“What were once vices are now habits,” the Doobie Brothers smirked for an album title in 1974. Ritts’s portrait, almost unrecognizable without a caption, says that what were once scars are now features: a junkie tattoo and a Pre-Raphaelite face.
2. Lisa Shrage: as Mary Lou Maloney in Hello Mary Lou—Prom Night II (Virgin Vision Video, 1987)
In a movie sharp enough to favor Ronnie Hawkins’s “Mary Lou” over Ricky Nelson’s title song, Shrage is a murdered ’57 prom queen back from the dead 30 years later; the human equivalent of Christine, Stephen King’s demonic ’57 Plymouth. Where’s Shrage been since?
3. Chris Thomas, Cry of the Prophets (Sire/Reprise)
He’s the son of ’50s Louisiana bluesman Tabby Thomas, and if his debut LP had been released in the mid-’60s, in the heyday of deep feeling deep South r&b, it would have seemed like a curio: too eclectic. Today it’s a shock, because deep soul hasn’t been heard since Al Green’s The Belle Album, because nobody’s heard deep soul guitar, or deep soul crying, applied to crack and Uzis. Up against the likes of N.W.A., Thomas sounds pathetic—but also real.
4. Don Letts, director, The Punk Rock Movie (1979, Rhino Home Video)
England, 1977. The Slits are fierce (drummer Palmolive seems to care the most); so is X-ray Spex (with Lora Logic). Eater plays with a pig’s head on the stage, a huge cleft cut into its skull. When the song ends the band members hack at the head, stab it, then throw what’s left to the crowd. They are acting out (a) the seventh verse of the Eagles’ “Hotel California”; (b) Margaret Murray’s 1921 The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, which holds that even after nearly 2000 years Christianity remained threatened by the devil worship of the lower orders; or (c) a rite secretly passed down through the centuries by British pagans masquerading as Christers. But the Sex Pistols, with Johnny Rotten in a suit coat and bow tie, looking a lot like Baudelaire, make Eater’s ritual seem secondhand because it is so literal; with the Pistols, c is the only answer, and the only question. Their “no future” means the whole of the past, a tidal wave.
5. Silos, The Silos (BMG/RCA)
Folk rock, pursuing the thin sound of Prince’s “When You Were Mine” into its rhythms, all coolness and regret: “Picture of Helen” and “I’m Over You,” the latter taking two minutes to essay a classic driving song, only to pull up short and admit it’s about immobilization and loss.
6. Sinead O’Connor, “Black Boys on Mopeds,” from I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (Chrysalis)
“Margaret Thatcher on TV/Shocked by the deaths that took place in Beijing/It seems strange that she should be offended.” The lifetime O’Connor invests in the word offended is, as singing, a match for the gestures of the man who, a year ago, played chicken with the tanks of the ruling class.
7. Virginia Madsen as Dixie Lee Boxx in Long Gone (HBO movie, 1987)
Though she’s in the tradition of big American blonds (as aerobic Madonna is not), if Madsen had taken Mamie Van Doren’s role in High School Confidential it would have been a different movie: everything Madsen does radiates intelligence and will. This good flick about a ’50s Florida minor-league baseball team has a superb rockabilly/doo-wop soundtrack; Madsen seems to be the only character who knows what the songs are about.
8. Heart, “All I Want To Do Is Make Love to You” (Portrait)
Since “Magic Man,” Ann Wilson’s theme has been lust and loss—loss of control. She’ll have to push to take the story any farther.
9. Smithereens, “Behind the Wall of Sleep” from Especially for You (Enigma, 1986)
As good as Richard Thompson’s “Wall of Death.”
10. Jerry Roberts, on California gubernatorial candidate John Van de Kamp’s address to the state Democratic Party convention (San Francisco Chronicle, April 9)
“The straitlaced Van de Kamp’s appearance was most memorable for the music selected for his introduction to the delegates—the rock and roll classic ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ Van de Kamp spent part of the weekend laid up in a back brace… aides denied speculation that he hurt his back practicing a Chuck Berry–style duck walk.” Lee Atwater rocks on.
Village Voice, April 1990 (exact date TBD–originally posted as 04/88)