PRINT May 1997


Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus is a contributing editor at Artforum. Stemmen uit Kelder, the Dutch edition of his Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes, will be published this month by Nijgh & Van Ditmar.


    Eighth (Thrill Jockey). Chicago’s most passionate rock ’n’ roll trio on the city’s most avant-garde label—it makes sense, because in its fourteenth year Eleventh Dream Day has moved off the stage and into the realm of a certain abstraction. Muscle and drums are still present, but as gestures and whispers; the pace is slowed. Timeless folk talismans—“salty dog,” “She’ll be comin’ down the mountain, when she comes”—appear in the music like nearly meaningless fragments of an idea that lurks seductively behind them. The doubled voices of guitarist Rich Rizzo and drummer Janet Bean can be as bitter as an all-night argument in its last hour and as ordinary as a conversation overheard on the street, pursuing a realism beyond the reach or perhaps even the desire of anyone else currently making pop records; with bassist Douglas McCombs the whole of their music seems to revolve around a core of receding visions of honor and right, and to take its spirit from getting up in the morning and going to work.


    Hello Again! A New Wave of Recycled Art and Design (Oakland Museum of California, through July 27). There’s anonymous tramp art from cigar boxes and generic third world unart from automobile tire sandals on up. There’s Jan Yager’s American Breastplate, 1995–97, fashioned from found crack vials and syringes, and Salvatore and Marie’s Alice, 1996, a hilarious little walking clock made out of bent spoons and a pretty cat food can. And outstripping everything else is Nule Giulini’s untitled wedding dress: classically lowcut, with a twenty-foot train, composed entirely of used underwear, which is to say the bride wore gray.

  3. LUSH

    “Last Night (Darkest Hour Mix),” on City of Industry soundtrack (Quango). From a gangster movie starring the fearsome Timothy Hutton, praying mantis music: a complete ’50s French film noir, as remade last year in Hong Kong. Second feature, same genre: Tricky’s “Overcome.”


    “Jack of Diamonds,” on The Amazing Charlatans (Big Beat reissue, 1965–68). They were a quintet of Edwardian gunslingers who came down from Virginia City to kick off San Francisco’s psychedelic years, but their truest music was old-timey, from their epic revision of “Alabama Bound” to this crude, nervous, indelible 1965 rehearsal, a version of “The Cuckoo” that has all the art of a cowboy standing up at a campfire and giving a speech.


    Dog Boy Van and Dan Bern (Work/Sony). Bern doesn’t want you to call him “The New Bob Dylan,” and for good reason. “Talkin’ Alien Abduction Blues” (which really ought to have been called “I Shall Be Free 10%”) is “Talkin’ World War III Blues” without wit or bite, while “Estelle,” Bern’s liveliest, most physical performance, is also a shameless rip-off of Dylan’s “Brownsvile Girl”/“New Danville Girl.” Otherwise “New Irritatingly Plain-Folks But Obnoxiously Self-Regarding Post-Generational Voice of His Generation” is more like it: Bern isn’t afraid of big subjects like Kurt Cobain’s suicide or the Oklahoma City bombing, and he isn’t afraid of triteness or sententiousness.


    on Homicide (NBC, February 21). Having their 1961 “Dedicated to the One I Love” playing in the background while Detective John Munch investigated the murder of his high-school crush Helen Rosenthal was an almost obvious touch, but the cleanness of Shirley Alston’s voice cutting into the slack, middle-aged bodies that moved through the story was as cruel as life. It’s unlikely anybody anticipated the girls popping up in the last fifteen minutes to apply “Mama Said” to a Pepto-Bismol commercial, though.


    So Long So Wrong (Rounder). Fine, with “It Doesn’t Matter,” a will o’ the wisp in pitch dark—and not far enough removed from the most frightening moment of this year’s Grammy Awards show, beyond the android undulations of Celine Dion. That came when Krauss and her band joined Vince Gill and Patty Loveless for the gospel classic “Working on a Building.” That is, Krauss was announced, but where was she? In place of the most soulful bluegrass singer of our day stood a pallid, rail-thin blonde, her voice a ghost. It was as if, after Krauss nailed the country charts last year with Now That I’ve Found You, somebody read her the riot act: Honey, you can go all the way, but only if you lose thirty pounds first.


    Lost Highway (October Films). This movie has its flaws. Hank Williams’ shadow title song is not acknowledged, the appearance of the “Lost Highway Hotel” is cheesy, as if the film is running its own ad, and the product placement is sloppy (Full Sail ale makes sense at the fancy party, not for Gary Busey’s biker). But the self-loathing that never really leaves Bill Pullman’s face—the look he perfected playing chump husbands in Malice and The Last Seduction—never leaves the picture, either. It’s a grimace that somehow sums up American nihilism at the end of the American century, a sneer that contains knowledge of all the secrets that aren’t worth telling.


    SubUrbia (Gramercy Pictures). Based on Eric Bogosian’s devastating portrait of lost youth trapped in the decaying wreckage of the modernity of our nation, or, as a patron put it as the credits rolled, “How many times have we seen this movie?”