Real Life Rock Top Ten

A Monthly Column
of Everyday Culture
and Found Objects

by Greil Marcus

(1) Blind Lemon Jefferson in Lore, directed by Cate Shortland, written by Shortland and Robin Mukherjee (2012, Music Box Films). Germany, 1945, immediately after the surrender: the older sister in a Nazi family tries to lead her siblings to safety. At an American checkpoint, a scratchy old song that in the next years will be recorded by Carl Perkins and then the Beatles is playing on a portable phonograph; the sound rises, then seems to fragment in the air. It’s “Matchbox Blues,” from 1927. Whatever the idea behind its use in the film—literally, working as a refugee song: “Standing here wondering, will a matchbox hold my clothes”—it waits on the screen as a harbinger of the postwar world these children will be entering. The sound is archaic, the specter is modern.

(2) Nomi Kane, Jingle Bell Rock, SXSW 2010, and Namaste, Home Is Where the Boss Is in Wings for Wheels and Sugar Baby (brewforbreakfast.com). Kane is an autobiographical Berkeley comix artist. Her thin, plain lines and utter refusal of caricature or exaggeration produce a pathos and sweetness that capture the pain of children that parents can’t touch. That’s true even when the child and the adult who can’t save her turn out to be the same person—as with Home Is Where the Boss Is, the chronicle of an entire life, from five or six (“For a time I was convinced Bruce and the Big Man lived behind the speaker grate in my Dad’s Honda hatchback”) to adulthood. And there is Sugar Baby, the diary of a little girl diagnosed as diabetic. Her doctor gives her “an old friend to help [her] practice injections”; it looks like a Raggedy Ann inflatable sex doll. In “Family Restaurants,” the girl goes into the restroom to inject herself in the stomach; two older girls come in, see the needle, and walk right back out. “This place has really gone downhill,” one of them says.

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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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