Real Life Rock Top Ten

A Monthly Column
of Everyday Culture
and Found Objects

by Greil Marcus

(1) Percival Everett, Percival Everett by Virgil Russell (Graywolf Press). “Two black men walk into a bar and the rosy-faced white barkeep says we don’t serve niggers in here and one of the men points to the other and says but he’s the president and the barkeep says that’s his problem. So the president walks over and gives the barkeep a box and says these are Chilmark chocolates and the barkeep says thank you and reaches over to shake the president’s hand. The president jumps back, says what’s that? And the barkeep says it’s a hand buzzer, a gag, get used to it, asshole.” And in this novel, that’s just the first chapter.

(2) Bikini Kill, Bikini Kill (Kill Rock Stars, 1992). The hurricane riot grrrl band will be reissuing all of their 1990s records. After their demo cassette, Revolution Girl Style Now! this five-song EP was their first formal release. With “Liar,” a snakepit redo of “Give Peace a Chance,” and “Suck My Left One,” which is both a declaration of independence and a girl’s account of how her big sister protects her by giving herself up to their father every night, it’s funny and harrowing, sometimes with no line, and no time, between the two. But it’s also only a hint of how radical the group was onstage. A YouTube clip—“Bikini Kill wdc 1992”—shows lead singer Kathleen Hanna, bassist Kathi Wilcox, guitarist Bill Karren, and drummer Tobi Vail as Hanna stamps out “Girl Soldier,” the word fuck used for percussion as much as anything else. And then Vail—from her haircut to her T-shirt to her skirt looking exactly as Thora Birch’s miserable punk Enid would in Ghost World almost ten years later—gets up from behind her drums as Karren sits down at them. She strides up to the mike, grabs it as if it’s the only thing left to hold on to in the midst of a storm, and then she makes the storm. She releases a flood of glossolalia, or dada sound poetry, or a rage beyond language so fierce you can barely believe what you’re seeing. Then she goes back to her drums as if what she just did was merely a passing moment of everyday life—which was the Bikini Kill argument about what life is.

(3) Rihanna, “Stay,” on Saturday Night Live (November 10, 2012). Torch song: small to start with, even on the big notes her voice thins as the song goes on, but the moral force behind it seems infinite.

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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