PRINT November 1997


Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus is a contributing editor of Artforum. An excerpt from his book Lipstick Traces is included in A Life in Pieces: Reflections on Alexander Trocchi edited by Allan Campbell and Tim Niel (Rebel inc., Edinburgh).


    “The Great Titanic,” on Rudy’s Rockin’ Kiddie Caravan (TNT); and William and Versey Smith: “When that Great Ship Went Down,” 1927, on Anthology of American Folk Music ed. Harry Smith (Smithsonian Folkways six-CD reissue). The Smiths’ street-singer chant is one of the most primitive—or primeval—morality plays in a set that works as a map of Gothic America. But seventy years later lead vocalist Kelly Hogan, also credited with “barstool legs and folding chair, ” and “storytelling” vocalist and guitarist Andy Hopkins give no ground in their contribution to a Rudy and Gogo World Famous Cartoon Show collection of twenty-two old folk ditties (“This Old Man,” “Home on the Range, ” etc.) rendered by a crew suspiciously loaded with Mekons types. “Le’s do it, ” snarls a scratchy male voice to introduce Hogan’s clear alto; with notes breaking up around her, she sets the stage for a staticky news report by Hopkins as Shine, according to legend the only black person aboard the officially whites-only Titanic, and the first off. “ It was sad when the great ship went down,” Hogan glows at the end, all roaring glee. With the rich passengers sinking to the bottom of the sea, it’s as if she’s discovered the one time trickle-down economics actually worked.

  2. BROWN-EYED SOUL: THE SOUND OF EAST L.A., Vols. 1–3 (Rhino)

    This smooth, warming, endlessly surprising project documents not a genre but a sensibility: less the records young people made in the barrio in the mid ’60s, when the southern California Chicano community passed through the shock of self-recognition, than the records people liked—the music people used to tell each other who they were. So there’s hot rock from the Olympics, cool soul from Peaches and Herb, jam-it-up stampers from local heroes Thee Midnighters and the Premiers, funk from War, searing blues from Johnny “Guitar” Watson, the still heartbreaking, still weird “Image of a Girl” by the Safaris (a surf group)—and what links almost everything here is a certain restraint, the sense that a whispered code word will travel further than a shout.

  3. Lynne Dawson/Rolling Stones

    September 6 (all networks/ KFOG-FM, San Francisco). You chose your own moments at Diana’s funeral, or they chose you, but on my day soprano Dawson’s impassioned reading of Verdi’s Requiem—as alarming for the way she turned the pages of the sheet music as for the faraway notes she hit as if they were speeches from Wuthering Heights—took on a new cast a few hours later, when the first, high, solo, female chorus of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” stepped off the radio. Whoever the song’s first voice is, instantly it was inescapably Dawson; when Mick Jagger came in for the first verse, the song had already said what it had to say.


    Marietta, 1916, in “Christian Schad: 1894–1982,” curated by Tobia Bezzola (Kunsthaus Zürich through November 9; Städtische Galerie, Munich, from November 26). The Zurich Dadaist and inventor of the photogram found his true calling as a portraitist, and he found it early, in this devastatingly unstable picture of an archetypal Central European bohemian cabaret singer. Marietta was a real person, but here, with the painting’s cubist fragments at once drawn to the center of the canvas by the force of Marietta’s eyes and driven away from it by the threat her eyes carry, she is also her own twentieth century: born out of the brow of Hedda Gabler, crossing the bridge of the world war hand in hand with her contemporary Emmy Hennings, soon to fix the world in her gaze in the person of Louise Brooks.


    Live at the Cimarron Ballroom (MCA). Cut July 21, 1961, at Cline’s first show after a near-fatal auto accident. As her studio recordings couldn’t do, the rough, brassy set catches the spirit of a woman who never got around to apologizing for anything.


    10 Million Hours a Mile (Kill Rock Stars). This serious-looking woman comes up to you on the street and starts telling you about her philosophy of life and half an hour later you’re still listening.


    “Revolution Blues,” on Do You Think About Me? (Bloodshot). In 197 4 on Neil Young’s On the Beach this Manson Family manifesto was lumbering, sardonic, even smug. Now, with the sound of time running out matching Jon Langford’s race through scattered images of dunebuggy attack squadrons and dead dogs on million dollar lawns, the reach for the end of the world in the music suggests a Waco Brother not credited here: David Koresh.


    Alan Jackson ’s commercial for Ford Trucks (all networks). You’ve got the smarmiest country singer—and one of the richest—smiling down from under his Stetson with “If I had money/I’ll tell you what I’d do” as the inescapable rhythm of K.C. Douglas ’ holy “Mercury Blues ” pours out of the rewrite and Jackson promises he’d buy two Fords. The wrong singer for a song is one thing, but you can’t use a car song for the wrong car.