Marcus, Greil 1945- (Greil Gerstley Marcus)
Marcus, Greil 1945- (Greil Gerstley Marcus)
Born June 19, 1945, in San Francisco, CA; son of Gerald Dodd (an attorney) and Eleanore (a homemaker) Marcus; married Jenelle Bernstein (a shopkeeper), June 26, 1966; children: Emily Rose, Cecily Helen. Education: University of California at Berkeley, B.A., 1966, M.A., 1967. Hobbies and other interests: Paleolithic culture.
Agent—Wendy Weil Agency, 232 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016.
Author and critic. Rolling Stone, San Francisco, CA, associate editor, 1969-70, book editor, 1975-80. Teacher of American studies at University of California at Berkeley, 1971-72. Director of Pagnol & Cie, operators of Chez Panisse restaurant, Berkeley, CA, 1979—.
National Book Critics Circle (director, 1983-89).
Nominated for National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, 1976, for Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.
(With Jan Hodenfield and Andrew Kopkind) Woodstock, photographs by Baron Wolman, Joseph Sia, and Mark Vargas, Straight Arrow Publishers (San Francisco, CA), 1969.
(Editor) Rock and Roll Will Stand (essays), Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1969.
(With Michael Goodwin) Double Feature: Movies and Politics, Outerbridge & Lazard (New York, NY), 1972.
Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, Dutton (New York, NY), 1975, revised 4th edition, Plume (New York, NY), 1997.
(Contributor) Jim Miller, editor, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, Random House (New York, NY), 1976, revised edition, 1980.
(Editor) Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island (essays), Knopf (New York, NY), 1979, revised edition with foreword by Robert Christgau, Da Capo Press (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor) Lester Bangs, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.
Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1989.
Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1991.
Ranters and Crowd Pleasers: Punk in Pop Music, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1993, published as In the Fascist Bathroom: Writings on Punk, 1977-1992, Penguin (New York, NY), 1994.
The Dustbin of History, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1995.
There Is No Eye: John Cohen Photographs, Power-House (New York, NY), 2001.
(Contributor) Ahmet Ertegun and others, "What'd I Say": The Atlantic Story; Fifty Years of Music, Orion (London, England), 2001.
(Editor, with Sean Wilentz) The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2005.
Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads, Public Affairs (New York, NY), 2005.
The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, Farrar (New York, NY), 2006.
Author of biweekly column "Undercover" for Rolling Stone, 1975-80; author of monthly columns "Real Life Rock" for New West Magazine, 1978-82, and Music Magazine (Tokyo, Japan), 1978-73, "Speaker to Speaker" for Artforum, 1983-87, and "Real Life Rock Top Ten" for Village Voice, 1989-90, Artforum, 1990-97, and Salon.com, 1999—. Contributor of essays and criticism on music, film, books, and politics to periodicals, including Creem, Rolling Stone, New York Times, New York Times Book Review, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, New Musical Express, Village Voice, New Yorker, Journal of Country Music, and TriQuarterly.
Greil Marcus is one of the most highly regarded writers on rock and roll music. Since beginning his career as an editor of the popular music magazine Rolling Stone, Marcus has written articles and reviews on music, books, politics, and other subjects for several leading publications and has written and edited numerous books. Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award and drew international attention, has been widely praised as one of the most important rock and roll books ever written. As Marcus's career has progressed, his work has evolved from simple music criticism to true cultural commentary, exemplified in his book Double Trouble: Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in the Land of No Alternatives.
Marcus begins Mystery Train with short essays on two "ancestors" of rock and roll, 1950s singer Harmonica Frank and 1930s bluesman Robert Johnson, that serve as a "backdrop," as Marcus explains, for the text that follows. Mark Crispin Miller, writing in the New York Review of Books, noted that, for Marcus, Harmonica Frank personifies what was to become the exuberant side of rock and roll, while Johnson represents an alternative, horror-filled, Puritan element in the music. After painting this backdrop, Marcus divides his discussion of America and its music into four chapters, each of which focuses on, but is not limited to, a performer or group whose work or career exhibits, in Marcus's words, "a range and a depth that seem to crystalize naturally in visions and versions of America: its possibilities, limits, openings, traps."
Marcus first presents chapters on such musicians as the Band, Sly Stone, and Randy Newman. Marcus then turns to "the knockout section of the book," as Frank Rich, writing in the Village Voice, described the book's longest chapter—the "Presliad," which concerns Elvis Presley. Rich asserted that the writing in this section "reaches a pitch of ecstasy, horror, and understanding that diminishes the prose of the book's previous chapters as effectively as Elvis diminishes the subjects of those chapters."
Rich judged the writing to be "forceful, enthusiastic, almost driven" throughout Mystery Train. He and Miller both deemed the book "brilliant" in places; Miller called it "impressive … well-informed, and frequently hilarious" and found "more of rock's spirit" in Mystery Train than in rock music itself. John Rockwell, writing in the New York Times, called Marcus "a writer of rare perception and a genuinely innovative thinker" and concluded that Marcus's "blend of love and expertise should be read by anybody who cares about America or its music."
Marcus's next book, Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island, is a collection of essays that respond to a question he poses: If you were stranded on a desert island, what is the one record album you would want to have with you? Respondents include rock writers Dave Marsh, Grace Lichtenstein, Ellen Willis, Robert Christgau, Simon Frith, Ed Ward, and others. Marcus himself admits that the premise is "absurd," but Laurence Gonzales of the New York Times Book Review found the essays to be "by turns thoughtful, compelling, sexy, hilarious, quirky—and surprisingly true to the basic impulse of rock-and-roll."
