PRINT Summer 1992


Greil Marcus’ Real Life Rock

Greil Marcus is a contributing editor of Artforum. His book Mystery Train was recently published in German by Rogner & Bernhard, Hamburg.

  1. Stanley Booth

    Rythm Oil—A Journey Through the Music of the American South (Pantheon, $23, and Jonathan Cape, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd., London SW1V 2SA, £16.99). “After nearly three hours, with the audience so bored that it was on the point of having a religious experience”—the line is typical of the sparks that fly in Booth’s chronicle, a collection of portraits published over the last 25 years but running, as he puts it, “from slavery in 1940s south Georgia to murder in 1960s Memphis and back again to savagery in 1990s Georgia, with many laughs along the way,” and many casualties, too. The book is bitter (“Watching Memphis’s most brilliant products die out of work had made me fervent”), shifting from experience to nostalgia, wonder to elegy, and carried by a certain sense of mission: Booth saw remarkable things, and he has a duty to pass them on. His ruling theme is the struggle of the performer to move an audience. A 1968 piece has B. B. King fighting the same battle in the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco and the Club Paradise in Memphis—the crowds are different, so are the tactics, but the stakes are the same.

    Rythm Oil was published in London in 1991 by Cape, complete with a quiet portfolio of color photos by William Eggleston that opens the book cold. All are missing from the 1992 Pantheon edition even the gorgeous red-black-and-yellow label from the bottle of LUCKY MON-GOL RYTHM OIL, which you can still buy at Schwab’s on Beale Street. Too bad that like so many of his blues heroes, Booth had to go abroad to find a decent welcome.

  2. Love Battery

    Day Glo (SubPop/Caroline). This Seattle four-piece has a knack for song titles: “Foot” is good, “Side (With You)” is inspired. They also have a sound that chases noise, folk rock lyricism, and everyday dread into a sensation of expansion, a lifting off. The music gets bigger, the room gets smaller, and whatever’s happening it isn’t on the ground.

  3. Tom Waits

    “Back in the Good Old World (gypsy),” from Night on Earth—Original Soundtrack Recording (Island). As Jim Jarmusch’s new movie shifts from L.A. to New York to Paris to Rome to Helsinki, the atmospheres are so strong, precisely establishing the clichés of a given city before letting the action in a taxi moving through it dissolve those clichés, that Waits’ occasional vocals barely register. They may not even be needed. But I heard the sound track before seeing the film, and on its own the clanking, generous opening tune, so happy with its sprung Kurt Weill rhythms, seems to reveal a childhood secret behind Waits’ twenty years of low-life dramaturgy: Wallace Beery as Long John Silver, “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.”

  4. Beatrice Dalle

    As the Blind Passenger (Paris segment) in Night on Earth (Fine Line Features). Probably the main reason the picture doesn’t need Tom Waits; he couldn’t keep up with her any more than her cabdriver can.

  5. Melvins

    Bullhead (Tupelo). The Melvins formed about ten years ago in Aberdeen, Washington, where leader Buzz Osborne was mentor to Kurt Cobain and Chris Novoselic of Nirvana. Now they play really underground music: slow, disconnected, almost always seeking the longest distance between two points. They play like moles, occasionally poking their heads into the air, usually avoiding it.

  6. Cristopher Münch

    writer and director: The Hours and Times (Antarctic Pictures, 7110 Woodrow Wilson Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90068-1727). Maybe this is the way to shoot rock ’n’ roll history: by reimagining small, almost forgotten turning points. Here Münch, in black and white, with the simplest sets (mostly hotel rooms) and cast (a few people practicing naturalism), takes John Lennon and Brian Epstein back to Barcelona in the spring of 1963, where they spent a few days among the Gaudís and did or did not make love. John (Ian Hart) has the upper hand but he’s not sure he wants it; Epstein wants John so badly, and with such self-loathing, he’s not sure he could survive getting him; and a stewardess John picks up on the flight over (Stephanie Pack—presumably hers is an invented character, but just because Münch made her up doesn’t mean she wasn’t there) may stay with you longer than either John or Brian. Hell, she might still be alive.

  7. Body Count

    Cop Killer (Sire). To Rapper Ice-T and the other thrash ’n’ metal fans in Body Count the kind of racism that makes black rock an oxymoron is a fraud on their taste. Thus guitarist Ernie C. proves he doesn’t care if Pink Floyd is less hip than Funkadelic, drummer Beatmaster “V” offers a pulse so tough and quick he can make the musicians around him seem irrelevant, and Ice-T will need at least another album to catch up with his band.

  8. Bruce Springstein

    Human Touch and Lucky Town (Columbia). Springsteen’s last record, the 1987 Tunnel of Love, may have come out of his first marriage, but you didn’t have to hear it that way; you do have to hear most of his new songs as celebrations of his second marriage. There are exceptions, escapes from this prison of literal meaning and transparent metaphor—the musical reach in “Human Touch,” the gritted-teeth abandon in “Lucky Town,” the measured pace of “If I Should Fall Behind”—but in sum these numbers have little room for other people in them. Which raises a political question I imagine Springsteen will find ways to address after these two most commercially successful transitional albums of all time are more or less forgotten: people may care whether or not you’re happy, Bruce, but why should they?

  9. Patricia Kennealy

    Strange Days—My Life With and Without Jim Morrison (Dutton, $23). Kennealy married Morrison in a Celtic handfasting ceremony in 1970; she writes as if she took a deep breath the day she heard he’d died and is only now letting it out.