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Conversations with Greil Marcus

Conversations with Greil Marcus

Edited by Joe Bonomo
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Conversations with Greil Marcus
    Book Description:

    Greil Marcus once said to an interviewer, "There is an infinite amount of meaning about anything, and I free associate." For more than four decades, Marcus has explored the connections among figures, sounds, and events in culture, relating unrelated points of departure, mapping alternate histories and surprising correspondences. He is a unique and influential voice in American letters.

    Marcus was born in 1945 in San Francisco. In 1968 he published his first piece, a review ofMagic Bus: The Who on Tour, inRolling Stone, where he became the magazine's first records editor. Renowned for his ongoing "Real Life Top Ten" column, Marcus has been a writer for a number of magazines and websites, and is the author and editor of over fifteen books. His critique is egalitarian: no figure, object, or event is too high, low, celebrated, or obscure for an inquiry into the ways in which our lives can open outward, often unexpectedly.In Conversations with Greil Marcus, Marcus discuses in lively, wide-ranging interviews his books and columns as well as his critical methodology and broad approach to his material, signaled by a generosity of spirit leavened with aggressive critical standards.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-063-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    “There is an infinite amount of meaning about anything,” Greil Marcus said to an interviewer. “And I free associate.” For more than four decades, Marcus has explored the connections among figures, sounds, and events in culture, relating unrelated points of departure, mapping alternate histories and surprising correspondences. He is a unique and influential voice in American letters, and a collection of his interviews is overdue.

    Marcus was born in 1945 in San Francisco, California, and he lived there and in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Berkeley, where he settled and wrote until 2010 (he currently lives in Oakland). He received...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xvii-2)
  5. A Critic on His Music
    (pp. 3-8)
    John King

    Not many rock critics have made a name for themselves. The musical form is over twenty-five years old, yet most reviews still consist either of strings of superlatives (“the awesome vocal is propelled by thunderous guitars and a pounding bass”) or snide putdowns (“Dobrewski sings like an albino orangutan in heat”). Intelligent, vivid writing is all but unknown.

    It does exist, however, and Greil Marcus proves it. For twelve years he has written about the music and the world it affects; he writes regularly for everything fromRolling Stoneto theVillage VoicetoNew West, the California magazine where...

  6. An Interview with Greil Marcus
    (pp. 9-27)
    Mark Kitchell and Greil Marcus

    Greil Marcus: The Free Speech Movement was a big shock. It was confusing, it was surprising, it was exciting, it was a day-by-day event than lasted almost three months. It was astonishing. Following that was the so-called “Filthy Speech Movement.” I’ll never forget Mario [Savio, political activist and a key member in the FSM] coming back from Selma to find the campus in an uproar. The Filthy Speech Movement was contrived, made into a big deal by Clark Kerr [president of the University of California], not by Art Goldberg [UC Berkeley student and FSM leader], who was doing his damnedest...

  7. Making Too Much of a Song: An Interview with Greil Marcus
    (pp. 28-42)
    Tony Fafoglia and Greil Marcus

    Greil Marcus is one of the original batch of American rock critics. Marcus, along with Richard Meltzer, Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau, Dave Marsh, and Jon Landau were among the first writers to deal seriously with rock and pop culture in this country in the ’60s. Marcus’s credits are lengthy and distinguished. He authored the bookMystery Trainwhich consisted of profiles on such pivotal American music figures as bluesman Robert Johnson, Elvis Presley, The Band, and Sly Stone. What set this book and Marcus’s approach apart from others was his ability to place the work of these artists into the...

  8. Interview
    (pp. 43-55)
    Brent Brambury and Greil Marcus

    Brent Brambury: It was Benny Spelman who said, “Lipstick traces on a cigarette, every memory lingers with me yet.” Let’s talk about the first time you heard the Sex Pistols and “Anarchy in the U.K.” Was that the first song you heard?

    Greil Marcus: It was the first Sex Pistols song I heard. It was their first record, and when I first heard it there was a lot of noise coming over from England to California, where I live, about this strange new trouble festering in London and this unlistenable, outrageous music that was coming along with it. So I...

  9. Now We Are Engaged in a Great Cultural Civil War
    (pp. 56-62)
    Heidi Benson

    For two decades San Francisco–based writer Greil Marcus has used rock and roll and popular culture as the starting point from which to analyze the soul of America. He is one of the country’s most astute and respected critics.

    An early editor atRolling Stonemagazine, Marcus has written two books,Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll MusicandLipstick Traces, a book that uses the punk movement as a springboard for a trip through some of the most extreme and ephemeral radical arts movements of the last century. He is currently a columnist forArtforum,...

  10. Dead Elvis, or Long Live the King
    (pp. 63-71)
    Geoff Pevere

    It’s been over fourteen years since the death of Elvis Presley, but instead of being left to rest in peace, the King seems to pop up in the damnedest places. That’s right; no matter where you look, Elvis is everywhere. In everywhere from baseball games toWild at HeartandThis Is Spinal Tap, you will find Elvis. From songs by Mojo Nixon to TV programs likeTwin Peaks, Elvis refuses to lie down and play—let alone stay—dead. There are people spotting him in burger joints and on the moon; his image pops up in comic books, and...

