Real Life Rock Top 10

By Greil Marcus
Published October 7, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

1) and 2) "Igby Goes Down," written and directed by Burr Steers (United Artists) and trailer for "The Man From Elysian Fields," directed by George Hickenlooper (Goldwyn)

Movie logic: At the end of "Igby Goes Down," Jason Slocumb Jr., played by Kieran Culkin, visits a catatonic man in a mental institution: his father Jason Slocumb. It's Bill Pullman, who we've seen in flashbacks willfully driving himself out of his family, out of society, out of his mind. The Western-hero face was still there, some years back, the features sharp, but even then this once-strong, silent man was silent because he had nothing to say. It's one bad step past the familiar: The father's sardonic smile, when he still recognized his son, is from the chump Pullman played in "The Last Seduction," the deadness in his eyes now from the terrified man he played in "Lost Highway" -- it's as if he's stepped out of those roles only to complete them.

The same confusion between art and life -- are Bill Pullman's previous roles part of his filmography or his biography? -- is at work in "The Man From Elysian Fields," where Mick Jagger looks at once like the gangster he played in 1970 in the "Memo From Turner" sequence of "Performance" and a desiccated version of a 60-year-old Jennifer Love Hewitt. Here he appears as the pimp Luther Fox, which is to say that he is also playing a version of James Fox, who in "Performance" played the real gangster, and for whom Jagger's "Elysian" character is half-named. Far more deeply, though, Jagger is appearing as a fantasy version of himself, 35 years after the Rolling Stones, last hitting with the 1965 "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," were definitively erased from public consciousness by the San Francisco sound of the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and It's a Beautiful Day. After decades as the highest paid gigolo in Europe, what else would he be doing but running an escort service?

3) Thalia Zedek, "You're a Big Girl Now" (Kimchee EP)

"I got tired," are the first words the relentlessly thanatopic singer and guitarist offers -- but except on Bob Dylan's title song, not tired enough.

4) Justin Timberlake, "Like I Love You" (Jive)

'N Sync update: While Joey Fatone takes Broadway in "Rent," Lance Bass "remains hopeful" that his backers will come through with the $20 million for his Russian space flight (His backers? He didn't have the dough himself? And what do they get? Product placement?), Chris Kirkpatrick weighs a bid for the Republican nomination to take on Sen. Bob Graham in '04 and J.C. Chasez considers trying to save the Devil Rays, Justin Timberlake has gone for the solo career. He's got the Neptunes at the board, the "Thriller"-period Michael Jackson hat, the "Bad"-period Michael Jackson yelps, the George Michael "Faith" arrangement and a paint-thinner voice.

5) Dave Morey, "Ten at Ten" on KFOG-FM (San Francisco, Sept. 11)

The matchless daily show that usually interpolates "10 great songs" and sound bites from "one great year" made a one-day switch, airing listeners' request messages and then the songs they wanted played to commemorate the attacks of the year before. Many of the messages were singular. A man noted that "Sept. 11 was always a happy day for me," because it was his father's birthday, then told how his father, a crisis manager in Iowa, immediately flew to New York to do what he could. Another man spoke of playing Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" on a jukebox in a bar, upsetting the other patrons -- "but that was a time when you felt you could go up to anybody and start talking," and so he did. But of all the songs chosen -- from Don Henley's "The End of the Innocence" to U2's "Walk On" to the Corrs' "When the Stars Go Blue" -- only Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms" reached the event, and then only in Mark Knopfler's guitar playing, a hurtful funeral oration for a funeral that, you might have sensed, could take place only in the arc of the oration's own music.

