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Real Life Rock Top Ten – June 2010

by Greil Marcus
Illustration by Charles Burns

Real Life Rock Top Ten – June 2010

Greil Marcus
8 Snaps

(1) Club 8: The People’s Record (Labrador). You know that Dire Straits song “Twisting by the Pool”? If a whole album of twisting-by-the-pool music by a demi-Abba—Karolina Komstedt and Johan Angerg˚ard, Swedes with a bossa-nova collection—sounds appealing, this is for you. Especially on “We’re All Going to Die.”

(2) Alfred: “Like a Rolling Stone,” in Bob Dylan Revisited: 13 Graphic Interpretations of Bob Dylan’s Songs (Norton). Almost everything here is destructively literal, to the point that most of the pictures meant to illustrate the songs are accompanied by matching lyrics that instead illustrate the pictures—or reveal the complete lack of imagination behind them. By stunning contrast—and in stunning use of shifting color schemes, where each chapter in the story of a woman attempting to escape into a life of her own and continually finding herself imprisoned by the life she was born to is governed by shadings of blue, taupe, yellow, olive green, brown, gray, and finally a bright, light-filled page that is scarier than anything darker—Alfred trusts abstraction. Until the very last of his sixty-seven panels there isn’t a word to be seen. The story he tells isn’t obvious, isn’t clear. It doesn’t match Dylan’s soaring, heat-seeking-missile crescendos and choruses—it brings them down to earth. It isn’t a social allegory. It’s one person’s odyssey, a lifetime that returns her to precisely the place she first flees. And the Siamese cat isn’t a symbol of evil, or anything else. It’s the woman’s conscience, or what, all along, has been singing the song that has been playing deep in the farthest back corners of her mind. Following the tale as Alfred sees it, it’s as if you’ve never heard the song at all, and now you must.

(3) Scott Ostler: “Bay Area Sports Scene Is Giants and Disasters” (San Francisco Chronicle, April 1, 2010). On the so-far futile attempt of the Oakland A’s to move to San Jose, with disaster rating by tornado: “The A’s (three tornadoes) are Running Bear, the American Indian in a 1960s novelty song of the same name by Johnny Preston. Running Bear is in love with Little White Dove. In our local drama, Little White Dove is played by the city of San Jose.

“Bear and Dove can’t get together because their respective tribes are at war. All they can do is gaze longingly at one another across a big river.

“That’s the A’s. Their very existence depends on finding a way to overcome politics and hook up with San Jose. Frankly, most of us wish the two would get a room.

“The song, by the way, ends with Running Bear and Little White Dove jumping into the river from opposite sides, and ‘the raging river pulled them down.’”

(4) Hanoi Janes: Year of Panic (Captured Tracks). Almost-­one-man band Oliver Scharf, from Saschen, Germany, near Dresden. Caspian Sea Surf Music, suggests the press release, which is close enough—song titles include “Beachkids,” “Surfin’ KMC,” and (note the surfin’ variation on the album title) “Summer of Panic”—but Scharf is closer to Jan and Dean than Brian Wilson, and a lot closer to Jonathan Richman than either of them. Except on “Good Bone,” when he’s closer to Buddy Holly. Gloriously.

(5 & 6) Hugh Brown: Allegedly: The Hugh Brown Chainsaw Collection (Grand Central Press) and Caitlin Williams Freeman: Confections (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). What if Matisse, Duchamp, Man Ray, Pollock, Lichtenstein, Cornell, and more, more, had incorporated chain-saw motifs into their work—not to mention ­Arbus (she didn’t?), Warhol, Ruscha, Kruger, Holzer, Prince, Hockney, and Mapplethorpe? It’s not likely many of them would have come up with anything as coolly ­subtle as Brown’s constructions, fruit of a project decades in the making. Least convincing: a phallic remake of Meret Oppenheim’s Object. Blink and you’ll miss it: a perfectly rendered version of Walker Evans’s 1936 Farm Security Administration photograph of a New Orleans movie theater, which instead of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey’s The Nitwits is now featuring The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. Brown’s work is also a gallery show (at the Robert Berman Gallery, Los Angeles, July 24–August 21), which were it to be installed at SFMoMA you could walk through and then go up to the rooftop coffee bar and try to chose between Caitlin Freeman’s Jeff Koons White Hot Chocolate with cup and saucer slathered with gold leaf; Frida Kahlo Mexican Wedding Cookies; a blue, red, yellow, and white Mondrian Cake; and, most perversely, Build Your Own Richard Serra—where standing in for the iron walls are a Swedish gingersnap, a chocolate sable cookie, a graham cracker, and, as the bar to hold the mini-Stonehenge in place, a citrus tuille cookie. Plus a napkin complete with instructions to keep the thing from falling down while you set it up.