  11. Punk: A Generation Later
    (pp. 72-89)
    Geoff Pevere

    Geoff Pevere: Hi, I’m Geoff Pevere. The myth of punk music goes like this: it burned bright; it burned hard; and it burned out, and faster than you can say “never mind the bollocks.” The truth is a little more complicated; the truth has to do with the spirit and an aftershock whose reverberations are still being felt. Punk, a generation later, tonight onPrime Time.

    Way back in 1964, the British Invasion brought us the Beatles and many songs of hope and utopianism. In 1977 another British invasion brought us the Sex Pistols, and that invasion brought songs that...

  12. Greil Marcus
    (pp. 90-105)
    Nick Pemberton

    It is perhaps worth remembering that the cultural landscape of 1975—the year that Greil Marcus’s first bookMystery Trainappeared—was very different from today’s. Punk was still no more than a rumbling noise up around the bend, most rock writers wrote sycophantically about superstars, and books about rock and roll were not published by Penguin. If you wanted to readMystery Trainin 1975 you had to get hold of an American import.

    I mention this because nowadays—when all you need to do is wave a chequebook and any number of tame media intellectuals will gather in...

  13. Greil Marcus: Do Politics Rock?
    (pp. 106-117)
    Jason Gross

    Anyone who has done any reading about music knows about the person responsible forMystery Train, Lipstick Traces, Dead Elvis, The Dustbin of History, Ranters and Crowd Pleasersand most recentlyInvisible Republic. He’s also edited a great collection of Lester Bangs writings (Psychotic Reactions) and the original collection of desert-island discs (Stranded). Above all else, Greil Marcus’s writing is compelling—a lot of times I’ve found his descriptions of a song he loves better than the song itself. Another striking quality about his work is his sense (and knowledge) of history that he brings to his writing. In the...

  14. All These Inches Away Where Greil Marcus Began
    (pp. 118-129)
    Dave Weich

    “Greil Marcus,” Nick Hornby has written, “is simply peerless. Not only as a rock writer but as a cultural historian.”

    Wondering how Bob Dylan resurrected his career in the nineties or what Elvis Presley and Bill Clinton have in common? Curious which novel’s unabridged audio cassettes Marcus calls 2000’s Album of the Year—“Nothing came close,” he insists—or what made Lester Bangs one of rock music’s most eloquent critics? Greil Marcus recently spent an afternoon at Powell’s, browsing the shelves for hard-to-find titles and answering as many questions as I could squeeze into an hour.

    Dave Weich: In the...

  15. Online Exchange with Greil Marcus
    (pp. 130-156)

    Readers of this site were invited to submit questions to music critic Greil Marcus, who sent his responses by e-mail. Thanks to everyone who took part in this exchange.

    From: Tonya

    Subject: Question for Greil

    Date: Tue, 12 Mar 2002 09:15:38

    I have two questions:

    A) Do you have any research (published or otherwise) or notable quotes regarding the Portland, OR hardcore/punk band Poison Idea or their singer Jerry A? This band never seems to get its due … it always just gets “mentioned” in the same breath as The Wipers … and nobody wants to dig any deeper than...

  16. Greil Marcus: Interview
    (pp. 157-175)
    Oliver Hall and Greil Marcus

    Perfect Sound Forever:The Rose & the Briar(W. W. Norton & Co., 2004) has come out during an election year, a year in which not only have there been no good protest songs, but hardly anything on the radio could make you think twice about the way you live. Do you see this book in any way as an appeal to the memory of the country, or to the soul of the country?

    Greil Marcus: No; I think if anything is under that umbrella, it’s more an argument that the country has changed, or changes, less than it might seem. Certain...

  17. Interview with Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors
    (pp. 176-200)
    Asbjørn Grønstad, Øyvind Vågnes, Werner Sollors and Greil Marcus

    In September 2009, Harvard University Press publishedA New Literary History of America, edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors. The book is an anthology of original essays that kaleidoscopically comprise not only literature and fiction but many different fields from philosophy and science to political rhetoric, art and aesthetics, music, film, and popular culture. On 19 March 2010 we talked to Greil Marcus in his home in Berkeley. Werner Sollors we interviewed by email around the same time.

    Werner Sollors: The topics are sufficiently varied to appeal to very broad general interests from the coining of the word “America”...

  18. 20 Questions: Greil Marcus
    (pp. 201-206)
    Karen Zarker

    “Few if any American cultural historians take the great deep American Breath like Greil Marcus,” writes Robert Loss in hisPopMattersarticle, “Risk and Equilibrium: The Impact of Greil Marcus.” “It’s the breath of Whitman, of Ginsberg, of Little Richard and Dylan and Aretha Franklin—in scope and risk, at least, if not their artistry or forms.”

    Indeed, a skilled bridge-builder who spans the chasm between academia and pop culture, the critic who cut his teeth onRolling Stone, Creem, and theVillage Voicehas another book out this month,Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968–2010. We’re pleased...

  19. Index
    (pp. 207-217)