PRINT January 1993


Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus is a contributing editor of Artforum. His essay “The Masked Marauders” is collected in The Penguin Book of Rock & Roll Writing, recently published by Viking.


    “Foot of Pride,” at “Columbia Records Celebrates the Music of Bob Dylan,” Madison Square Garden, NYC, October 16 (radio and pay-per-view TV broadcast). In Bob Dylan’s version, from 1983, this long and muscular song sounds vaguely influenced by Lou Reed. In Reed’s version Judgment Day looms and—backed by Booker T., Duck Dunn, and Steve Cropper, the MGs minus the late Al Jackson—Reed leads its charge. All debts are paid before the first line closes; from then on the tune is Reed’s more than it was ever Dylan’s. All those years of clunky talk songs, good ones, bad ones—here Reed grabs a note, rings it, wrings it: like Jimi Hendrix said, he’ll kiss the sky. For the first time in an era Reed sings, heading into each chorus like Jan Berry, if Jan Berry were to finally solve Dead Man’s Curve—and as written the chorus is so strong each one seems as if it has to be the last, as if nothing could follow it. Lou, you’ve got to put this out.


    The Fantastic Foursome (comic book insert to Spy, October). Sure to be a valued artifact of the ’92 election, and the story line is wickedly consistent: the opening panel has superheroes Bill (“The Golden Doughboy”), Hillary (“Sweet-and-Sour Girl”), Al (“The Wooden Wonder”), and Tipper (“The Hearth Keeper”) campaigning as a band (“Born to Run the U.S.A.”), and the drama reaches its apex when Barbara Bush (“Silver Ox”) calls Tipper a bitch and Tipper slaps her mouth shut with a PMRC parental-advisory label.


    Grave Dancers Union (Columbia). A balanced, lyrical, commercial album from an outsider combo a lot of people thought had seen its day—but if you want your heart broken in the middle of a laugh, go right to “Without a Trace.” A little detail like “Don’t forget your mace/If you’re out walking late” slips through this slapstick chronicle of no-future almost before you have a chance to realize that’s not the way it has to be.


    Stoned Alchemy—27 Original Blues and R & B Hits That Inspired the Rolling Stones (Instant/Charly reissue, 1948–64, UK). A collection based on obscure Stones numbers, from odd singles to ancient rehearsal tapes, and topped by Bo Diddley’s bizarre 1956 miniplay “Cops and Robbers.” “Yeah,” the cop says after the robber’s been collared, “we gonna put him so far back in jail this time, they gonna have to pump air in to him.” I wonder if Mick still has a copy.


    stickers (c/o P.O. Box 1776, Stn. “A,” Vancouver, B.C. V6C 2P7, Canada [Scribe B.A.], or P.O. Box 69243, Portland, OR 97201 [Scribe J.B.]). The Traditional Family Values set, highlighted by a loving heterosexual couple in a prayerful if sodomitic position. a collage of headlines on clerical pedophilia, and “‘JESUS CHRIST’ THREW UP IN MY CAR.” “He was wearing a yellow rented party dress which was wrecked,” the sticker continues. “He was heard saying ’I don’t fucking care . . . It’s not fucking mine.’” If you think it’s easy to think up stuff like that, try it yourself.


    Le Jardin de Heavenly (K/Cargo). Beatle echoes cut with a present-day cynicism so light it merely seems like doubt. There hasn’t been a vocal smile as good as Amelia Fletcher’s since Claire Grogan broke up Altered Images.


    “Canon (Part 2)” (includes “Playing Chess with Bobby Fischer in Bellevue Reverie”), from Beneath The Underdog, on Hal Willner Presents Weird Nightmare—Meditations on Mingus (Columbia). Reading from Charles Mingus’ autobiography on this mostly-musical tribute album. Robertson catches one border station of ’60s Manhattan bohemia, like a narrator for an episode of The Twilight Zone, or maybe Peter Gunn.


    postcards (Walker Art Center Bookshop, Vineland Place, Minneapolis, MN 55403, $4.95). Eight proofs that the ’20s Soviet agit-prop collective Blue Blouse—a 100,000-strong perform-anywhere “living newspaper”—actually existed: group poses of the stolid “Physical Culture Dance,” the Arthurian “Strengthen the Might of the Red Army,” the grinning roundelay of “Revolt of the Toys,” and the flirtatious “Five Year Plan.” With tableaux that make production sexy, these postcards from a vanished time truly speak from a new world, albeit not quite a real one.


    “Theses on Intellectuals,” in Representations #39, Summer 1992 (University of California Press). A rollercoaster that only goes down: 161 sentences on why intellectuals underestimate the will to power, the pleasures of scapegoating, and the joy of inflicting pain. Extra-credit reading: The Old Testament. Soundtrack: anything by Guns N’ Roses.


    interview with Neil Young, on Fresh Air, November 5 (NPR, originating from WHYY-FM, Philadelphia). This rare audio interview with Young featured direct answers that came to flat stops, silences that left the air not dead but surprised, a tone that at first sounded like impatience and soon came across as authority, plus an exchange on how easily Young might fit into Nirvana. Gross: “Most of the people who play that kind of loud, grunge sound are much younger. I wonder how you felt as somebody in your 40s who’s been playing since the mid ’60s, playing a music that mostly people who are a generation younger than you—” Young: “None of these old guys around know how to do it.” “None of the old guys around know how to do it?” “No, they don’t. They can’t do it, you know, so they don’t do it. That’s why I’m still doing it, ’cause I know how. If they were as lucky as me, they’d be doing it too. I mean, it’s fantastic. There’s no sensation like it.”