PRINT September 1994


Greil Marcus' Real Life Rock

Greil Marcus is a contributing editor to Artforum. His “Elvis und Hermes—endlich wieder vereint” appeared in the June number of Texte Zur Kunst.

  1. Walter Hill, Director

    Streets of Fire (1984; A&F cable, MCA video). I caught the last 20 minutes of this urban never-never-land rock fable on A&E one afternoon (cast: Diane Lane, Michael Paré, Willem Dafoe, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Lee Ving, Bill Paxton, Ed Begley, Jr., the Blasters, Robert Townsend), waited out the plot for the final musical number, and had my memories of the film dissolved by the wonder of what goes on. There’s a tremendous unreality to the sound and staging of “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young”—it’s thrilling, but in a prickly, disturbing way. Music videos have never come within centuries of what Hill (and Jeffrey Hornaday, the choreographer) does here with every gesture. Contradictions are the medium: singer Lane’s dress is at once tight and hanging on her like a piece of paper, slit all the way down in back—she’s not thin. The perfection of every move, every cut, is scary, and the sense that this isn’t happening is overpowering: it’s as if this is no performance but a transmission to the stage, by unknown technology, of your deepest performance fantasies. The audience waves its arms, and you peer through them: at the way the drummer, shot from below, makes the beat, the way the guitarist frames Lane with his back to her, his zoot suit touching her skin, the way the black vocal quartet enters the ensemble, strolling and strutting as if they’ve been called forth to walk it like she talks it.

    On-screen the music—by some faceless aggregation called Fire, Inc.—sounds a thousand times better than it would on a record. This is exactly right for what you know cannot be real: the many female and for all I know male voices coming out of Lane’s mouth. There’s no way in the world what you’re seeing is making the sound you hear, but you can believe the performers, in character, know this as well as you do. As you, in the audience, watch, the performers are projecting their own fantasies onto themselves, desperately, happily, casually, as a matter of life and death. Isn’t this what happens in a real show?

  2. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

    “As I Am,” from Pure and Simple (Warner Bros.). Jett is wildly overrated as a survivor (aren’t they all?), but as she runs her hoarse plea through a small, delicate knockoff of a circa ’65 Phil Spector arrangement, she could be making her first record.

  3. Anonymous

    I, Spastic (P.O. Box 4629, Berkeley, CA 94707-0629, $1 plus two first-class stamps). A deliriously tasteless and appallingly hilarious one-person fanzine about, among other things, Jesus (“probably the most influential figure in history before Aaron Spelling”) and the Apostles as a teenage gang (“all wearing dark coats made from the skin of a cow. . . . ‘My man!’” says Jesus to a leper, “‘Give me three and a half!’”), the transmogrification of confessed Bosnian Serb war-criminal Borislav Herak into an Azerbaijani pop star (illustrated), an L.A. porn actress home in Waukesha, Wisconsin, for Thanksgiving and recruiting her teenage sister (though their little brother gets all the best lines), and the Kurt Cobain–like death of Barney the dinosaur (illustrated): “In potting soil near his body, a pen thrust into the dirt held his one-page suicide note, written in appropriately purple ink. It read, in part, ‘I love you, and you love me, but I hate myself and want to die.’”

  4. Neil Young & Crazy Horse

    Sleeps with Angels (Reprise). Tonight’s the Night disguised as Harvest—some trick.

  5. Erasure

    I Say I Say I Say (Mute/Elektra). A lift.

  6. Wallace Berman

    Support the Revolution (Institute of Contemporary Art, Amsterdam/D.A.P., $39.95). Berman (1926–76) started out in the ’40s as a Watts white Negro. By 1967 his presence at the center of the Bay Area collage and assemblage circle led Peter Blake to include him in the gallery of culture heroes on the sleeve of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper (just to the right of Tony Curtis). This retrospective volume features dull text by a variety of writers, and a handsome, loose design. Scattered all through it, dating from at least 1964 to nearly the end of Berman’s life, are scores of versions of his most iconic construct: they always begin with the same photograph, of a hand holding up a tiny transistor radio, completed with a picture where the speaker ought to be. Presented in sets of 56, like a sheet of stamps; of five, spread like a poker hand; or solitary, the doubled images work as omens, judgments—Verifax collages in color or black and white, positive or negative, showing two men hugging, a man and a woman having sex, a watch, a snake, a basketball game, a pistol, Kenneth Anger in a teenager movie role, an Iron Cross, George and Ringo, nothing, a galaxy, Bob Dylan, ancient coins, a spider. Each image communicates a kind of blankness, the radio silenced by the picture that has, it seems, developed out of it. All together the pieces make a whole metaphysics, derived from the simplest notion: changing the station.

  7. Junior Kimbrough and the Soul Blues Boys

    Sad Days, Lonely Nights (Fat Possum, P.O. Box 1923, Oxford, MS 38655, [800] 659–9791). Taped in Kimbrough’s juke joint in Chulahoma, Mississippi, with the nightspot used as a cold room—no audience. The result is rough, fraying, introspective, so much so it’s almost abstract.

  8. Marshall Crenshaw

    Hollywood Rock (HarperPerennial, $15). Former Beatlemania John Lennon and continuing dubious rockabilly impersonator, Crenshaw may have found his true calling with this rock-movie guide—though there are 26 reviewers besides Crenshaw, and one Ted Mico is credited as editor. Films are graded for “music,” “attitude,” and “fun”; Streets of Fire gets three, one, and two stars, Hated: G. G. Allin and the Murder Junkies gets five across the board. The book is a treasure, or anyway a treasure chest: unpredictable, full of bizarre (or made-up) facts, obsessive to the point of dementia, and if you’ve heard of every movie here—Amor a Ritmo de Go-Go? Teenage Millionaire? The Wizard of Waukesha (say, weren’t we just talking about . . .)? Blonde on a Bum Trip? The Amorous Sex (I actually rented this once, under another title)?—you probably don’t remember your own name.

  9. Harvey Keitel & Madonna

    in Dangerous Game, dir. Abel Ferrara (1993, MGM/UA Home Video). Lionized in 1992 for Bad Lieutenant, Ferrara could easily have called this one (or that one) Bad Director. But here both Keitel, as a lionized film director, and Madonna, as his leading actress and meal ticket, come off with dignity, and they’re fascinating to watch. Madonna’s character—off the screen of the movie-within-the-movie—is believable as an actual person, quietly evading Madonna’s own image factories. As a Ferrara stand-in, Keitel’s character isn’t there as such, but it’s gratifying to realize how completely and how well Keitel has aged on the screen over the last two decades. He seems to carry all of his roles with him, somewhere in the back of his mind, in the fatigue or vehemence of his gestures—and also, in his eyes, our memory of those roles, as he connives with himself, playing what we haven’t seen him do before against what we have.

  10. Pale Saints

    Slow Buildings (4AD). The faith healers meet Sonic Youth, spook the hell out of each other, and wake up from an arty swoon, satisfied.