PRINT October 1991


Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus is a contributing editor of Artforum.


    as Dough Boy in Boyz N the Hood, directed by John Singleton (Columbia Pictures). On the covers of Amerikkka’s Most Wanted and Kill at Will, Ice Cube flaunts a death stare—sort of daring you to buy his records, it can seem. But his eyes contain almost all of the credibility in this very Hollywoodish low-budget film-from-the-heart about a black L.A. neighborhood. Plainly the most intelligent character in the movie, Dough Boy has less of a chance than any other to do anything with his life but wait for it to end. In his face, from shot to shot, scene to scene, is the dilemma of what it means to act in a world where you’ve consciously given yourself over to a fate that no one around you has even imagined that—unlike the football player or the studious kids—you could ever escape. And there’s worse than that in Ice Cube’s eyes: the wish to take at least some of the blame off himself, and the knowledge that he can’t, because no one would listen to talk like that from a man with eyes like his.


    Storyville (Geffen). As point-man for the Band—guitarist, songwriter, spokesman—Robertson rarely sang. When he released his first solo album, in 1987, it came draped in curtains of overproduction, themes so elaborated and vocals so disguised it was hard to discern on actual human being behind any of it. But this clean, cool record—vaguely set in New Orleans and cut with such Crescent City flyers as the Meters, Aaron Neville, the Rebirth Brass Band, Chief Bo Dollis of the Wild Magnolias, plus subtle contributions from Band keyboardist Garth Hudson—is alive. Horns carry melody, but lightly; the sound is full of room. Robertson’s voice is smoked, airy, pinched, ranging from a whisper to a rasp, but most of all it is unprotected. Very quickly, you can understand the story the voice is telling: a story too spectral for plot or anecdote, let alone any kind of shout. There’s no travelogue in the lyrics, no dead references to gumbo or second-line; the music kicks off with a “Night Parade” and follows it.

  3. MUZAK

    in Virginia Cleaners (Berkeley, June 24). The—yes, I think “strains” is the only word—were distantly familiar, teasing. The tune got better by the second, then better than that. It turned out to be “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love),” perhaps the only Top 40 record that makes the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” seem elegant and Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” sober—and even beneath Muzak’s polka accordions and the huffing, middle-aged beat, you could hear the Swingin’ Medallions, way back in ’66, somewhere in South Carolina, laughing at history and time.


    Charlie Feathers (Elektra Nonesuch). Feathers hung around Sun Records in Memphis the same time Elvis did, and has claimed ever since that, in essence, he is Elvis; scores of records on more than a score of tiny labels have not proved his case. In fact he is a quirky, sometimes doggedly weird rockabilly survival, now lapsing into birdcalls and animal noises, now pumping his legend, and then (as, here, on “A Long Time Ago”) shifting without warning into a reverie—loose, spooky, wailing, and more than anything emotionally unclear—of the way things never were, of the man he never was. In moments like this there’s nobody like him.


    “Stop! Your Crying”/“Revolution”/“Cry in Vain” (Farmer Records, Weststr. 41, CH-8003 Zurich, Switzerland, 1986). Three Swiss women who sound like a whole batallion of Lesley Gores. The spirit of Lilliput lives, as it does also on. . .


    “Sincerely”/“Habibi” (RecRec Vertrieb, Postfach 717, CH-8026 Zurich, Switzerland). Two women and two men who program their 7-inch like an “Oldies but Goodies” LP: a “Rockin’ Side,” all chirps and gulps, and a “Dreamy Side,” dark, Catholic, guilty, and forgiven.


    The Worst Rock-and-Roll Records of All Time (Citadel, $14.95). A book that recognizes it’s as much fun to hate certain records and performers as it is to love others (or the same ones), and that insensate bigotry is the most fun of all. A lot of pages here get by on mere glee (on the 1984 Michael Jackson-Mick Jagger duet, “State of Shock”: “it seems as if the song takes longer to listen to than it did to record”), but there’s also rage, even paranoia—which can be even more satisfying than bigotry. On Bryan Adams’ 1985 “Summer of ’69”: “The sixties nostalgia that sprung up in the mid-eighties was a fraud by industry leaders who refused to divulge to a new generation that the unmatchable music was inextricable from the horrible events that split this country in two as nothing hod since the Civil War. Instead, culturally uneducated kids were mode to hear songs like Martha and the Vandellas’ ‘Dancing in the Street’. . .as no more than party ditties. It’s this imagined sixties—one without Vietnam, one without James Earl Ray, one without Altamont—that ‘Summer of ’69’ memorializes.” Yeah, but I still like it.

  8. HOLE

    Pretty on the Inside (Caroline). Coproduced by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, this debut set from an L.A. combo could pass for a Kim Gordon solo album, if you didn’t miss her wit. Somehow every song would jump a notch in flair if singer Courtney Love—who has a deep, harsh voice that without a stage is just too theatrical to wound—had changed her name to Courtly.


    Marc Cohn (Atlantic). The hit “Walking in Memphis” is a sentimental version of the quest made by the young Japanese couple in Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train—corny, but also more vivid. The hit “Silver Thunderbird” is a mystified version of, oh, the Beach Boys’ “409,” but it carries a lift and it leaves an echo. Cohn has a thick voice with little ploy in it, and uses heavy, portentous piano notes without any humor. He can be written off as a decent Springsteen acolyte or an improvement on Billy Joel, which would still be second-rate; maybe he’s the new Bruce Hornsby. But his songs have shape and heart; one more hit—which I don’t hear on this first album—and he might turn his own corner.


    Metal Box (Virgin U.K. reissue, 1979). Then as now, this unsuperseded miasma of loathing and dub comes in a can—though now instead of three 12-inch 45s there’s one CD, and the container is only four-and-three-quarter inches across. It’s so cute.