This installment of Real Life Rock Top 10 ran in the second to last print issue of the Village Voice in September, but did not go online. Real Life Rock Top 10 is continuing in villagevoice.com.
1. Getting Ahead of the News Cycle
“March 15, 2018 (AP) — TRUMP CALLS NEW HEAD OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY MICHELLE OBAMA ‘NIGGER CUNT’ ON HOT MIC — Numerous news sources reported today on President Trump’s characterization of the former first lady, named last week as the president of the nation’s oldest university, during a White House reception for the leaders of Poland, Hungary, Turkey, and the Philippines. While there was predictable outrage expressed by Democrats, and some Republicans (‘Unbelievable. He has lost all credibility,’ said Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, just before voting to support Trump’s recent initiative to bar homosexuals from government employment), as well as spokespersons from the NAACP and the Vatican, others took a more measured tone. ‘Those aren’t the words I would have used,’ said House Speaker Paul Ryan. ‘The president does not cut his cloth to meet your fashion,’ said White House Press Secretary Ann Coulter. ‘The president speaks truth to power.'”
2. Billy Joel, Madison Square Garden (New York, August 21)
For his encore, nine days after Nazis marched and killed in Charlottesville and the president of the United States demurred, Joel appeared with yellow stars on the front and back of his jacket. The signifier gave him a fierce, humbled dignity, which his face and his weighted, burdened posture said was less his own than that which those who wore the Jüden badge before him were stripped of.
3. Dorothea Lange, Crossroads General Store, Gordonton, NC, July 1939, from “Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing” (Oakland Museum, May 13-August 27)
The first thing you saw as you entered this exhibition of the work of the Depression-era WPA photographer was not what Lange is best known for: such images as the iconic 1936 “Migrant Mother” or the 1941 scenes of Japanese Americans tagged and lined up on Oakland streets for deportation to concentration camps—pictures of suffering, distress, displacement, or oppression. It was an in-your-face blowup of a clapboard store covered with metal tobacco and cola signs, with the smiling white owner leaning his elbow against the door jamb and five smiling young black men seated on the porch, four facing the camera and one, who could almost pass for Robert Johnson, turned to his right, looking at you more slyly. It was a picture of people at home in their own place and their own skin. Is that because the younger men know how handsome they are, how good they’re going to look in the frame?
4. Randy Newman, Dark Matter ( Nonesuch)
“Political Science” over and over, and musically inert—the staples holding these pastiches together are all too obvious, and the little skits on Putin and evangelicals seem dutiful. “I’m done,” he says at one point, and it carries more attitude than anything else here, a dare: Like you care.
5. Elvis Presley, “When It Rains It Pours” Takes 1, 2-4, 5/M, 6-8, from A Boy From Tupelo—The Complete 1953-1955 Recordings (RCA Legacy)
He’s in the studio in Memphis in early November 1955, laughing about Carl Perkins, who though not credited seems to be all over the music. He roars into every take as if it’s the first time, leaving everyone else behind, the sound of his voice like the feeling in a body as it pitches headfirst down a twisty slide, so loose his bones seem detached from each other.
6. Tom Toles, political cartoon, Washington Post (August 2)
Toles’s Trump is a squashed muffin with yellow frosting on top and the mouth of a blow-up sex doll in the middle. “Take off her helmet and bang her head,” he says as a cop guides Lady Liberty into a police car. “She died of head trauma,” says the cop in the dialogue Toles runs on the bottom of his pictures. “That’s too bad,” says the president. “I was just joking.” That’s all fine. It’s quick and sharp. But the drawing is really about the woman, huge and green, dominating the center of the frame, her lowered head, her whole body, communicating defeat, surrender, humiliation, and shame.
7. Allen Ginsberg’s tape of Bob Dylan and the Hawks, Masonic Memorial Auditorium (San Francisco, December 11, 1965, on YouTube)
The performance is fierce, physical, like a riot where the tension only builds and is never released. What’s wrong with those booing idiots on the East Coast? I’d thought at a show in Berkeley the week before. What took him so long? Now I can hear what they were afraid of.8/9. Full City Expresso, Thames 1535, and Jarana Records, Soria 5125, Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires
The neighborhood is crumbling sidewalks, bright colored murals, countless small shops, cafes, bars, Beatles and Stones iconography everywhere. In Full City, where there are dot portraits of Robert Johnson, a young Elvis, a naked Kate Moss, and the Argentine bandleader Charly Garcia over the bar, there sometimes seems to be no music from later than 1966 (the Who’s “I’m a Boy,” all of Revolver, so full of thought, doubt, play), and almost no one in the place born when the music was recorded. The aura is the same in the all-vinyl Jarana, where two back walls are covered with photo collages by the Buenos Aires street artist Santiago Spirito, a/k/a Cabaio. The ruling image is the face of the Mississippi bluesman Son House, here as he was after his rediscovery in 1964, unsatisfied, his hands folded at his chin, surrounded by repeating motifs from panel to panel—Chuck Willis, Iggy Pop, Nina Simone, a short-haired Sixties U.K. teen idol who might be Georgie Fame—thus proving that pop history is a Möbius strip with all of us falling off the curves at any moment.
10. William Faulkner, describing Mississippi in May/June 1929, from Sanctuary (1931)
The sunny air was filled with competitive radios and phonographs in the doors of drug- and music-stores. Before these doors a throng stood all day, listening. The pieces which moved them were ballads simple in melody and theme, of bereavement and retribution, and repentance metallically sung, blurred, emphasized by static or needle—disembodied voices blaring from imitation wood cabinets or pebble-grain horn-mouths above the rapt faces.
Thanks to Justin Desmangles.