November/December 2011

Real Life
Rock Top Ten

A Monthly Column
of Everyday Culture
and Found Objects

by Greil Marcus

(1) David Lynch, Crazy Clown Time (Sunday Best). Lynch has written songs before, most memorably for Julee Cruise. He’s recorded, notably with John Neff for the 2003 Blue Bob. But he has never tried anything like this: singing and playing lead guitar on a full-out set of songs. By its end, he has mapped a version of America—an America bordered on one side by teenagers getting drunk and on the other by perverts insisting they’re just like anybody else, fuckhead—a picture of ordinary life as funny and unsettling as you can find in Mulholland Dr. or Lost Highway. There is terrific psychedelic Duane Eddy guitar—a slow, seductive rhythm, reverb as big as a house. Again and again, there is a talking voice playing with syllables, stretching them out, bending them, curling them, until you become altogether attuned to the musicality of every inflection. But most of all, there are scenes you can visualize as you listen. For “Football Game” there is dramatic, gonging guitar, and the feel of the Top 40 death ballad brought up to date. “I went down… to the football game,” says a beaten-down character missing half his teeth (he’s not that far from David Thomas in “Nowheresville,” telling a story about the guy who thought his wife was going to leave him, how he had this great idea to build a motel on the new interstate, but then they put the interstate on the other side of the valley…), and you don’t take him seriously until “I saw you / with another man,” and the stakes go up.

“Good Day Today” plays with ’60s yé-yé, Hooverphonics’ synthesizer lounge ambience, cheesy French movie music, with tiny background synthesizer uh-uh-uh-uh-uhs, all so someone you do not want to meet can tell you, “I want to have a good day today,” which is to say he’ll do whatever he has to do to get it—don’t pedophile serial killers deserve one too? There is “Speed Roadster,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Stolen Car” as a stalker’s reverie, and “These Are My Friends,” where the singer tells you, “I got a truck,” that he’s “got two good ears, and my eye on you”—it’s a high-school love song, Marty Robbins’s 1957 “A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation)” crossed with Larry Clark’s Tulsa, a creepy, moving version of Rosie and the Originals’ 1960 “Angel Baby” slowed down to a crawl: “These are my friends, the ones I see each day / I got a perscription fer a product, keep the hounds at bay.”

These are rich, sometimes tricky studio assemblages; after a few listenings you’re only scratching the surface, but with “Crazy Clown Time” you might get everything the first time. It’s Lynch in his high, thin voice, the old man suddenly reinhabiting his teenage self, Frank from Blue Velvet stopping you on the street to tell you just how it was when “Susie, she ripped her shirt off, completely”—and it’s that completely that still has him shaking his head in wonder after all these years. “Calling Little Richard,” the song begins, and he’s right there, the parents are gone, and while the party gets increasingly out of control (“Then he poured beer all over Sally… Danny spit on Susie”), nothing really terrible happens. But the tempo slows, the atmosphere goes heavy and dark, as if the party has moved from Fred’s house to the roadhouse in Twin Peaks. “Susie had hers off completely,” the man keeps saying, as if he’s trying with everything he has to remember exactly what that looked like, and just can’t. It would have been interesting to hear this on the radio in 1965, a dank, gothic, blues version of “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love).” “It was really fun,” the old man says finally.

(2) Sometymes Why, “Too Repressed” (YouTube). Aoife O’Donovan of the Boston traditionalist band Crooked Still in a side project with Kristin Andreassen and Ruth Merenda—though apart from background laughter this club performance is really all O’Donovan, with her angelic face, her soft, probing tone, and a new song which starts off like any other hand-me-down ballad she might take up. Until she gets to the chorus. “I want to fuck you,” she sings, “but I’m too repressed / I want to suck you / But I can’t take off my dress.” She’s as convincing on the first lines as she is unconvincing on the second.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

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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