NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2009

REAL LIFE ROCK TOP TEN

A MONTHLY COLUMN
OF EVERYDAY CULTURE
AND FOUND OBJECTS

by Greil Marcus

(1) Mike Seeger, 1933–2009. August was a wipeout in American music: the rockabilly original Billy Lee Riley, dead at seventy-five on the second; the punk flash Willy DeVille at fifty-eight on the sixth; the electric guitar pioneer Les Paul at ninety-four on the thirteenth; the Memphis termite Jim Dickinson, a.k.a. leader of Mudboy and the Neutrons, at sixty-seven on the fifteenth; Ellie Greenwich, cowriter of “Da Do Ron Ron,” “Be My Baby,” and “Leader of the Pack,” at sixty-eight on the twenty-sixth. But the cruelest note may have been struck with Mike Seeger, the folklorist, producer, filmmaker, and scholar-on-his-feet, dead at seventy-five on the seventh. He died beloved and respected, but also bitter—over the fact that as a singer and player in his own right, those whom Bob Dylan once called the folk police never accepted him as a peer of those he helped rescue from obscurity and bring into the light: Dock Boggs, Clarence Ashley, Roscoe Holcomb, and countless more—great artists who themselves had no trouble accepting him at all.

(2) Drones, Bell House (Brooklyn, September 9). Having flown in that day from Australia, complaining of jet lag and offering to share bronchitis with the sparse crowd, they threw out one ferocious song after another. “Sitting on the edge of the bed crying,” Gareth Liddiard sang over and over, with storms of noise whirling around his head, the words muttered, chanted, shouted, whispered, until the piece seemed less about a broken heart than the human condition. Guitarist Dan Luscombe said they’d be doing songs from their 2005 album …Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By. It was a prosaic promise: the embattled us the band enacts against the empowered them waiting outside the club that was itself the shelter from the storm the Drones were dramatizing. But it didn’t come off that way. The music was so strong, so full of loose wires twisting through the air in a spastic dance, that you could imagine that yes, you were the “you” in “your enemies”—and that Liddiard, Luscombe, bassist Fiona Kitschin, and drummer Michael Noga were your enemies, and that as they floated by this was the song they sang.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Greil Marcus is the author of Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, and The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, and other books. His column, Real Life Rock Top Ten, runs monthly in the Believer.

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