Real Life Rock Top Ten

A Monthly Column
of Everyday Culture
and Found Objects

by Greil Marcus

(1) Corin Tucker Band, Kill My Blues (Kill Rock Stars). Starting at nineteen with Heavens to Betsy in Olympia, Washington, moving on with Sleater-Kinney in Portland, Oregon, for more than twenty years Corin Tucker has been ripping up the pop landscape with the hurricane of her voice—a hurricane of subtlety, pauses, a sense of thinking it all over inside the maelstrom. On Tucker’s second album under her own name, the music is so fast out of the box, so relentless and fierce, that the doubt hiding in the sound—This way, that way, now, not now, never?—might not surface right away. Sooner or later it will, and the music will take shape less as sound than drama. And then, if you’re pulled back to the avalanche that begins with “Neskowin,” the third number, and only lets you go two songs later, at the end of the fifth, with Tucker’s banging the signature riff of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as if her own “Constance” simply told her that was what it wanted, you may wonder how anyone could hold her breath as long as Tucker seems to.

(2) “State of Disconnect” (State Farm). Thirty-second spot: State Farm agent on the phone, selling, in a clipped tone: “You name it, we’re here, anytime, anywhere, any way you want it.” Customer, in his kitchen, flatly: “That’s the way I need it.” “Any way you want it?” “All night?” “All night.” “Every night?” “Any way you want it.” “That’s the way I need it,” the customer says, then pausing, as if replaying the conversation in his head: “We just had ourselves a little Journey moment,” he says. “Yep,” says the agent. “Saw them in ’83 in Fresno,” the customer says. “Place was crawling with chicks.” His wife comes into focus at the other end of the kitchen and gives him a dirty look. “I gotta go”—and as much as I loathe Journey, this was a perfectly crafted little fiction about pop music as real life. The agent and the customer aren’t proud or embarrassed or fannish, but kind of weirdly stoic: We’re fated to share this stuff to the end.

(3) God Bless America, directed by Bob Goldthwait (Darko Entertainment). A middle-aged man facing oblivion and his Juno–hating Ellen Page–like teenage sidekick saving the country from itself, one bullet through the head at a time, starting off with a reality-show star complaining about the car she got for her sixteenth birthday, loudmouths in a movie theater (“Thanks for not talking during the feature. Thanks for not using your cell phone,” says the man to the lone survivor. “You’re welcome,” she says, as if she’s just learned a valuable lesson). With Tea Party thugs beating up a man with Parkinson’s because he supports the Affordable Care Act, it’s American culture as a madhouse, a lot broader and a lot more convincing than Nashville, bodies everywhere, blood all over, with the whole show ending with a staging of the “Eat Flaming Death, Fascist Media Pigs” section of the Firesign Theatre’s In the Next World, You’re on Your Own, scored to the Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” That’s taste.

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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