I’m up to 1991 in Greil Marcus’s Real Life Top Ten. It’s still running like a freight train most of the time. Then, every once in a while, the Shangri-Las drift in from left field and everything grinds to a halt:
3) Ed Sanders, The Family: The Manson Group and its Aftermath (Signet/NAL) reissue, 1971)….
Here sex can seem uglier than murder, murder more casual than sex, sex so often ritual, dog blood poured on copulating bodies a logical extension of the standard Family initiation or its everyday, California, do-your-own-thing version of Adamite and Free Spirit beliefs and practices that went back almost a thousand years. Even without the material on the Process Church of the Final Judgment and the Solar Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis, removed after the first edition because of lawsuits (that’s what libraries are for), Sanders’ narrative casts a spell so strong it can suck in almost anything. I saw the Shangri-Las in a TV nostalgia clip doing “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” and in their blithe teenage nihilism they could have been from Manson’s harem…
So, to previous descriptions/assumptions of Mary Weiss as…
Dead: (“The In Between Years,” Mark Sten, included in Rock Almanac, Stephen Nugent and Charlie Gillett, eds., Anchor Press, 1978)
Black: (James Brown, 1964. Also numerous YouTube commenters of recent vintage)
Jewish: (Are You There God, It’s Me Mary: The Shangri-Las and the Punk Rock Love Song, Tracy Landecker, Rhino Kindle, 2012…it was released on Sept. 11. proving somebody, somewhere has a sense of humor; Jews, Race and Popular Music, Jon Stratton, Ashgate, 2009, along with numerous articles/comments that can be found on-line, whether feeding the “research,” herein or drawing upon it is anyone’s guess.)
Catholic: (Most everyone else. Of course, one can be ethnically Jewish and of the Catholic faith. My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that Mary Weiss is neither.)
Brunette: (The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, Dave Marsh, 1989…He mixed the Weiss sisters with the Gansers so he specifically had her in a beehive. Mary Ann Ganser was identified as the lead: “a straight-haired blonde.” The error was not corrected in the 2nd edition).
Betty Weiss: (Golden Hits of the Shangri-Las, Phillips International, 1966, and various liner notes to a number of other comps over the years.)
Marge Ganser: (A book on Rock and Roll Death I picked up and thumbed through in a book store once. I couldn’t afford to buy it and I never saw it again. Today, the internet yields no solid clues as to the book’s actual existence. But I swear it happened. It’s out there. No, really. On any bible you want!)
Patty Hearst’s soul mate: (“How the Other Half Lived,” Greil Marcus, Village Voice, Sept. 8, 1975...I had my say about that here.)
We can now add…
Manson girl…not to mention teenage nihilist: (Real Life Rock, Marcus, Yale Press, 2015. Reprinting a column from March, 1991, originally published in Artforum)
There are at least six different versions of the Shangri-Las performing “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” on YouTube, but the “TV nostalgia clip” Marcus encountered was likely this one, which I’m almost certain is the only one that has ever been “officially” released (and thus the only one licensed to be on television) and which, when I first saw a piece of it in the 1983 documentary Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound, I took as a sign from Heaven that life on Earth was indeed worth living. Different strokes for different folks, I guess:
And, no, all these years later, I still don’t see Susan Atkins or Patricia Krenwinkle in there. Quite the opposite in fact. Call it joy. Call it knowing. Call it the joy of knowing….something. Something not everybody knows.
Call it “nihilism” and I’m liable to think you are making stuff up.
Me not being a certified psychoanalyst, there is clearly way-y-y-y too much disturbance in the male psyche going on in Marcus’s piece for me to be comfortable with any further speculation on which of us might have a screw loose somewhere.
But I will say none of it matches what I still consider the weirdest description of Weiss I’ve ever come across.
It’s from the 1983 updated edition of Charlie Gillett’s The Sound of the City (the original 1970 version did not contain it). He described Mary Weiss’s voice thus:
I ain’t going anywhere near that.
UPDATE: One thing I should have mentioned is that, in the liner notes of her (very fine) 2007 solo album, Dangerous Game, Weiss included Marcus in the list of those she thanked for their “encouragement and support.” His reaching out to her for a response via email to the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks may well have been one of the stepping stones that lured her back into the studio. Greil Marcus does some very good things. Which may be why I find his own nihilistic streak very disorienting.