Real Life Rock Top Ten – March/April 2010

Real Life Rock Top Ten – March/April 2010

Greil Marcus
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(1) Yellow Fever, Yellow Fever (Wild World). From Austin, Jennifer Moore and Isabel Martin play guitar, bass, and sing; Adam Jones plays drums and bass; and the early ’60s meet the early ’80s, neither of which anyone in the band is likely old enough to remember, which is simply to say that despite oldies formats there is no time on the radio. The band’s music is full of air, with brittle Young Marble Giants rhythms—and its humor (quotes from the Jaynetts’ 1963 “Sally, Go ’Round the Roses” and Ben E. King’s 1960 “Spanish Harlem,” plus sexy organ right out of Freddy Cannon’s 1962 “Palisades Park”) is sometimes muffled by Young Marble Giants archness, which has its own charms.

(2) Stephen Thompson, “‘American Idol’ and the Making of a Star” (Morning Edition, NPR, December 23, 2009). For Thompson’s own ideal American Idol song, “On the Wings of Dreaming Eagles,” which you’ll swear you’ve already heard, even if you can’t remember whether it was Clay Aiken or Adam Lambert on season four or season seven.

(3) Woods, “Born to Lose,” from Songs of Shame (Shrimper). There’s a broken, incomplete quality on every song here— something unknowable. But on this number—odd, incomplete, and, at 1:59, unsettlingly short—the name of the album comes into play. The tempo is slow, with bare guitar notes and distantly echoed backing vocals that come across less as voices than memories, or wind. From Brooklyn, Jeremy Earl’s croaked, pleading singing is as spectral as anything else: the testimony of someone whose time has already run out, and who doesn’t think he deserved a minute more than he got.

(4) Ken Maynard, Ken Maynard Sings The Lone Star Trail (Bear Family). With close to a hundred pictures between 1923 and 1945, Maynard (1895–1973) was the first singing Hollywood cowboy. Perhaps because of his high voice, he made only eight recordings, in 1930, with five—“Sweet Betsy from Pike,” “Fannie Moore,” “When the Roundup’s Done this Fall,” “Jesse James,” and “A Prisoner for Life”— released here for the first time, and not one is less than haunted. He could be listening now to Woods’s “Born to Lose,” smiling and saying, too bad they left that off my album.

(5) Gigante, written and directed by Adrián Biniez (Ctrl Z Films). A very quiet movie about a surveillance worker at a huge Montevideo supermarket who falls in love with a floor cleaner while watching her on one of his video screens. He’s enormous and moonlights as a bouncer at a nightclub; she’s not pretty but endlessly appealing; he follows her all over town and beats up people who make catcalls at her. They finally meet, and you know it’s a match made in heaven, because they both love Metallica and Biohazard.

(6) DeSoto Rust, “Calgary,” from Highway Gothic (DeSotoRust.com). There’s nothing Gothic here, just the thirty-seven-thousandth ride down the American road, not a line escaping its cliché or even trying to. You can imagine Philadelphian Ray Hunter gargling dust to get the right sound in his throat. And somewhere inside the play between Dave Reeve’s drums and David Otwell and Steve Savage’s guitars, there’s the kind of satisfaction you can only get if you’re behind the wheel, alone, for a moment forgetting where you are, maybe because Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t You See” is on the radio.

(7) Absolut Vodka, The Rock Edition (Absolut Spirits Co.). More like the Black Metal Edition—except that with the zipper on the side, the thick studded black casing looks less like a guitarist’s wrist guard than a sex slave’s S&M mask.

(8) Georgia O’Keeffe, Abstraction (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, September 17, 2009–January 17, 2010). Anyone can be forgiven for thinking, but I’ve seen Georgia O’Keeffe; the work in this great show has been hidden behind the flowers and skulls. This is bedrock, as much painted by the American landscape as it is about it. Wave, Night (1928: desert, a lake bed in the foreground, at the top, in the middle, a single white spotlight, which only barely illuminates the shadow of a road reaching diagonally from middle-right down to far-left) is as much an anticipation of Robert Frank’s highway pictures in The Americans as the 1919 Abstraction is of Batman’s Gotham City—or as the very early charcoal drawing Train at Night in the Desert (1916: clouds billowing up at either side, almost black on the left, gray at the right, the train in the center, but in a way that while a sense of movement is undeniable the train is itself a cloud) is of Elvis Presley’s “Mystery Train.”

(9) Kevin Bradley, Robert Johnson (Chelsea Market, New York City, December 16, 2009). One of a series of letterpress posters on the walls of the meandering hallways, this stood out: for the backlit eyes, the filed teeth, and the caption: “They say he sold his soul, but he tricked Saten by putting his soul in his music.”

(10) Pirate Radio, directed by Richard Curtis (Universal Pictures). Set in the mid-’60s, this movie about illicit rock ’n’ roll broadcasting from a ship in the North Sea into bedrooms and offices all across the UK lines up Don’t Knock the Rock (1956), Animal House (1978), American Hot Wax (1978), Pump Up the Volume (1990), Titanic (1997), and finally Dunkirk (1958), and plays them like a xylophone. It sounds wonderful, it’s hilarious, and it features Rhys Ifans as the coolest DJ in screen history. But when the ship begins to sink and the thousands of LPs and 45s in the station library are swept away (never mind what Walter Benjamin said about the artistic products of mechanical reproduction lacking the aura of art—as they’re carried off by thousands of pounds of water, these records are aura), a deeper analogue appears. That’s Tom Stoppard’s 2006 play Rock ’n’ Roll, for the horrible scene when the Czech hero discovers that the secret police have smashed his albums, every one.

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