PRINT February 1997


Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus is a contributing editor of Artforum. His book The Dustbin of History was recently published in Germany by Rogner & Bernhard as Der Müllheimer der Geschicte.


    Endtroducing. . . . (Mowax/ffrr). This all-sampled reflection of a “lifetime of vinyl culture” is best heard as a double LP; it’s more of a thing than the CD version, takes up more space, gets in the way, makes you interrogate it more physically. Musically, it’s a throwback, straight to the beginnings of recorded hip-hop—to Grandmaster Flash’s 1980 “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel.” It’s also absolutely modern—which is to say ambient-dreamy and techno-abstract. Quite brilliant throughout, it resurrects the body only on the 9:21 “Stem/Long Stem,” which combines a gorgeous, unspeakably beckoning riff from the ether with what sounds like dialogue from the opening pages of an old James Ellroy mystery, just before everything gets really bad. Not to be confused with DJ Spooky, one of the great bores of our time.


    “Who Will Love Me Now” (Island). A fourth track sliding off the single “That Was My Veil”—a slow ballad, as if from the end of a war, a woman bidding farewell to everything she ever cared about. Very European, very cinematic, and unlike anything else Harvey has done.


    “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” & “Sympathy for the Devil,” from The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (Abkco CD and video). Mick Jagger may have gone farther into his music than on this night in 1968, but if he did the proof has not survived.


    “My Ex-Fiancé” (essay in The Oxford American, August/September, 1996. P. O. Drawer 1156, Oxford, MS 38655). Her ex-fiancé ran a comedy club/avant-garde theater in Chicago; he was odd, scary, beautiful, sexually ambiguous, needy, and alluring. When he decided to move to Arizona, “to get his act together,” Brenner recalls, “for a while I made plans to follow him, but in the end I stayed in Chicago, and shortly thereafter I met a young prosecutor who offered all my ex-fiancé could not: idealism, clear skin and eyes, strict heterosexuality, and a graduate degree from an Ivy League school. . . . He worshipped Bruce Springsteen and often quoted from his songs. He fought for the little guy. The world tries to beat you down, he said. You’ve gotta fight to keep the wolves at bay. C’mon Wendy, champs like us, etc.

    “So I moved in with him and everything went fine until an argument we had one evening that started with me saying I thought ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ was a joke, and ended with him holding me by the throat with one hand and cracking the back of my head against the hardwood floor, over and over, alternately spitting in my face and shouting at me that I would never understand Bruce because I’d never suffered, never had to live in the real world,” as Bob Dole so famously put it last summer, unless it was respectable fascist novelist Mark Helprin speaking through him. “I’d grabbed for order, for safety,” Brenner says. “I’d somehow managed to invite the wolf right inside my door, without even knowing it.”


    The Way I Should (Warner Bros.) DeMent’s third album revolves around “Wasteland of the Free,” a protest song that if not for its drive and sincerity would drown in its own disgust, and the title song, a ditty about self-affirmation that after two or three plays feels as big as a house. “I’ll tell you why we won’t play this,” a DJ said to DeMent’s husband about a new DeMent single, speaking of his station’s format. “It’s too country. We only play Real Country.” (From Nicholas Dawidoff’s In the Country of Country, Pantheon.)


    White Light White Heat White Trash (550 Music/Epic). The kind of punk Mike Ness and his band play is now so traditional it might be folk music. They’re living up to their name, both as effect and cause, as fate and goal.


    “The End,” from Complete Cover Versions (bootleg). A 2:17 onstage compression of the 11:35 1967 Doors classic, here featuring Krist Novoselic and set mostly in a Waffle House. Surrounded by tunes originally cut by Kiss, the Wipers, Led Zeppelin, the Who, and the Meat Puppets, it’s a reminder that the trio’s disdain was as funny turned outward as it was awful turned inward.


    Conversations with Pauline Kael, ed. Will Brantley (Jackson: The University Press of Mississippi, $17). Criticism—not how, but why.


    Breaking the Waves (October Films). This is the worst sort of art-house swill—sub-Ingmar Bergman infused with the spirit of Joan Osborne’s “One of Us”—but the intertitles introducing each “chapter” are weird. Glowing, romantic landscapes worked up with painter Per Kirkeby unfold almost like blooming flowers in time-lapse photography; each one is accompanied by a pop song, so glossy and bright on the soundtrack it might be a commercial. The songs have something to do with the heroine’s holy madness: when asked by her church elders if outsiders have ever brought anything good to her isolated, blasted Scottish village, she shyly replies, “Their music.” Just as Mott the Hoople’s “All the Way from Memphis” almost upends the movie as it begins, David Bowie’s exquisite “Life on Mars?” almost seals it at the end. But with Chapter 5 comes Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” in its dreadful, preening vanity really the perfect song for this film, and the fact that it was chosen at all should have given the game away. Nobody seems to be getting the joke.