by Greil Marcus

(1) I’m Not Jim, You Are All My People (Bloodshot). A songwriting collaboration between the novelist Jonathan Lethem and Walter Salas-Humara, singer-guitarist for the Gainesville, Florida, band the Silos—and from the first track you’re somewhere utterly familiar where nothing quite fits. “Mr. October” is the title, but you might have to listen a long time before you catch Reggie Jackson flashing across the TV screen in the bar, just as the singer (Salas-Humara, as on every number) is having trouble putting the bits of memory the tune assembles together. Hangover music—Did that really happen?—but the first reason you might miss Mr. October is that the melody, running down descending lines on the guitar, breaking up as the lyrics aim for the last line of a verse, is almost too sweet to bear. It carries regret for the fact that neither you nor the singer can come away from this song with any certainty. Did the singer ever see any of the people he’s singing about again?

The half-light of “Mr. October” is filtered through everything that follows: the noir one-liners in “Missing Persons” (“a bum tries to sell you his hat”), catchy bubble gum (“Amanda Morning”), a depressed ballad that would have fit in Lethem’s Men and Cartoons if baseball cards count as cartoons (“The Pitchers Gave Up”), and, maybe with more sticking power than anything else, three shaggy dog stories, spoken-word pieces that could have come off of a 1950s beat comedy LP by Ken Nordine, one of which actually features a dog. A man with a talking dog walks into a bar, where the old routine immediately shatters. The guy telling the story keeps a level head, but he can’t keep the story straight. The bartender’s comebacks don’t fit the lines he’s handed. It’s a Twilight Zone episode that can’t find its way out of the first act. “I’ve been in every bar in every joke in this country,” the guy says, as if he deserves to know how all this comes out as much as you do.

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Greil Marcus will be teaching this fall at the University of Minnesota.

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