Real Life Rock Top 10 (03/24/04)


Jay DeFeo, “The Rose” (1964)

1. Mendoza Line, “It’s a Long Line (But It Moves Quickly),” on Fortune (Cooking Vinyl)
From people hiding in present-day America—just as the Mekons of Fear and Whiskey and The Edge of the World were all but moles in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain—a swift, irresistible put-down song (“She called you a cab and they brought you a hearse”). Debbie Harry had her finger on this trigger in Blondie’s “Rip Her to Shreds,” but Shannon McArdle makes you think she didn’t pull it.

2. The Bear, 95.7 FM, San Francisco, music criticism (Feb. 24)
I.e., following Toby Keith and Willie Nelson’s 2003 lynch-mob ode “Beer for My Horses,” where everybody who’s not swinging from a tree meets “up back at the local saloon,” with Reba McEntire’s 1992 version of “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” where the judge rushes off to dinner and “they hung an innocent man.”

3. “In other news,” official Sleater-Kinney website (, March 3)
“Urban Outfitters, the store dedicated to reselling your childhood back to you via nostalgia and irony-based fashion, is selling a T-shirt that says: ‘Voting Is For Old People.’ Unless you are under the age of 18, this shirt will be banned from all Sleater-Kinney shows.”

4. Sons and Daughters, Love the Cup (Ba Da Bing!)
Except for an edge of restraint, the edge of not telling all they knew, there wasn’t anything on this Glasgow quartet’s folky 2002 EP The Lovers to suggest the snaking tension—or the pounding fury—of the tunes here. “Fight” begins slowly, then blows up in the singers’ faces; “Johnny Cash” opens as the murder ballad “Pretty Polly” taken at a fierce pace, the curses of the words chasing David Gow’s drums until Adele Bethel, Ailidh Lennon, and Scott Paterson are screaming for the tune’s last minutes as if they’ve already killed whomever it is the song wants dead.
5. “Lee Greenwood puts heart into his pre-race performance to kick off this year’s Daytona 500” (Feb. 15)*
Heart may not be the word: As passed on by Steve Weinstein, who provided his own caption (“Lee Greenwood and choir giving quasi-Nazi salute at NASCAR rally—while presumably singing ‘God Bless the USA’ in Aramaic”), the photo, shot just before George W. Bush proclaimed, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” showed Greenwood raising his right arm, high, stiff, and forward, while four women dressed in blazing red clerical gowns and two men draped in yellow lifted theirs with at least a slightly ambiguous bend in the elbow. Or, as one could have read a month later in the program for the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in Colorado Springs, which Bush addressed on closed-circuit TV (“You are doing God’s work with conviction and kindness, and on behalf of our country I thank you”), “What Can 30 Million Evangelicals Do for America? Anything We Want.”

6/7. Lou Reed, Animal Serenade (Reprise) & Live: Take No Prisoners (Arista)
If you don’t like Lou Reed, double live albums won’t convince you. Whether onstage in New York in 1978 for the biting Take No Prisoners or in Los Angeles last year for the reflective Animal Serenade (what, an animal serenade without “Possum Time”?), he’s not selling anything, and he takes whatever time he needs: 17 minutes for the relentless stand-up comedy routine that’s Prisoners’ “Walk on the Wild Side,” nine minutes for “Set the Twilight Reeling” on Serenade. The highlight of the latter might be “Tell It to Your Heart,” which would fit David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. even better than Reed’s version of “This Magic Moment” did Lost Highway; the benchmark for Prisoners, if not for Reed’s entire presence over the decades, is “Street Hassle”—also included on Animal Serenade, and in a performance that seems complete until what Reed did with the song 26 years ago makes you realize the drama in the number can never be complete. Reed lets the scene where the singer is telling another man to get his dead wife out of the singer’s apartment dictate the rhythm; with the bouncy “Waltzing Matilda” beat suddenly stripped back, it’s a long, jittery moment of absolute naturalism. You forget that the lines Reed is speaking rhyme, that these are lyrics in any kind of song. It’s a play, not a song, and the Brando in Reed is all the way out, walking back and forth across the stage. There is no stylization you can hear.

8. Walter Hopps at “Jay DeFeo and The Rose: Myth and Reality” (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Feb. 28)
It was a symposium on the San Francisco artist’s painting “The Rose.” DeFeo (1929-89) began working on it in 1957; in 1965, the work having long since taken over her life, she and her husband were evicted from their apartment, and the unfinished painting, which by then had grown to more than 10 feet by eight feet and weighed nearly 2,000 pounds, was removed to the Pasadena Art Museum where Hopps, then its director, planned to show it—though it wasn’t until 1969, when Hopps was gone, that it finally appeared. Before long it disappeared, walled up like a corpse in the San Francisco Art Institute. In 1995 it was broken out and restored; the next year it was at the Walker as part of the touring exhibition “Beat Culture and the New America: 1950-1965.”

This day in San Francisco, Hopps, now curator of the Menil Collection in Houston, remembered a night at the Fillmore Auditorium in the late 1950s, when he and DeFeo had gone to see Count Basie: DeFeo loved his “Hello Central, Give Me Doctor Jazz.” DeFeo was dancing alone in front of the stage; when the band took a break, Basie motioned her over. She came back to Hopps: “He wants me to go backstage!” She went. When the band returned, DeFeo reappeared, blushing. “Well, what on earth went on?” Hopps asked. “He asked me to go away with him,” DeFeo said. “What did you say?” “I told him there’s this big painting I have to finish.”

9. Joe Rathbone, I Can Hear the Windows of Your Heart Breaking (Zakz)
First winner of the Rod McKuen Prize for Gross Metaphorical Elaborationism. And the music sounds just like the title.

10. Oliver Hall writes in:
“L.A. is having one of its occult fits of meaning again. Driving back from the polling place this afternoon in the lower-middle-class neighborhood where I’ve lived for the last 14 years, I found a street I’d never seen before: Barbara Ann Street. It only seems to go about a block, and there was nothing on it but an abandoned couch, a torn-up Camaro, and something covered in a blue tarp.”

*photo, no longer online.

City Pages, March 24, 2004

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