This ode to the death of Margaret Thatcher—Costello names her—recalls his “Pills and Soap,” “Little Palaces,” and “Sleep of the Just” in its arrangement. Anchored in regret and hatred, it also begins in Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” “With God on Our Side,” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” There’s a lot of death here, in the deliberate cadence of the first verse, in the rage that follows, in the way Costello forms the words “cheap,” “maimed,” “pitiful,” and especially the phrase “subtle difference”—the “subtle difference,” in Thatcher’s England, “between justice and contempt.” To make true political music, you have to say what decent people don’t want to hear; that’s something that people fit for satellite benefit concerts will never understand, and that Costello understood before anyone heard his name.2. Ciccone Youth, The Whitey Album (Blast First/ Enigma)
More fun than their cover of the White Album would ever have been—and, finally, Kim Gordon’s show, from the bad-dream “G-Force” (hers, yours) to a version of “Addicted to Love” that makes slick pop into everyday speech and, after all his worthless years, really ought to send Robert Palmer back where he came from.3. Drifters, Let the Boogie-Woogie Roll: Greatest Hits 1953 – 1958 (Atlantic CD)
Forty cuts to match the label’s 40th anniversary, mostly the ethereal, playful, deep soul meanders of Clyde McPhatter, but highlights too from Gerhart Thrasher: “Your Promise To Be Mine,” pressing hard, histrionic, almost a threat. With the first notes of McPhatter’s “Lucille,” the opening cut here, an obscure B-side, the intensity, the directness of feeling, is staggering, and you don’t know where it comes from—it’s as if centuries of emotion could be called up and shaped at will. You can hear the Orioles, and also Hoagy Carmichael, a hint of Fred Astaire, more of Billie Holiday. Making McPhatter into an actor in plays of his own device, the CD sound is perfect for the ballads; with the big tempo numbers, “Money Honey” and “What’cha Gonna Do,” it can’t find the rock. But you can find the big tempo numbers anywhere else.4. James C. Faris, “Comment on ‘The Origins of Image Making’ by Whitney Davis” (Current Anthropology, June 1986)
“Can we predict from Davis’s generative approach the images that came to characterize the Upper Paleolithic? Why these images rather than others…? Nor will this approach to capacities account, in any non-trivial sense, for fascism, belief in afterlife, the periodic table, rock and roll, or the incest prohibition.” And they said it wasn’t world-historical.
5. When People Were Shorter and Lived Near the Water, “Timothy” (Shimmy Disc, JAF Box 1107, NYC 10116)
A triumphant cacophony riding an against-all-odds melody, the last sound you hear before every barrier falls and liberty reigns forever—and an oddity on an EP that includes covers of Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s in Love With You” (1968), Eric Burdon’s “Girl Named Sandoz” (1967), and the Singing Nun’s “Dominique” (1963), all of which are better remembered than the Buoys’ “Timothy” (1971).6. Alphaville, The Singles Collection (Atlantic)
“Big in Japan” is still chilling; the fast mix of “Forever Young” is still the best Eurodisco ever made.
7. David Feldman, “Astonishing Similarities Between the Death of Elvis Presley and the Death of John F. Kennedy” (news satire, Alex Bennett Show, January 24, KITS-FM, San Francisco)
Not that astonishing: “Presley slept with Priscilla Presley; Kennedy slept with Priscilla Presley…”
8. Marshall Berman, “Why Modernism Matters” (Tikkun, January/February) [PDF link]
And why postmodernism never did.
9. Fall, “Kurious Oranj” (BMG/Beggars Banquet)
Pointlessness as its own reward.10. Lee Atwater, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, Percy Sledge, et al., “Celebration for Young Americans” (George Bush inaugural, January 21)
In which, led on guitar by chairman of the GOP national committee, various black Americans took the stage to validate the institutionalization of their exclusion from their own society, simultaneously suggesting that political parties will soon sign up musicians just like corporations do. Best commentary: John Rockwell, New York Times (January 22); Ed Ward, Austin Chronicle (“The Ward Report,” January 20); and Thomas Schlegel, in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle (February 2): “According to Atwater, ‘There is a place for black people in the Republican Party’ the same place that has been offered by the white establishment since Reconstruction, singing and dancing for the rich and scaring poor whites at election time.”
Village Voice, March 1989 (Date TBD)