REAL LIFE ROCK TOP TEN

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Greil Marcus

(1) Prime Suspect 7—The Final Act, directed by Philip Martin, written by Frank Deasy (Acorn Media, 2006). You suspect the father of a missing schoolgirl until he puts his head inside her backpack as if he knows this is as close to her as he’ll ever get again. “Did you ever hear that song, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’?”

(2) Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Lie Down in the Light (Drag City). For years Will Oldham—traveling under variations of the name Palace, as himself, as a figment of his own imagination, no doubt under names I’ve missed—has written and sung from an Appalachian highlands that may as well be his own imagined country. But in his music Oldham gets to live there, and there he does what he wants; even as you might swoon at their delicacy, the songs give off the smell of perversity. Here he sings as the sole member of his own religion—and you can’t tell if the faith has all but died out or if the prophet has yet to find his first follower. He can call up a company of selves at will, to watch, to witness, then make them disappear before the revelation comes: “Kneel down to please me,” he says, as caught between sex and adoration as Madonna in “Like a Prayer,” but his voice tells you he’s the supplicant. From song to song the feeling is more abstract, harder to hold on to, beauty flashing like an animal in the forest you can’t be sure you saw at all, just as in the moment you’re convinced this person will never make a record this good again.

(3) Howard Hampton writes (June 11, 2008): “I stumbled on Dylan’s endorsement of Obama (London Times, June 5: ‘Right now America is in a state of upheaval. Poverty is demoralizing. You can’t expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor. But we’ve got this guy out there right now who is redefining the nature of politics from the ground up—Barack Obama.… Am I hopeful? Yes, I’m hopeful that things might change. Some things are going to have to’). Makes sense that there would be that spark of recognition—the thing that amazes me is that the Clintons never seemed to get that they were dealing with someone more formidable than a Howard Dean in blackface. So they wound up looking like Baez and Seeger, the Old Regime, undone by the sound of a greater sense of possibility than they were willing to entertain—hence the whole ‘Electability’ issue would frame the election as ‘No We Can’t’ (elect a black man) vs. ‘Yes We Can’ (dream a better country, as MLK or poor tortured RFK did once upon a time).”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Greil Marcus will be teaching this fall at the University of Minnesota. “Real Life Rock Top Ten” will run regularly in the Believer.

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