6) and 7) Bert Berns, "The Heart & Soul of Bert Berns" (Universal) and Solomon Burke, "Don't Give Up On Me" (Fat Possum)

Berns, a legendary New York record man, was 38 when he died in 1967. Collections honoring such a figure usually come in boxes; ignoring Berns' pop hits with Van Morrison and the McCoys, this is a single disc of nine deep-soul numbers that Berns wrote and produced, plus one misguided homage. Some of the tracks here were big -- Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" and "Cry to Me," Garnet Mimms & the Enchanters' "Cry Baby," Irma Franklin's "Piece of My Heart," the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout." Some -- the obscure Hoagy Lands' heart-stopping "Baby, Come On Home," Freddie Scott's "Are You Lonely for Me, Baby" and the Drifters' "I Don't Want to Go On Without You" -- might never have existed at all. But together these records make a picture so delicate you can almost hear the performers' fear that anything they do will break it. You hear strange, astonishingly delicate bits of instrumentation -- guitar triplets, a hesitating piano, room to breathe all through the arrangements -- that produce the feeling that the great voices Berns recorded were not quite of this earth.

"If everybody sang this song, I believe it would save the whole world," Solomon Burke announced in 1964 as he moved into "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love." Today, singing new songs by Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Dan Penn, Tom Waits, Nick Lowe and Brian Wilson, he sounds most of all unsure of himself. He can dominate the material, but just from the outside. Only on producer Joe Henry's "Flesh and Blood" -- deathly slow, every moment felt through and then left behind with regret, the next step taken without an intimation of hope -- does he sound like he's wearing his own clothes.

8) & 9) "Absolut Pistols" (Absolut Vodka ads, available in postcard form at Tower Records) and the Sex Pistols at Inland Invasion, Devore, Calif. (Sept. 14)

Absolut used the "Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols" art, with the pink "Sex Pistols" in a lumpy version of the bottle. Not quite as nervy as the online Dos Equis "Viva la Revolucion" ad from a few years ago that featured lifelong alcoholic Guy Debord of the Situationist International ("Made his own dead time," Dos Equis said, rewriting situationist-inspired graffiti from the May '68 revolt in France, "Live without dead time"), but Dos Equis didn't have to ask permission to use Debord's name, because he'd already killed himself. The Sex Pistols -- Johnny Rotten, Paul Cook, Steve Jones and Glen Matlock, which as a functioning commercial enterprise last month played for 52,000 people at a punk festival in Southern California -- charge and approve, and more power to them.

10) Sleater-Kinney, Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco (Sept. 22)

Jane Dark reports: "Having seen Sleater-Kinney four or five times, I'm not sure I've ever seen them do a cover. And never wanted to -- they're too good at sounding like themselves. They sounded like themselves last night, except more so: Where I was standing, Carrie Brownstein's vocals and Corin Tucker's guitar both seemed low, so the band resolved to axioms: Corin's voice ripping open the complicated, angular spaces of Carrie's shifting figures. Janet Weiss has grown into a tremendous drummer, beyond tremendous -- undeniable.

"The Fillmore seemed a little large, and swallowed up the songs from when they were small: 'I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,' which I still believe is their greatest (if not in fact the greatest) song, seemed attenuated, a perfect little bomb that couldn't blow up the whole room. But the new songs were better than on record, and 'You're No Rock n' Roll Fun' and 'Words and Guitar' were better than ever, particularly for what they didn't do -- for all the ways, no matter how massively compelling, they would never be rawk anthems.

"They did do a cover. They did an anthem. It was Bruce Springsteen's birthday and they hauled off and played 'Promised Land' to start the encores. They played it tight and fast with no fooling around, with close harmonies in the chorus, and at the beginning of the third verse where there's that part about 'desert floor' it sounded to me like they were saying 'Desert Storm' and suddenly you understood that these women singing a guy's coming-of-age song weren't just taking liberties, they were talking liberties: that 'Mister I ain't a boy, no I'm a man' wasn't an illusion of independence, of the dream of getting out of your hometown, like so many Bruce songs. It was about the inseparability of that particular swagger and being draft age. Bruce's 'desert floor' was a different desert altogether, so far outside your hometown that the people had names you couldn't pronounce. A couple of minutes later Corin was howling 'Dig me out' over and over, and it seemed like the hole was the whole world."

Thanks to Howard Hampton and Jason Gross of Perfect Sound Forever.

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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