Greil Marcus’s Real Life Rock Top 10: The Vortex of Disappearance

Lana Del Rey floats through the past and the future, Brad Paisley sings about insurance, Twin Peaks conjures Ozzie and Harriet


1. Dan Rather on the White House, All In With Chris Hayes (MSNBC, July 11):

“They’ve been slipping and sliding, peeping and hiding, and now the game is closing in on them.”

2. Brad Paisley, “Song for All Your Sides” (Nationwide Insurance TV commercial)

This has been bothering me for months. Why is the country superstar so convincing as a front-porch troubadour who just got off his tractor, now idly picking up a guitar, contemplating the meaning of life, gazing off into the distance, and singing “Nationwide/Is on your side” as if the thought has just occurred to him, the answer to any question you might ever want to ask, with a slight deepening on your to make it seem as if he knows you? Because it’s so close in style, melody, and ethos to country songs you’ve been hearing your whole life whether you wanted to or not?

3. Lana Del Rey, Lust for Life (Interscope)

This is the deepest vortex she’s conjured up. If she seems to float above whatever world she’s mapping, it’s because she quietly gets it across that there’s nothing on land that won’t disappear at the touch. The same is true for the sense of time that governs the songs. Everything is already in the past. It’s more than the circles of pop echoes — “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Leader of the Pack,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and a hundred others I haven’t caught yet. It’s not the Weltschmerz that artists have been trafficking in for more than two hundred years. It’s harder to get a fix on. “Now you’re the future,” she croons to “You kids” in the first lines of “Love,” and it’s a sick joke: I was the future once too, and look how fucked I am now.

It’s too gorgeous not to be alluring. When the Weeknd weaves in and out of Del Rey’s singing on “Lust for Life,” he’s not a second vocal, he’s the first singer’s second mind. A$AP Rocky is real-life ballast in “Groupie Love,” which makes the drift that rules the song unbearably morbid. Again and again, there’s a sense of no-way-out, with an undertone that Poe would have recognized: Who says you have to leave? It all comes to a verge with “In My Feelings,” where the voice dives down into the churning black emptiness again and again, then surfacing each time. As her tone goes higher, escape seems like a physical reflex, the descent something between an idea and desire.

This album would have been understood in Germany in the eighteenth century, France in the nineteenth, in Berlin cabarets and after Long Island parties in the 1920s, playing in a dead TV in the future of The Terminator, in the ruins of America after the record has been banned.

4. Susanna Mälkki, conductor, The Rite of Spring, San Francisco Symphony (June 11)

Lucy Gray reports: “At last I know why people rioted when they first heard The Rite of Spring. Once a cellist, in the opening solo Mälkki implored with plucking fingers to the high-pitched bassoonist that his instrument confess an anguished loneliness, but soon her stiff torso was cutting through the air, chopping like a sharp blade at the wind and then string sections, until together they hardened into one shrill, hideous plea. She put her mark on the sound of the drum, which was pounded until I thought the skin would break, until I heard the earth quake. This was spring; this is irreconcilable birth; blood must be drawn.”

5. Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie (Atlantic)

Where does talent go when it goes away?

6. Neon, “Neon”/“Nazi Schatzi” (Static Age/Water Wing)

Four women in a Zurich punk band in 1978: Singer Astrid Spirig went on to Liliput, but her first group never recorded. Rescued from a cassette of a TV appearance, this is their first single. It sounds fresh.

7. Twin Peaks: The Return, Episode 2 (Showtime)

“James is still cool,” says Mädchen Amick’s Shelly as James Marshall’s James Hurley walks into the Bang Bang Bar, smiling as if he’s mildly surprised to find himself in the place. Why is it so affecting to see him? He was always the most decent person in town — is that why it’s a shock he’s still alive? Or, as Robert Fiore writes in, “Have you ever noticed that the Twin Peaks theme is basically ‘Telstar’ played really slowly?” Or that the device of almost every episode ending with an interesting indie band on the Bang Bang stage, which gives the show the only grounding it has — last Sunday with Marshall’s silencing version of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti’s “Just You” in a disturbing little-girl voice — is a tribute to the way Ricky Nelson and his band closed out so many episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet?

8. Heisenburger Burger Lab, 5054 Gorriti, Palermo Viejo, Buenos Aires

Where if you look at your order too long it comes out well-done? “The only city in the world where everyone would get it,” said a passerby.

9. Dion, Kickin’ Child — The Lost Album 1965 (Norton)

Columbia recordings mostly produced by Tom Wilson, who that same year put his name on Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, “Like a Rolling Stone,” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” With all the celebration that’s surrounded this release — as if Dion would not, to this day, go on to any number of disparate, invaluable albums — you can be forgiven for expecting something more than a mediocre 1965 folk-rock record.

10. Stevie Nicks in “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems,” Lana Del Rey, Lust for Life (Interscope)

Her voice is thick, reflective, and unstylized; it could be anyone.

Thanks to Steve Perry and Cecily Marcus