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February 22, 1976 - Image 4

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Michigan Daily, 1976-02-22

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Page Four

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Sunday, February 22, 1976

Page Four THE MICHIGAN DAILY Sunday, February 22, 1976

BOO

KS

Gretii Marcus' Mystery Train provides
unique perspective on rock 'n' roll's past

Blown Figures: Some brilliant
passages, but generally tedious

By JEFF SORENSEN spective on rock and how it
has affected the lives of so
ROCK MUSIC has always many people with such extraor-
been a celebration of the dinary force, as well as how
present. The best folk artists rock is related to other po-
don't look back - they distrust litical, literary, and social
analysis of their work. At its changes.
best, their music is filled with In his book Mystery Train:
self-confidence, a lack of pre- Images of America in Rock 'n'
tension, and, usually, youthful Roll, Greil Marcus attempts to
vitality. Some of these musi- do just that, and, by and large,
cians, like Bob Dylan, even re- he succeeds in bringing out
fuse to discuss their personal more of this complex story than
backgrounds, instead they in- any other rock critic before
vent fanciful myths about them- him.
selves.
Writing about rock 'n' roll has IT IS A strange, inexplicable
always been difficult. Very few medley of feelings that as-
authors have succeeded in cap- sails Marcus, and by implica-
turing this elusive folk art in tion every rock fan, as he talks
print, and most of these books about the work of a few out-
have been rock histories (like standing singers (Robert John-
Charles Gillet's Sound of the son, Sly Stone, Randy New-
City) or collections of record man, Elvis Presley, the Band,,
reviews and interviews (like and Harmonica Frank) and at-
Paul Williams' Outlaw Blues tempts to relate their work to
or Jon Landau's It's Too Late the whole of the American folk'
to Stop Now). But these books, tradition.
even though they offer some Unlike other books about rock
interesting profiles and insight 'n' roll's past, Mystery Train'
into a few works, have never at- is not a nostalgic tract; Marcus
tempted a broader view, a per- is writing about a living art,
Dislinctive
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instead of golden oldies and
dusty library shelves. There's
no feeling that Marcus is
teaching a history lesson.
The reader can't help but be
impressed with his understand-
ing of the experience of grow-
ing up with rock music over,
the past 20 years. As an avid
fan for two decades and as a
former record review editor for
Rolling Stone magazine, Marcus
surveys this period from a
knowledgeable vantage point.
He recalls the joys of listening
to fifties and sixties rock with
striking clarity. He remembers
the days when young listeners
drank in the latest songs from
Elvis, Chuck Berry, the Beatles,

cess in the popular music world
with other areas of American
life and are - the movies, poli-
tics, and fiction - and the
same "desire of the artist to
remake America on his or her
own terms. This impulse pow-
ers the strongest popular artists
as it powers pop culture itself.
It is an urge to novelty and
necessity; it exhausts most tal-
ents with terrific speed and
goes on to something else."
-lMARCUS is aware of this de-
structive side to popular
culture, but he accepts it. In
fact, Marcus argues that even
though this pernicious force
wastes so huch talent, it is also
the impetus behind the best f

BLOWN FIGURES by Aud-
rey Thomas. Alfred A. Knopf,
N.Y., 227 pp., $7.95.
By KEVIN COUNIHAN

and advertisements from news- Between the two of them, one
papers. Though her experiment is able to piece together a little
fails, the effort is worthy of von more of their respective lives
sideration. and to learn that Delilah is re-

tN HER FAMOUS address to ITEEPING TRUE to the con-
the Cambridge undergrad- temporary emphasis on
uates of 1924, Virginia Woolf the individual, Thomas introduc-
declared: "On or about Decem- es us to Isobel, a woman in

man is "the man who does not
like what he sees, but is wildly
attracted to it anyway, a man
who keeps his sanity by ren-
dering contradictions other peo-
ple struggle to avoid." Although
Newman has been neglected by

ber, 1910 human nature chang-
ed." Woolf did not choose that
date arbitrarily, for it was at
that time that the first London
exhibition of Post-Impressionist
paintings took place and a maj-
or artistic movement called Ex-!
pressionism came to maturity.
The force of Expressionism
was both great and shocking. It
represented a complete shift

