PRINT October 1994


Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus is a contributing editor of Artforum. His “The Bosnian Connection” is included in Mid-Life Confidential: The Rock Bottom Remainders Tour America with Three Chords and an Attitude, edited by Dave Marsh (Viking, 1994).


    “Independence Day,” from The Way That I Am (RCA). Written by Gretchen Peters, this is one of those ultraprofessional country songs where all craft is marshaled to burn a tune into your heart. McBride sings it rangy, loud, and hard, like Trisha Yearwood with more than a career on her mind. “Talk about your revolution,” says a young girl of her drunken father and her beaten mother; by the time the story finds its ending, the number has joined Van Morrison’s “Almost Independence Day” and X’s version of Dave Alvin’s “4th of July” in the thin folio of recordings that expose a legacy nearly too distant and demanding to think about. It’s a legacy that still carries an echo of Herman Melville’s version: “The Declaration of Independence makes a difference.”


    Girls in Prison (Showtime made-for-TV movie). By far the most intense entry in the “Rebel Highway” series of oldtitle/new-script remakes of ’50s AIP teen-exploitation films—the author of Endless Sleep gets framed for murder. The film goes giddy with glee over its freedom to push old ideas to the point of explosion: to get its first two heroines into the slam, they’re shown as driven literally berserk by McCarthyism. A famous liberal Hollywood actor and his playwright daughter rehearse a new script; then, as you see it tried out in a little theater, with the father as a witness fighting off his McCarthyist inquisitor, the members of the audience rise from their seats and, all barriers between art, life, and propaganda dissolving, beat the father to the edge of death. After that, in the hospital, he can only mumble “Are you a communist?” over and over; after shock therapy, he says nothing at all.


    “These Boots are Made for Walkin’,” in Natural Born Killers, dir. Oliver Stone (Warner Bros.). Out on her feet from snakebite, finally captured, her stomach covered with blood from the criss-crossings of a cop’s knife, she’s got rhythm, just barely.


    Bill Clinton Jam Session—The Pres Blows (Pres/Daybreak M.O., 1-800-666-5277). Too many strange clues here to handle—the sneer of the subtitle, itself a homage to Lester Young, the first tenor saxophonist to take the name “Prez”; the Mark of the Beast in the 800 number—hut in fact this 17-minute CD is straight cool school, with more soul than Clinton fave Kenny G. Cut at the Reduta Jazz Club in Prague on January 11, with Clinton playing an instrument handed him by Vaclav Havel and leading a small troupe of Czechs through “Summertime” and a ten-minute “My Funny Valentine,” the music meanders at first, with more to hear as themes fade than as they try to take shape. At the end, Clinton gathers Jan Konopásek’s baritone sax to his tenor, and there’s a stirring moment of peace at the heart of a storm not long in the past. As for the concurrent release of brother Roger’s debut disc, Nothing Good Comes Easy, it’s lounge music, and where was it when the KGB could have used it? Lock Havel back up in his old cell, pump this in for . . . oh, about five tracks, and he’d renounce Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground too if that’s what it took to get out.


    Dada Almanac, presented by Malcolm Green (Atlas Press, BCM Atlas Press, London WC1N 3XX). A long-overdue though not inspired translation, usefully if burdensomely annotated, of the still thrilling, still weird 1920 anthology. Almost three-quarters of a century of paranoid delusions of grandeur have not quite recovered the language (let alone the frame of reference) Walter Mehring found in Berlin for “Revelations”: “Since [the] Balkan division [of the first Dada dynasty] began the Albanian interregnum in collaboration with the Viennese Bankverein and the Italian Banca Commerciale, and launched its missionary activities among the Shiite Bektashiyahs, even simple jobbers at the stock exchange are beginning to realize. . . .”

  6. COME

    Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (Matador). No matter what dustbin of history Clinton’s gays-in-the-military policy ends up in, the phrase will live on. It’s a work of genius, a perfect title for anything save what it stands for—including this moody, accessible album by a band that was previously a dirge factory for singer Thalia Zedek—the Avital Ronell of rock ’n’ roll—and is now letting a little speed and light into its sound. The music gets stronger and more whole song by song, until you can almost believe that inside the Gothic clichés some kind of secret is waiting.

  7. PRINCE 1958-93

    Come (Warner Bros.). Currently on a supposedly permanent recording strike, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince has announced his intention to fulfill his huge Warner Bros. contract by dumping tapes out of his bottomless vaults for as long as it takes. The first fruit of this bizarre insult is his/its most elegant and idiosyncratic album since Dirty Mind, and that was 14 years ago. Come is superhigh concept: the careful, inventive, all but liquid dramatization of a single 48-minute-46-second fuck. Except for the hokey last track, “Orgasm”—if you believe Prince when he promises “I love you” to the accompanying female vocalist, credited as “partner,” he’s got an old Warner Bros. contract you might be interested in—the music basks in a kind of ease and luxury that brings back Howlin’ Wolf’s opening brag in “Going Down Slow,” lines you can imagine spinning off the end of the last tape the Kid retrieves from the last vault: “Now, I did not say I was a millionaire/But I said, I have spent more money/Than a millionaire.


    Direction EP (Chainsaw, P.O. Box 1 1151, Olympia, WA 98507-1151). Latest news from Tracy and Corin—who in pursuit of their next move (“Direction,” “Get Out of My Head,” “The Ones”) complain themselves all the way back to an X-ray Spex show in London in early ’77, at which point they climb out of the crowd, onto the stage, and call their own tune (“Driving Song”).


    “Sail Away” spot (Wensauer • D.D.B. Needham, Düsseldorf). I once wondered what would happen if Randy Newman’s greatest song, conceived as a slaver’s recruiting pitch, were heard anytime, anywhere—part of the noise of any given day. Well, here’s the answer. Though only the title phrase and a hint of melody are used, the song is instantly recognizable behind footage of tall ships and waves surging. Why? To catch a vague echo of its evil, to give the commercial just the subliminal edge it needs?


    Answer the Phone, Dummy” (Sub Pop). After 14 years of evading anything resembling professionalism—seemingly abandoning all craft to glance a tune off your heart—bassist Kim Warnick and rhythm guitarist Lulu Gargiulo are singing lead guitarist Kurt Bloch’s songs with a new confidence, which doesn’t hurt lines like “I learned something today/People don’t think the way I do.” As always, the smallest incidents of memory or present-day this-’n’-that rush forward with a sense of fate and consequence, practical joke and tragedy, puzzlement and wonder—for example, the possibility of actually finding out “what it really was/An observatory does.” And speaking of great titles. . . .