Real Life Rock Top 10

Lucinda bids Dylan good morning, Patti Smith greets Baghdad, and Greil Marcus says goodbye

1) Leah Garchik, June 14 (San Francisco Chronicle) Regarding George W. Bush declaring the day of Ronald Reagan's funeral a national holiday, bold-faced names columnist Garchik cited a report of signs on the D Street post office in San Rafael, just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, on Friday, June 11: "Post Office Will Be Closed Today in Memory of Ray Charles."


2) Ratatat, "Seventeen Years," from Ratatat (XL) Two guys in a bedroom studio in Brooklyn make what sounds like the instrumental B-side of "Hey Ya"--the music is about half that inventive, which is to say very inventive, and never calls attention to itself. But then the glee of trading one piece of sound for another fades, and you're floating on a lullaby. The movement draws you in, quiets your mind, and then, whatever this is, you're swimming through it.

Lucinda Williams, eatin' dirt out by the barn
James Dankert
Lucinda Williams, eatin' dirt out by the barn


3) Lucinda Williams, "Love That Mystic Hammering" (New York Times Book Review, June 13) "I sure don't pretend to be no intellectual," says the adored tribute-album contributor in her piece on Bob Dylan lyrics. Her father was a college professor, but she spent her childhood out by the barn eating dirt, which is why her own songs ring so true today.


4) and 5), PJ Harvey, Uh Huh Her (Island) and Nick Catucci, "Carnal Fission" (Village Voice, June 9) Harvey rubs, scrapes, drags chairs around the room; sometimes it feels as if her music comes from her guitar applying pressure to her skin rather than her fingers applying pressure to her guitar strings. Each album seems to gravitate toward the point where a certain state of mind and body will flare up into a single image--which will then burn out and disappear, leaving you incapable of remembering what the image was, only that you glimpsed it. Here, you're on the way with the pulse of "Shame," only the second song; you can feel the destination has been reached with the next, "Who the Fuck?" which combines a Lenny Kravitz beat with an extremist, primitivist Sheryl Crow vocal--an affinity that lets you hear Harvey listening to Crow, lets you hear Harvey hearing something in Crow's voice nobody else hears, maybe including Crow herself.

That's the problem with artists: They know things other people don't. They feel compelled to say what those things are, and to conceal the strangeness and alienation of the act. If there is an "I" in their work, it ceases to refer back to the person writing, painting, singing; the person whose name is on the work has momentarily replaced herself with a made-up person who can say or do anything. This is what makes such a person an artist, and it's why critics who try to reduce an artist's work to her life are cretins. Thus we have Nick Catucci in the Village Voice, assuring his readers that Uh Huh Her is "a break-up album"--"as all save her last have been," he adds, in case you think there might be something out there that doesn't fit into a thimble. Forget that situations everyone goes through might go through Harvey differently than they do through you or me; don't worry that there might be anything here that isn't immediately obvious; after all, Catucci says, she's "an easy read" and "she's got a one-track mind." "We know she's been fucking and fighting, probably in equal measures, and maybe in the same moments." You can almost smell him, can't you?


6) and 7), Patti Smith, "Radio Baghdad," from Trampin' (Columbia) and Michael Kamber, photo accompanying Edward Wong's "Deputy Foreign Minister Is Fatally Shot in Baghdad" (New York Times, June 13) Smith has been selling death for years--but now mere husband, brother, friends, and poet comrades take a backseat to a whole city, a whole civilization: civilization itself! That's what was destroyed when the U.S. took Iraq. For Smith it's a chance to gas up the piety boilers, and remind us that we (or, rather, "they," which is us, but not her, unless we accept her vision, in which case we can be her, gazing with sadness and disgust at those who remain "they") destroyed a perfect city, the center of the world, where once walked "the great Caliph." How does it sound? Silly. The Aloha-Elvis wall hanging you could see in the background of Kamber's photo--captioned "American soldiers searched a suspected stronghold of the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Moktada al-Sadr"--was infinitely more interesting. Why doesn't Smith write a song about what Elvis was doing there: about a "we" that even she might not be able to make into a "they," unless the "they" included Iraqis, too?


8) Blue Sky Boys, The Sunny Side of Life (Bear Family) A five-CD box set of songs recorded between 1936 and 1950 by Bill and Earl Bollick of West Hickory, North Carolina, who look like the nicest insurance salesmen you'll ever meet. Their music creates a simple, innocent, white small town, all calm and pastoralism, and the calmest, most pastoral tunes are the murder ballads.


9) Evan Eisenberg, "Bushido: The Way of the Armchair Warrior" (New Yorker, June 7) A single page, and, with a quietly implacable rhythm, one word to the next, the most frigid, frightening, and complete portrait of the current occupant of the White House I have read. Machiavelli could have written the following lines, and in slightly different form he did: "The Chinese word for 'crisis' combines the characters for 'danger' and 'opportunity.' For the armchair warrior, the significance of this is clear. Every crisis is an opportunity, and the lack of crisis poses a grave danger." But even Machiavelli's ghost might flinch at the smile of evil to which Eisenberg appends his last period.

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