Real Life Rock Top Ten

Painting the town red: Paul McCartney rocks the former Soviet Union
Cynthia Lemon for City Pages

1) Neva Chonin, "Sex Pistols' Lydon tries, but can't revive rage on reunion tour at Warfield" (San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 5) "What can you say about a 25-year-old legend that died? That it changed your life, changed music history, hated the Beatles?"


2) Paul McCartney in Red Square (a documentary on A&E, Sept. 18) It was last May 24, with an audience of 100,000, the camera picking up one honey shot after another, and often Paul can't hit the notes: "We Can Work It Out" and "The Two of Us" are as painful as "I Saw Her Standing There" is true. Musicians, critics, government officials talk about how the collapse of the Soviet system was unthinkable without the Beatles--without their embodiment of a secret or inaccessible culture people desperately wanted to join. You hear the memory of imprisonment: "We lived on a separate planet and they could never come here," says the leader of the Soviet-era band Aquarium. But if the story makes you think of Lou Reed inducting Dion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, describing how the Belmonts sent him "the sound of another life," soon enough the film will give you Mikhail Gorbachev, looking diminished and blank, and you can't gainsay his dutiful testimony that the Beatles told "the young people of the Soviet Union there was another life"--what else could they have heard? On stage, "Live and Let Die" is big and gets bigger in front of a video-screen montage of Russian peasants, Leonid Brezhnev and Vladimir Putin, folk musicians in traditional dress, and more honey shots. "I could fulfill one of my wishes only in 1984 when I bought all of the Beatles LP records," says Sergei Ivanov, the Russian minister of defense. A commercial comes on: Davy Jones or a lookalike promoting A&E's "Meet the Royals" (Camilla and Charles appear in two-shot) while he or someone else chirps "Hey, hey, they're the royals!" Back to the stage: "Maybe I'm Amazed," and then "Back in the U.S.S.R." The instant leap in the crowd tells you this is what they came for, what they wouldn't leave without. You see a cool-looking guy in the audience, looking right at the camera, with a deep, knowing smile. The song was supposed to be a joke, as in Who'd want to go back to the U.S.S.R.?, and today the U.S.S.R. doesn't even exist. But the people in Red Square do, and the song does, and now the people present to hear it played change the unspoken negative of the song into an affirmation of their own existence. Yes, it was a script, and everyone was playing a part, but you'd have to be a truly great cynic not to smile over this tale.


3) Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil Remix (Abkco) By Full Phatt: zero. By Fatboy Slim: less than zero, dragging the band behind its own beat, plus stupid sound effects. By the Neptunes: with the ending, they open a door in the song not even the song knew was there. From "Lay your soul to waste" on, they layer Western-movie strings and a thin, chopping guitar sound to create a sense of isolation and abandonment, until the last "Woo-woo"s fade away into a desert of loss and despair.


4) Team Doyobi, "Team Doyobi's Remix," from O , compiled by Radboud Mens ([email protected]) Out of nine otherwise dullard versions of "O Superman" ("O Hyperman," "O Super Mom," etc.) comes utter displacement from the U.K.--those "ah-ah-ah"s running all through Laurie Anderson's little play about terrorism as an orgasm.


5) Seth Borenstein, "EPA: CO2 No Pollutant-Ruling Made on Clear Act" (Denver Post/Knight-Ridder, Aug. 29) "'Refusing to call greenhouse-gas emissions a pollutant is like refusing to say that smoking causes lung cancer,' responded Melissa Carey, a climate policy specialist for Environmental Defense, a moderate New York-based environmental group. 'The earth is round. Elvis is dead. Climate change is happening.'"


6) Anonymous blurb on Bubba Ho-Tep, New York Times Fall Movie Preview (Sept. 7) "Two residents of an East Texas nursing home--one believes himself to be Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell), the other John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis)--team up to defeat a soul-sucking mummy who has risen from the local swamp." Howard Hampton writes: "In other words, the Clinton-with-Two-Heads beats back Bush--draining his swamp."


7) "Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920s" 2004 Calendar (Blues Images) On the cover: the single extant photograph of Mississippi blues progenitor Charley Patton, previously known only from the neck up. Yes, he was straight off the plantation. Though it turns out he was wearing spats.


8) Michael Corcoran, "Exhuming the Legend of Washington Phillips," in Da Capo Best Music Writing 2003, edited by Matt Groening (Da Capo) The story of how a man who left behind some of the most unusual gospel recordings of the 1920s (and, with "I Had a Good Father and Mother," perhaps the most heartbreaking) was not who music historians thought he was, but someone else with the same name. Which is fitting, given that in Best Music Writing Michael Corcoran's piece ended up credited to someone named Michael Cochran.


9 and 10) Soundtracks: Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: Red, White and Blues--A Film by Mike Figgis and Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: The Soul of a Man--A Film by Wim Wenders (HIP-O Records) I haven't seen the blues documentaries running on PBS--Scorsese served as executive producer for the series, and directed one episode--but I have heard the accompanying CDs, and I can tell you that Tom Jones's "Goin' Down Slow" (in the Figgis film) shows a deeper recognition of Howlin' Wolf than Lucinda Williams's embarrassing "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" (in the Wenders) does of Skip James--and that Jones has infinitely more of himself to bring to the song. These two albums in particular are a study in weird contrasts, with Soul of a Man filled with ridiculous performances by Shemeika Copeland, Cassandra Wilson, Lou Reed, Bonnie Raitt, and Nick Cave, and Red, White and Blues mixing small masterpieces from Louis Armstrong (1947), Miles Davis (1957), and Big Bill Broonzy (1956) with famous and obscure recordings from the British 1960s (Cream's runaway-train version of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads," the Spencer Davis Group's impossibly sure, bone-chilling "Hey Darling") and grounded, present-day pieces by Jones, Lulu, and Jeff Beck. The shocker is the Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group's more cited than heard 1954 cover of Leadbelly's "Rock Island Line." Donegan is so excited he runs right out of the studio and into the street, shouting, dancing, and you can almost hear thousands of British teenagers--among them four named John, Paul, George, and Ringo--saying to themselves, "I could do that! I have to! Now! This is the sound of another life!"

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