May 2010

Real Life Rock Top Ten

A Monthly Column
of Everyday Culture
and Found Objects

by Greil Marcus

(1) Ellyn Maybe: Rodeo for the Sheepish (Hen House Studios). I heard half of the long, quietly mesmerizing “City Streets” on the radio—what was this? A woman with a poem, with music and a sung chorus not behind her but circling her, and the poem neither exactly recited nor sung, but spoken with such a lilt, in a voice so full of miserabilist pride—at forty, a woman is still getting high-school insults tossed at her (“Hey Mars girl,” a man shouts on the street, “get off the Earth”)—that it’s music in and of itself. There is no bottom to Maybe’s inventiveness, to her adoption of Nirvana’s Oh well whatever never mind as an artistic tool, to a confidence that allows her to toss off a bedrock statement on the American character (“There are people / who know the cuckoo is the state bird / of most states of mind”) in a throwaway voice so that its humor hits you not as a joke but as an echo. There is nothing like this album except for the real life it maps.

(2) Train: “Hey, Soul Sister” (Sony). A perfect fan’s letter, with the high, light sound of someone madly in love with the idea of being in love. You can see the singer dancing in circles in his bedroom, waving his arms in the air. Could the soul sister who inspired this record make one half as good?

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Greil Marcus is the author of Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, and The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, and other books. His column, Real Life Rock Top Ten, runs monthly in the Believer.

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