The Czech band, leavings of the Plastic People: in “Dopis” (Letter)—in the slow pace, in the way the group shifts lyrical readymades into mysticism—there’s a hint of Joseph Skvorecky’s “Emöke” from The Bass Saxophone, the tale of a Hungarian woman who somehow contains an ineradicably pagan, pre-Christian soul. That sense of the ineradicable may be at the root of the current rediscovery of free speech in parts of Central and Eastern Europe; to Westerners it may sound like resurgent nationalism, but if it is, “Dopis” says we haven’t begun to understand the borderlessness of the idea.
2. My Sin, “My Sin” (Endless Music cassette single, O. Box 647, Hollywood, CA 90078)
A one-man “not a BAND but a living breathing thing” takes a buttoned-up suburban gospel singer off the radio, adds synthesized drums, bass, and a terrific, rising guitar line that turns the singer into an avatar; Jimmy Swaggart enters, preaching, his every line followed by a pounding Spanish translator; then the not-a-BAND jumps on the vocals and matches Swaggart’s fervor—no easy trick. It’s the best single of the half-year; the sleeve art (or whatever you call it on a cassette) won’t be topped.3. Dr. Licks, Standing in the Shadows of Motown—The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson (Dr. Licks Pub., 327 Haverford Rd., Wynewood, PA 19096, $29.95)
Born in 1936, Jamerson died of alcoholism in 1983. This big, spiral-bound tribute combines an illustrated biography (“I used to go out behind the house where there were all these ants on the ground, and I would take a stick and stretch a long rubber band across it and play for the ants. I would make the ants dance”), a musical analysis complete with scores, and two hour-long cassettes of raucous interviews and various bassists recreating Jamerson’s art on instrumental versions of Motown hits, with the bass on its own channel. Most effective is Phil Chen, with the intro to “Reach Out I’ll Be There”—heart-stopping, even secondhand.
4. Tom Petty, “Runnin’ Down a Dream” on Full Moon Fever (MCA)
Nothing, until guitarist Mike Campbell takes over for the long finish, the perfect fade.5. Charles Burns, “Teen Plague,” in RAW, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Penguin, $14.95)
The burning comic strip that, as it ran in various alternative weeklies last year, caused countless decent folk who would never shake hands with the Reverend Donald Wildmon to demand the thing be, well, you know, not “censored,” exactly, but, say, published somewhere else…
6. John Mellencamp, “Big Daddy of Them All,” on Big Daddy (Mercury)
The LP gets dull fast; the lead cut, so loose it’s nearly abstract, is undeniable: a modal folk sound that says, “Louder! Play me louder!”
7. Lara Stapleton, “Butthole Surfers,” in BigFire—ProofBox #2 (P.O. Box 6428, East Lansing, MI 48826, $2)
Stapleton goes to hear the band and sees a naked woman onstage as part of the act, finally as the whole show: “She squirms, heroin stupor smile. ‘Fuck the bitch!’ this guy behind me yells. I turn around, look him in his barren skinhead eyes. He towers over me, and I’m a big girl. I’m a big girl.” It gets worse, and she runs: “We’ll smash bottles and hold them against throats and take money and we’ll be gone.” It’s punk a hundred steps over the line it erases.
8. McKenzie Wark, “Elvis: Listen to the Loss,” in Art & Text #31 (City Art Institute, P.O. Box 259, Paddington, N.S.W. 2021, Australia, $6)
An argument that Elvis destroyed his career with his ’68 comeback TV special, because he could never match it.
9. Jon Savage, interview with Tom Vague, in Vague #21 (BCM Bo 7207, London WCIN 3XX, available at Marks Books)
The British critic on rage as an essential part of criticism.10. Moonglows, “I Was Wrong” (Lost-Nite reissue, 1953)
Misidentified in May as “Come Back Baby,” provided by Donn Fileti of Relic Records, and taken so slowly it sounds like the turntable’s jamming. But twice the group breaks out in shouts and moans and stomps, leaving behind a doo-wop aesthetic that makes no sense whatsoever.
Village Voice, July 18, 1989