“I adjusted swiftly back to the general, trends of society’s majority,” he says of his release from prison in 1963, “and settled down with friends in the subtle minority.” There are volumes in that line, whole sociologies and poetics, and it’s altogether emblematic of this remarkable testament: if the controlling theme of the book is racism (just overshadowing sexual adventurism, family love, and money-wit), its heart is in its language. What at first seems like doggerel (“Speaking of beauty, she had little to share, but if charms were hours, she had years to spare”) turns into a unique and open voice, which only occasionally calls up the voice Berry used in his songs. (That voice, it’s now clear, was not his at all, but his rendering of a fantasized conversation between audience and performer, crowd and observer: a pop construct.) Berry leaps past such categories as “prose style,” demanding older, more ambiguous locutions: “phraseology,” “cacology,'”`conjure.” And of course there are countless good stories, none quite exhausting its facts, most sealed with a touch of bile: “I remember having extreme difficulty while writing ‘Promised Land’ in trying to secure a road atlas of the United States to verify the routing of the Po’ Boy from Norfolk, Virginia, to Los Angeles. The penal institutions were not then so generous as to offer a map of any kind, for fear of providing the route for an escape.”
2. Big Black, Songs About Fucking (Touch and Go, P.O. Box 25520, Chicago, IL 60625)
As with Sonic Youth’s Sister, a slight move towards accessibility makes the void this now-defunct band tried to map more believable than ever before. With great sleeve art, a drum machine with a personality, and a cover of Kraftwerk’s “The Model” as a Rosetta Stone, the songs—events, really—quickly open into the terrain once occupied by PiL’s “Poptones,” and then dig in.
3. Pussy Galore, Pussy Galore, Right Now! (Caroline, 5 Crosby St., NYC 10013)
A little vague, maybe—nothing so arresting as “Pretty Fuck Look.” Still, if when the Rolling Stones made The Rolling Stones, Now!, they’d also cut a secret version, this is what it might have sounded like.4, Jonathan Valin, Fire Lake (Delacorte)
The theme of the seventh Harry Stoner mystery is that of a thousand feature stories now lining birdcages: “The ’60s Revisited—The Music! The Drug Culture! The Free Love Generation!” The difference is that for ex junkie Karen Jackowski, time stopped when the ’60s ended; for time to start again only means that the ’60s are catching up with her.
5. The Jesus and Mary Chain, Darklands (Warner)
6. Van Morrison, Poetic Champions Compose (Mercury)
And when the going gets tough, the tough get down on their knees and pray. The sound is close enough to New Age to appear on Windham Hill (each side opens with a vapid instrumental), but as on all of Morrison’s recent albums, there are a lot of dead flies trapped in the gossamer threads, and sometimes the threads don’t even need the flies.7. Billy Lee Riley, “Trouble Bound,” as used on Private Eye (NBC, Fridays at 10 p.m.)
Running behind bad news in this Eisenhower-era corpse opera, Riley’s brooding ’56 rockabilly ballad made as perfect a moment as I’ve seen on TV this year. But such contrivances define the show’s limits—even with a recent script based on President (of the Screen Actors Guild) Ronald Reagan’s notorious deal with MCA, it’s all concept, no fire.
8. Vivien Vee, “Heartbeat” (TSR 12-inch, 8335 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069)
Italian disco with every rhythm trick known to Western man (“good for aerobics,” it says), a little-girl vocal reminiscent of Claire Grogan of Altered Images, and an extraordinarily warming upsurge every time the melody peaks for the apparently deathless couplet, “One-two-three/Baby what you do to me.”9. Fearless Iranians from Hell, Die for Allah (Boner, P.O. Box 2081, Berkeley, CA 94702)
Speaking of death, or numerology, the noise here doesn’t exactly transcend itself, but “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10/See I can count to ten” does.
10. PiL, “Open and Revolving,” from Happy? (Virgin)
Yes—but everywhere else on this record, the door has closed.
Village Voice, September? 1987