd can't spell "weird" but they can make it, playing male and female voices through a violin until something very distant, very dead, something vaguely pre-Raphaelite, rises out of the music. Every one of the 15 bands here comes up with something unexpected, pushing a little harder, maybe digging into its pile of tapes for something rejected just because, at the time, it didn't seem like anything anyone would want to hear.

4) Hadacol, "It's All in Your Head" (Slewfoot)

This is "Rio Bravo"/Ricky Nelson "So tough he doesn't have to prove it" country from Missouri. The music is warm, unadorned, corny, naked, until a tune beginning "I was standing in the corner/Feeling just like Gerald Ford" opens up like a murder mystery. So of course they drop it right there. You don't listen to Hadacol's songs so much as pass them by, like road signs.

5) Jennifer Saunders, producer, "Absolutely Fabulous" (Comedy Central, Dec. 3)

In a diet-induced delirium, God appears to Edina as Marianne Faithfull, wistfully mooning over what fools these mortals be. But then the Devil arrives -- in the person of Anita Pallenberg in a black-red wig and upholstered horns. It's the siren of "Performance," the absolute '60s ice queen, now looking lined, weathered and wonderful, and plainly having the time of her life -- or eternity, as the case may be. "You gave them vanity," God says of Edina's weight-loss panic. "No," says the Devil. "Self-loathing." As they go for a drink you can tell they were always in it together.

6) Sprint commercial on cellphone dyslexia (Fox, Nov. 26)

"I said on a cellphone we need a 'backup for O'Neill.' What we got," says a football coach, as amid linebackers and ends running their drills a middle-aged man in a yachting outfit plays a Farfisa organ and a matronly blond woman in a long black gown warbles "Do That to Me One More Time" into a hand mike, "was the Captain and Tennille."

7) Gov't Mule, "The Deep End Vol. 1" (ATO/BMG)

The Southern power trio comes back from the death of bassist Allen Woody with a double disc of grinding blues, aided by a virtual benefit concert of bassists -- Jack Bruce of Cream, Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mike Watt of the Minutemen, Bootsy Collins, many more -- plus another 13 utility players from Gregg Allman to Chuck Leavell. Everything's going along fine until Little Milton, who made blues records for Sam Phillips in Memphis in 1953 before moving on to Chicago, takes over on "Soulshine." The trick to making albums with guests is keeping people who're too good for you off the guest list.

8) New York Times Book Review, "Editor's Choice: The 9 Best Books of 2001" (Dec. 2)

As offered by a friend, "A Translation":

  • "Austerlitz" by W. G. Sebald: "As so often in Sebald's fiction, direct connections are never highlighted in the vast loops and sudden knottings of his rhetoric." Translation: "You can't tell what's going on."

  • "The Corrections" by Jonathan Franzen: "The important thing to know about Jonathan Franzen's novel is that you can ignore all the literary fireworks and thoroughly enjoy its people." Translation: "You have to ignore what a prick Franzen is in order to read the book."

  • "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage" by Alice Munro: "As Alice Munro gets older, the challenges faced by her characters get darker." Translation: "This is even gloomier than most Canadian fiction."

  • "John Adams" by David McCullough: "There will always be some readers who feel that the historian's subduing of Adams's noisy feistiness in this account -- his rashness, stubbornness and sometimes bizarre behavior -- makes him a little less himself." Translation: "McCullough knew that if he was too honest he could kiss the miniseries deal goodbye."

  • "John Henry Days" by Colson Whitehead: "The ambition of Colson Whitehead's second novel is to define the interior crisis of manhood in terms of the entire pop-mad consumer society." Translation: "Somebody on the Book Review staff is thinking about buying a red Jag to alleviate his midlife crisis."

  • "The Metaphysical Club" by Louis Menand: "The approach also gives his thesis a kind of theatrical excitement that no severe intellectual history could engender." Translation: "Reading this stuff bores us as much as it does you."

  • "True History of the Kelly Gang" by Peter Carey: "That alone would make this novel the most compelling reading on the list." Translation: "We're above just reading for pleasure."

  • "Uncle Tungsten" by Oliver Sacks: "As charming as his prose always is, Oliver Sacks cannot write for long without finding a subject outside himself." Translation: "He's a rambling old geezer."
  • 9) Velvet Underground, "Bootleg Series Vol. 1: The Quine Tapes" (Polydor)

    A modest three-disc box of recordings guitarist Robert Quine made at shows in St. Louis and San Francisco in 1969, featuring a furious "Foggy Notion," a 17-minute "Follow the Leader" and 24-, 29- and 39-minute performances of "Sister Ray." The sound is perfect: You can hear through the smoke, the grime, the enthusiasm or indifference of the crowd, the 32 years.

    10) Cameron Crowe, director, "Vanilla Sky" (Dreamworks/Paramount)

    Charles Taylor writes: "In 'Vanilla Sky,' the Cruisesuzs, Tom and Penelope, re-create the cover of 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.' May God have mercy on us all."

    By Salon Staff

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