(7) Surveillance, directed and cowritten by Jennifer Chambers Lynch (2008, Magnolia DVD). For nightmare performances by Pell James and Ryan Simpkins—with Simpkins, in her fearlessness and lack of affect after seeing her entire family massacred, presented, by way of her blond braid, as Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed, which means a sequel in which she will either kill Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond or join their gang. With ­David Lynch’s crawl song “Speed Roadster” in his high, come-into-this-alley-with-me psycho rap over fuzzed blues.

(8) Kiss Meets the Führer of the Reich (YouTube). In 1966 Woody Allen bought rights to a Japanese James Bond imitation called Kagi no Kagi, dubbed in his own dialogue, and released the thing as What’s Up, Tiger Lily? As Allen’s first and funniest movie, it made an increasingly unhinged kind of sense—and so do the slew of uncredited videos that with English subtitles play the same trick on a four-minute section of the 2004 German film Der Untergang. It’s April 20, 1945, Hitler is in his bunker, surrounded by his staff, raging, despairing, then reflective, almost wistful—and then it’s June 25, 2009, for ­Hitler Finds Out Michael Jackson Has Died, or three months later, for Hitler Finds Out Kanye West Disses Taylor Swift. But the killer is June 8, 2008. Poring over charts, plotting strategy to the end, as head of the German division of the Kiss Army, ­Hitler is preparing for the band’s big concert. He will stop at nothing to get Peter Criss and Ace Frehley to add their signatures to his buttocks—he’s already got Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. Then an officer steps forward, trembling, to deliver the bad news: Frehley and Criss are not touring with the band. There is a silence no one dares break. Another officer, grasping at straws, suggests that all may not be lost: the substitutes are said to be “competent musicians.” “What do Kiss fans care about competent musicians!” Hitler explodes. Again, silence. Again, the remaining officers looking desperately at each other, knowing the wrong word could mean their deaths. Hitler backs himself into a corner, shrinking into himself, cursing wildly, but then fury turns to acceptance. It’s over: “I can’t even rest my hopes on Mr. Ace Frehley’s new solo album.” And it’s all in the timing—the camp timing of the original transformed by the bizarrely human timing of the subtitles, catching nuances the real movie never dreamed of.

(9) Assassination of a High School President, directed by Brett Simon (2008, Sony DVD). Scream was a parody of the high-school slasher movie, and for most of its length this increasingly creepy exercise—with Reece Thompson as the school paper reporter Bobby Funke (“Funk!” he keeps correcting everyone) and ­Mischa Barton as the femme fatale—is a parody of Scream. But step by step, in emotion if not plot, it moves toward the believable. At the end, with the hero distraught and refusing to accept the whole truth, when his editor turns to him and says, “Forget it, Funke, it’s high school,” the moment sticks harder, seems less of a screenwriter’s gloss, than it did in Chinatown. Plus Cat Power’s “Speak for Me” running over the credits, and capturing the chaos of high-school life as well as anything on the screen.

(10) Penelope Houston at Library Laureates presents Urban Legends (San Francisco Public Library, April 16).  The great Avengers singer, a longtime SFPL staff member, came up: “I’m dressed as a literary urban legend,” she said. Perhaps 5′ 2″, moles pasted on each cheek, streaked blonde hair over one eye, goggle-dark glasses—she was JT Leroy.  Or as much as anyone impersonating someone who existed only as an impersonation could be. 

Thanks to Jeff Gold

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