PRINT March 1993


Greil Marcus’ Real Life Rock

Greil Marcus is a contributing editor of Artforum.

  1. Sarah Shankman

    The King Is Dead (Pocket Books, $20). Set in Tupelo in the midst of an international barbecue cook-off, this entrancing murder mystery—a combination of Carl Hiaasen’s Double Whammy and Elaine Dundy’s Elvis and Gladys is Shankman’s fifth featuring amateur sleuth Sam (Samantha) Adams, and the first in which the prose isn’t held back by tedious plotting. A web of full-blown Southern characters trailing hazy pasts moves the story on with slap-back dialogue (“`Do you think y’all are related?’ ‘Only if you think sleeping with the same man makes women kin’”); Sam Adams, functioning less as private eye than as catalyst, stays out of the way and lets a biting, felt critique of the Southern class system emerge alongside a progressively creepy Jesse Garon Presley impersonator. Like Bobbie Ann Mason or Jill McCorkle with a more convincing sense of humor, or anyway less to worry about, Shankman communicates a joy in making words dance on the page that’s rare in the best fiction: “The second bullet flew like a little bird right into Obie’s open mouth and out the back of his head.” This is a book of pleasures; it only made me nervous when I realized the pages were running out.

  2. Eleventh Dream Day

    El Moodio (Atlantic). Singer/drummer Janet Beveridge Bean throws bar talk in your face like cold water with “Making Like a Rug” (you lie), domestic quarrels fade as windows open onto the trouble in the streets outside, and on “Rubber Band,” singer/guitarist Rick Rizzo asks the musical question, How far can a phrase be stretched before every trace of the meaning it began with is gone?, and doesn’t answer it.

  3. Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Kenny Rogers, Bill Clinton, James Ingram, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, et al

    “We Are the World,” An American Reunion (HBO, January 17). It may be that behind the great good feeling of this performance lies only propaganda, a fabulous sheen of communitarian self-recognition disguising a new government that means to leave the country as it found it. But as John F. Kennedy proved against his own will, or for that matter his thoughtlessness, false promises can be taken up by those who only hear the tune and don’t care about the copyright. If, as Robert Ray of the Vulgar Boatmen puts it, “The sound of Dylan’s voice changed more people’s ideas about the world than his political message did,” then the same can be said of the sound of Kennedy’s voice and his political acts. The same may prove true of Bill Clinton’s demeanor and his political instinct—as opposed to his personal instinct—to pull back at the first sign of trouble. The double-hearted rule but do not govern; desires have been loosed in the air and there’s no telling where they’ll light.

  4. Peter Blegvad, Roman ’ Bunka, Holger Czukay, Raymond Federman, John Greaves, Jon Sass, Stefan Schwerdtfeger, et al

    _dr. huelsenbeck’s men-tale heilmethode (Rough Trade Rec, Eickelestr. 25, 4690 Herne 2, Germany). A free-swinging, altogether unpredictable tribute to the Cabaret Voltaire Dadaist and New York psychoanalyst, this radio-play version of Huelsenbeck’s “psychological salvation system” explodes all over the place: in the six-and-ahalf-minute Berlin Dada donnybrook “röhrenhose rokoko-neger-rhythmus,” in the weird “hottentotten-kral new york,” in the ghostly occasional samples from lectures and interviews by Huelsenbeck himself; and especially with American Peter Blegvad’s rendition of the old Dada hit “Ende der Welt,” which is here performed in English, as a blues. Huelsenbeck, who always thought his act was “Negro poetry,” a kind of German ragtime, would be—well, who knows what he’d be?

  5. Social Distortion

    “Cold Feelings” (Epic). The subjectivity—the passion and flair—in this well-scarred L.A. punk combo’s songs is easy to miss, because the thrash ’n’ burn sound and Mike Ness’ flagellant vocals—he might as well have “Born to Lose” tattooed on the inside of his throat—are so utterly generic. Every tune begins with a promise that you’ve heard it all before. But there’s a weariness here, a fury reduced to a twitch, that puts you in touch with a particular person, the singer, not someone you’d meet anywhere else. Ness throws his words over his shoulder as if that way he could actually get rid of what they say; the band throws them back. “Try to separate my body from my mind,” he says, having long since seen through the paradox and still not caring that what he wants can’t be done. He keeps saying it, and after a minute or two everything our nation’s film critics say happens in Bad Lieutenant happens here. Not only do you look all the way into someone else’s broken mirror, you care what you see.

  6. On the Wall, Inc.

    Scream giant inflatable (825 in museum shops, 829 postpaid through 1-800-995-6866). Yes, 50 multicolored vinyl inches of Edvard Munch’s all-time chart topper, “The timeless work of art that sums up all the stress, tension, frustration, and just plain AUUGGHH! that we all feel now and then.” If you hate Jeff Koons this’ll have you sweating blood, but I imagine some people take theirs to bed with them.

  7. Jimi Hendrix

    “Star Spangled Banner,” in a TV public service announcement for Children Now/California (KTVU, Oakland, December 18). The shattered Woodstock instrumental, running under a black and white, documentary-style montage of children writhing on the floor in gas-station bathrooms, picking through dumpsters, smiling, huddling together, looking scared, as if they were listening to the dead man: “He’s playing our song!” An obvious idea, with a complete follow-through.

  8. Bob Dylan

    “Chimes of Freedom,” An American Reunion (HBO, January 17). Yeah, he sounded terrible, but did you see that jacket? Purple, with black appliqué? On a night when Michael Jackson looked less human than the Mickey Mouse-men in Disneyland commercials, Dylan looked like he’d just bought a Nashville haberdashery.

  9. David Lynch, director

    Twin Peaks—Fire Walk with Me (New Line Home Video). Though nobody needed the subtitled dwarf, this much-maligned film is a lot tougher than Wild at Heart, and also probably the greatest teen-jeopardy flick ever made. It opens on the corpse of Teresa Banks, the fiend’s first victim, then focuses on the surprise and despair around her mouth, frozen by rigor mortis; the movie sheds its conceits when Laura Palmer, in a heedlessly extremist performance by Sheryl Lee, finds the same expression in life. Now the most ordinary situation is the worst: Laura’s father taunting her at the dinner table because she hasn’t washed her hands. You know he’ll get rid of the dirt by the end, and in this sudden moment so does Laura. The disbelief in her face as he rails at her is awful, but not as bad as the belief that replaces it.

    The composition of many shots is arty, the efficient production of effects that mostly call attention to themselves; the composition of others is so fine they all but leave the picture. Near the beginning, the FBI agent played by Chris Isaak stands in a trailer park, his feet on wet ground, a trenchcoat on his shoulders, mountains in the background: a last moment of contemplation and puzzlement before he disappears from the film like Bulkington from Moby-Dick. I rewound the tape, hit the pause button, and stared into a perfect picture of the loneliness, the possibility of abandonment, implicit in American open spaces where, as Lynch says here, anything can happen, and will.

  10. Calvin Klein underwear ads, with Kate Moss

    In her uncanny impersonation of a brain-dead tadpole, you can see her future: supermodel for legal euthanasia.. “WOULD YOU WANT YOUR CHILD TO LIVE LIKE THIS?”