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Real Life Rock Top Ten – March/April 2011

by Greil Marcus
Illustration by Charles Burns

Real Life Rock Top Ten – March/April 2011

Greil Marcus
19 Snaps

(1Eminem and Lil Wayne, “No Love” on Saturday Night Live (December 18, 2010). In a performance that reduced the original collaboration for Eminem’s Recovery to a stiff rehearsal, Lil Wayne was the carpenter, with enough conviction in his hesitating syllables to cause pain: “No love lost, no love found” cut. Then Eminem takes the song, walking the boards Lil Wayne nailed down, clumsily, with no ability to create a rhythm out of physical movement, and it doesn’t matter: the staccato beat he makes, then rides, that shoots his words out in front of him is jaw-dropping. The momentum he generates between the walls of each beat seems almost beyond the ability of a body to produce it. On record, the number isn’t so far beyond its sample of Haddaway’s somewhat cheesy 1993 “What Is Love (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)”; here, it touches “Lose ­Yourself,” the shocker that ran under the credits for 8 Mile—when you thought the movie was over, and the real story was just starting.

(2) The Fiery Furnaces, “I’m Not There,” Le Poisson Rouge, New York (December 5, 2010). Over the last few years, Howard Fishman and Sonic Youth have translated and recorded this once-almost-incomprehensible Bob Dylan song. This night, it seemed to have drifted into Eleanor Friedberger’s mind unbidden, and she told its tale as if, now, it was her life to lead.

(3) Anika, Anika (Stones Throw). The Nico-like face, the Nico-like voice—for that matter the Nico-like consonants—it reeks of concept. But Skeeter ­Davis’s 1963 “End of the World” always had something ­uncanny—something from beyond the grave—­beneath its lost-love lyrics, and the twenty-three-year-old Anika Henderson—she’s English, her mother is German—brings it to the surface. And there’s something deeply displacing, and gripping, about hearing “Masters of War” sung with a German accent. Suddenly, all sorts of people who weren’t in the song before are now crowding its stage: Nazis, yes, but also Marianne Faithfull with her “Broken English,” inspired by Ulrike Meinhof, and the female German terrorists who in Olivier Assayas’s Carlos—Julia Hummer’s Nada, Nora von Waldstätten’s Magdalena Kopp, Katharina Schüttler’s Brigitte Kuhlmann—are more fearsome than the men, maybe because they seem so eager to be ­consumed by the fire they’re trying to make.

(4) Peter Hujar, Thek Working on Tomb Effigy 8, 1967, in Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (October 21, 2010–January 9, 2011). One of a series of photos in a slide show, this leaps out. It’s tall, thin, blond, long-haired Thek standing at a work table, with his “Dead Hippie” sculpture lying flat on a platform—a sculpture of himself, or almost. The figure is Thek, but inhumanly ­incomplete, the features rough and crude, the right arm missing a hand, and the positioning of the figure is pure déjà vu. It’s the artist in the intermediate stage of growing his own pod: a one-man remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

(5) Sheryl Lee in Winter’s Bone, directed by Debra Granik (Lionsgate). Somehow, teenage Maddy Ferguson didn’t follow cousin Laura Palmer into the river. She ran off into the woods, all the way across the country, changed her name, and twenty years later turned up in the Ozarks as a forty-year-old woman (not quite looking or speaking as if she was born there, though it’s hard to believe anyone in the film’s mountains wasn’t), just for the chance to look Jennifer Lawrence’s sixteen-year-old in the eye, to see herself, to give the girl the kind of loving, no-hope smile she could have used herself, back before she was dead.

(6) Allo Darlin’, Allo Darlin’ (Fortuna Pop!). Breathy, small-voice pop that makes a world of ease and nimbleness, leaping over tall buildings or anyway garden fences in a single bound. (“I’ve got no money to burn but I’m going to burn what I’ve got,” Elizabeth Morris sings in “Silver Dollars,” and you don’t exactly believe her; “I know this band is awful but I like them an awful lot,” she goes on, and you absolutely do.) Funny, breezy, smart: references include Max von Sydow, Woody Allen, Johnny Cash, old “I’d Rather Fight Than Switch” cigarette ads, and Weezer, the latter to derisive laughter, which could be the most perfect moment here.

(7) Allen Ruppersberg, A Lecture on Houdini (1973), in Houdini: Art and Magic, Jewish Museum, New York (October 29, 2010–March 27, 2011). Easy to miss in this thrilling survey of the career and afterlife of the unforgotten escape artist is a small video cut into a large screen that’s showing footage of Houdini hung upside down and freeing himself from a straitjacket. On the small screen, you see Ruppersberg in a straitjacket, seated at a desk, twisting and stretching as he reads from a typescript of his own Houdini biography. Near the end, his efforts to wriggle loose become more desperate, and his reading more strangled, out of breath—and suddenly the real events he’s describing are suspended. As each sentence takes you closer to the end, the ­feeling is that if Ruppersberg can somehow escape before he reaches the description of Houdini’s death, Houdini won’t die.

(8/9) Carolina Chocolate Drops, “Sitting on Top of the World,” from Things About Comin’ My Way: A ­Tribute to the Music of the Mississippi Sheiks (Black Hen, 2009) and Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind (Music Maker Relief Foundation, 2006). Aren’t tribute albums ­terrible? Yes, but with Rhiannon Giddens’s fiddle keening so distantly in the background, you can imagine that the Chocolate Drops are slowing the Memphis combo’s 1930 blues standard down almost to a stop as a way of slowing down the world, so they won’t have to get off—just as, five years ago, on a first album that said hello to almost everyone in the old-timey neighborhood, from “Little Sadie” to “Sally Ann,” “Tom Dula” to “Black-Eyed Daisy,” they nevertheless jumped the train of “Old Cat Died” as if the same thing would happen to them if they couldn’t ride out of town on the rail of their own strings, so fast that moment to moment you can’t tell Giddens’s and Justin Robinson’s fiddles from Dom Flemons’s harmonica, which might be the whole point.

(10) you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave, headline, Wall Street Journal (­January 4). Over a picture of then-governor Jerry Brown with Linda Ronstadt and Glenn Frey of the Eagles, 1976, on the left, and Brown being sworn in as governor of California, 2011.

Thanks to Chris Ohman

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