and the Rolling Stones as if most of the public, Marcus per- from the Naturalistic influence
those performers could give Ofr American folk traditions. ceives his role as every bit as by placing emphasis on the in-
them magic, wisdom, freedom, Presley's later failures, necessary as Presley's. dividual and the individual sen-
and ternl yoth.Marcus writes, His ambition,
and eternal youth. source of so much of the in- Mystery Train also comes to sibility and reaction.
ts f tensity and emotion he p i terms with yet another side to Like the other arts, literntiureI
MARCUS' discussion of Elvis tensity put into the American dilemna reflect- was involved in a process of
Presley serves to sum up his early music, plainly out- ed in the blues sons of Robert evolution. n increasing amount
much of what he sees as com- stripped itself. Two years after Johnson. In the thirties John- of foreign literature was being
pelling and gruesome about pop- making his first record, he had son sang an intense drama- translated into English, inglud-
ular music. He offers an almost won more than anyone else tic music, accompanied on ing the works of Joyce, W ntongh ,
exact portrait of Presley, who knew was there, he had achiev- thisc muiaccompaie on Lawrence and Proust With the
was blessed with immense tal- ed a status that trivalized strug- A rguitar."No failure exception of Lawrence, each of
ent, but who threw away his gle and made will obsolescent.'' America s is ever simple," thesepwriters contributed to a
gifts soon after h achieved Marcus' essay on Elvis is one says Marcus, so "within that teewiescnrbtdt
he failure is a very different Amer- narrative style, commonly re-
mass popularity. Now Elvis is of the most insightful pieces of ica an America of desolation ferred to as "stream of consci-
nothing but a parody of his for- rock criticism to date, but his desolate because it is felt to ousness" writing.
mer self. comments on less popular fig- be out of place and it is here Audrey Thomas, in har new
Most of today's rock listeners ures are almost as revealing. that Robert Johnson looked for book, Blown Figures, utlFzes
have probably never heard He sees songwriter / singer his images and found them." this "consciousness" narrative.
Presley's best material, which Randy Newman as the flip side hso as afoundsthem. She further attempts to expand
was recorded for Sun Records of Presley's persona. Newman's Johnson was a powerful sing- the reading experience by in-
in 1954-55 before his switch work is "laconic, funny, grim, er, an effective guitar player, cluding articles, advice-columns
to RCA and his eventual super and solitary." The heroes of but he uses lyrics to conveytrast
stardom, but Marcus remem- his songs are often pathetic, thissdarkery sidennrastre to
bers this material vividly, and loathsome figures. almsteryohrfge in
uses Presley's career to show In sharp contrast to Presley, "Robert Jazohnson'larmuis, T he B lo c
us how the music industry can Newman is not greeted by proof that beauty can be
be both a destructive and a mobs of screaming fans where- wrung from . . . terror itself,"
creative force. ever he goes; his records have
Marcus then parallels this barely sold enough copies to Marcus explaisTo
drive for popularity and suc- break even. For Marcus, New- ALL IN ALL, the portraits
and analysis in Mystery

her early thirties who is bur-
dened by the guilt of a mis-
carriage. Recently separated
from her husband and two child-
ren and abandoned by her boy-
friend Richard ("... the Rich-
ards of this world always walk
away from the Isobels"), Iso-
bel is sailing to Africa (where,
she suffered the miscarriag
several years earlier) in an at-
tempt to exorcise the "demons"
of her guilt.
Isobel's guilt becomes !ne sub-
ject of the novel and the reader.
is pretty much forced to go
along for the ride. The trip to
the dark continent is turbulent
and made ever more so by the
unexpected sojourns to Isobel's
past relationships and sexual
encounters. These remembran-
ces constitute the most well-
written material in the book
but become almost unavoidably
tedious.
DURING THE long trip to Af-
rica, the reader is intrn-
duced to a sexual dynanio and
veteran of four abortions nam-
ed Delilah Rosenberg who acts
as a kind of alter-ego to Isobel.

turning to Africa to seek out
the man responsible for her lat-
est abortion. Upon arrival, De-
lilah somewhat mysteriously
vanishes after her aoe ation and
Isobel slowly subsides into a
guilt-derived madness of nurs-
ery rhymes, songs, and memor-
ies.
The book would be easily dis-
missable is not for Thomas'
random spots of quality prose.
Before leaving, Isobel almost
tells Jason, "You can keep the
children' . . . as one might say
in gratitude, 'You can keep the
children' . . . as one might say
in gratitude, 'You can keep the
change.' " During her abortion,
Delilah "gratefully and almost
cheerfully was being clhansed of
her unwanted but not unwonted
souvenir of a quick fuck."
The essential problem with the
novel is that Thomas does not
create a character worthy of a
complete book. Isobel is hardly
a Leopold Bloom and even the
Joyce-inspired narraive devic-
es cannot hold the work togeth-
er. Blown Figures is a creative
failure but its author has imag-
ination and the ability to pro-
duce first-rate art.
Kevin Counihan is a night
editor on the Arts Page.

ds: Helping singles
glop self-confidence

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Train 1are superb. +jMarcus'
choice to limit theinvestigation
to a few artists enables him to{
broaden the scope of his dis-
cussion, to include territory us-
ually absent from most writing
about rock 'n' roll. My only re-
servation with the book is Mar-
cus' unfortunate tendency to.
praisesome artists to excess
(Presley and Little Richard, in
particular), but it must be re-
membered that Marcus is writ-
ing about his boyhood idols.
Marcus' work is so superior
to the vast majority of what!
passes for rock writing today
'that most criticisms of Mystery
Train are just nit-picking. We
really couldn't ask for more -
the life and times of rock music
in one book, a portrait of rock
'n roll that has almost as
much to say as the music itself.

'BILL
NACYis
NAMED &
IFUNNY...
/0s t' 'ed by CINE MAlIGN iNDUSTRiES]
SHOWTIMES: MON.-SAT. 7:00 & 9:00
SUNDAY 5:00-7:00-9:00

Jeff Sorensen is the Arts
Entertainment Editor.

and

(Continued from Page 3)
Bloods told us. "Be specific, bef
persistant." And each time we{
were, and each time it worked.r
When Susan, an elementary
school teacher, called the mant
she had met at a party theĀ£
previous week to invite him,
skiing, he was elated and will-
ingly accepted her invitation.
And when Johne, a 43-year-old
divorcee, explained what needst
a male friend of hers was over- I
looking, her partner Lenny lis-
tened attentively and then of-j
fered to mend his ways. "Willt
you tell him those things whent
you see him?" Bob asked Johne.
"No," she answered. "He'd;
never understand. You men (in
the workshop) have spoiled us."
QATURDAY evening marked,
o as it did in all of the Blood'st
workshops, what Bob had so
fleetingly referred to as "caring
massage" in my previous meet-
ing with the Bloods.
We had been set in a tran-.
quil mood following dinner by
the playing of the Moody Blue's
Days of Future Past album
while we sat in front of a glow-
ing fire. Bob appeared impa-
tient for the album to finish,
and turned the stereo off as
soon as side one was completed.
Instructing us to join hands as'
we seated ourselves in a circle,
he began explaining, in calm,'
exacting terms, the reasoning
behind the massage.
"This is a valuable exercise
in the singles workshop because
it gives people a chance to ne-
gotiate issues concerning their
own bodies," he told us. "It will
give us all a chance to definer
exactly what it is we want and
don't want."1
SHE NERVOUS anxiety which
had characterized the open- 1

ing of the workshop now return-'i
ed as Bob explained the process
of choosing partners for mas-
sage. We wereto place one
hand on the head of our, first:
choice and another on theI
shoulder of- our second choice.i
Although several of the group
members expressed disappoint-
ment with their partners, Bob
reminded us that the purposej
of the exercise was to engage,
in a "healthy negotiation of
terms," and that receiving our
first choice as a partner %as
of secondary importance. "Thel
only restriction I would like to
place on this exercise is that
you don't massage the genital,
areas," Bob requested.
Margaret retrieved six bottles
of oil from the kitchen and'
handed them to the couples, I
many of w'hom had changed into
leotards or bathing suits at the'
suggestion of the Bloods. Like
nervos freshmen at a high
school sock-hop, we talked brief-
ly of the exercise with our part-
ners before commencing with,
the massage. I wasn't sure how
the others were interpreting the
encounter. but I felt strangely
uneasy. Although Paul, a carnet
salesman, had been my first
choice for the exercise, I felt no
intimate attachment to him and1
receiving an hour-long massage;
from him felt somewhat foreign.!
QOME OF THE anxiety of!
Saturday night had carried
into Sunday's breakfast. No one
offered a comment on the mas-
sage until Bob requested it, and
even then people spoke of it
in a reserved fashion. I was
pleased, however, to find that
some had thoroughly enjoyed
the encounter. "The end of the

massage for me," said Richard,
"was like the end of summer."
Sensing the quickly approach-
ing end of the workshop, we
struggled clumsily to say those
things to people which we had
neglected to communicate all
weekend. Because Bob had In-
structed us to exchange some
positive reaction with each of
the members in the group we
complimented each other. How-
ever, many of our comments
seemed somewhat contrived
and half-hearted.
Partly to force us to think in
positive terms about the week-
end, and partly to gain some
feedback, Bob asked us each to
exolain what we were taking
with us from the workshop.
"What are you going to do when
you leave the front door and en-
ter the real world again?" he
asked.
JOST OF THE answers were
predictable. We all agreed
to be more assertive, and more
expressive of our needs, and
each time one of us promised
this Bob and Margaret nodded
their heads in approval.
But Richard, hoping to bury
his less desirable traits, gave
the Bloods a promise they had
not heard before.
"I've got a shovel in my ga-
rage, and when I go home I'm
going to take it out and dig o
long deep hole in the snow in
my backyard," he said. "And
after I've dug the hole, I'm
going to lie down in it for a
long time. When I get out, I'm
going to fill the hole again, and
hone that a fresh snow has com-
pletely covered it by morning."
I wondered how long it would
be before Richard's new blan-
ket of snow would melt.

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