Marcus probes the political significance of various countercultural movements in Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. The book "is no sedate academic record of libertarian revolt but a bold blending of anecdote, personal confession and cultural analysis, cutting backward and forward from Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols to the Surrealists," advised New York Times Book Review contributor Terry Eagleton. "Treading a precarious line between eleoquence and pretentiousness … [the] book is impressively adept at bringing alive some of the dramatic moments of the history it charts."
Elvis Presley's place in American culture is examined in two of Marcus's books, Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obession and Double Trouble: Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in a Land of No Alternatives. Dead Elvis is a collection of eighteen essays on Presley's life, death, and legend, his legend continuing to grow in the years after he passed away. Marcus ponders what Americans' obsession with the dead singer reveals about the national psyche. "It is a great story—gripping, touching, ultimately tragic," declared Terry Teachout in the New York Times Book Review. In Double Trouble, the author explores what he perceives to be a unique intersection of political and popular culture. In 1991 Bill Clinton won a spot on the presidential ballot and Elvis Presley won a place on a U.S. postage stamp. Shortly thereafter, Clinton appeared on a late-night talk show playing one of Elvis's signature songs, "Heartbreak Hotel," on his saxophone. In Marcus's opinion, that appearance marked the crucial turning point in Clinton's campaign, leading to victory. Double Trouble draws parallels between Presley and Clinton: their poor Southern roots, legendary charm, and the way they both rose to fame only to fall into tawdry declines. Not every essay included in Double Trouble focuses on Presley and Clinton; a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that "frequently the President and the King exist only as ghostly presences amid Marcus's ruminations" on varied subjects. Reviewing the book for the Library Journal, David Szatmary judged it to be "a written equivalent of MTV: slick, entertaining, pithy, and insubstantial." Yet a writer for Publishers Weekly rated Double Trouble a meaningful effort, stating: "With this book, Marcus … continues his legacy of scholarly pop journalism and his persistent effort to document pop culture's influence on history."
Marcus focuses on another rock icon in two works, the 1997 Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes, and the 2005 Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads. The former title examines the recordings made during the summer of 1967 when Dylan and his touring band, later known simply as The Band, sequestered themselves in a house in upstate New York, recording songs in the basement. Not made for general consumption, these songs, however, slowly appeared in bootleg editions. Finally twenty-four of them were officially released in 1975. As Mary Gaitskill wrote in Artforum International, the resulting book is a "history, an analysis, and an adoration of Bob Dylan's basement tapes." According to New Statesman reviewer Thomas Jones, Marcus demonstrates in Invisible America "how the songs on the basement tapes belonged to the tradition of American folk music, a tradition stretching back to the 17th century." Gordon Flagg, writing in Booklist, felt that Marcus's "insight into this pivotal period of Dylan's career is unmatched," while Entertainment Weekly contributor Ken Tucker found the same book "an enthralling meditation." Also writing in the New Statesman, Ben Thompson observed: "At the end of this intense and poetic volume many different emotions will be registered: joy, anger, relief … but the most diehard Dylano-phobe cannot fail to recognise that something important has gone on, even if they don't know quite what it was."
With Like a Rolling Stone, published on the fortieth anniversary of the Dylan song of the same title, Marcus focuses on that one hit, putting it into the context of the artist's life and culture of the time. As Jones noted: "Marcus considers the song in every context imaginable: musical, cultural, political, personal." Released in the summer of 1965, Dylan's song became a battle cry in the folk and rock world. Until that time, Dylan had been known as a folk singer; when he appeared onstage at the Newport Folk Festival with an electric guitar backup, he was booed off stage. Thus, the 1965 song was a turning point for Dylan and rock and roll. Jones found Marcus's work a "marvellous, exhilarating book." Variety reviewer Phil Gallo had further praise for Like a Rolling Stone, noting that it "enhances the Dylan legacy and makes it that much easier for future generations to assimilate and longtime fans to re-evaluate or reconfirm their suspicions about his greatness." For a Publishers Weekly critic, the same book was an "engaging exegesis … [that] is not just a study of a popular song and a historic era, but an examination of the heroic status of the American visionary artist." Similarly, Flagg, writing in Booklist, observed that "Marcus' vast understanding of American culture and intimate knowledge of Dylan's career make this an eye-opening read." Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., writing in the Library Journal, called the book "engaging cultural history." Gregory McNamee, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, had further praise, commenting that "Marcus's appreciative, eye-opening biography helps us hear [the song] with fresh ears, and it's a fine birthday present."
Working with Sean Wilentz, Marcus edited the 2005 collection, The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad. The editors asked twenty-two nonacademic writers and musicians, such as novelist Joyce Carol Oates and cartoonist R. Crumb, to pick their favorite ballad and then write about it. "Their responses are wonderfully varied," wrote Booklist contributor Ray Olson. Dave Szatmary, writing in the Library Journal, found the collection to be "sometimes fascinating and at other times highly dispensable," but also noted that it "offers an interesting look at a music staple." Higher praise came from a Publishers Weekly critic, who felt The Rose & the Briar was an "impressive, innovative tribute" to the ballad form, which the editors contend is a major source of historical and cultural information about America and Americans.
Marcus turned social critic again for the 2006 title The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, in which he attempts to examine his native country from the perspective of the arts rather than politics. Here, Marcus uses three different speeches—a 1630 sermon by John Winthrop, Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, and Martin Luther King's speech at the March on Washington—to illuminate historical and cultural trends in the United States. Tying these disparate addresses together is a social commentary that ranges from the movies of David Lynch to the novels of Philip Roth and the music of David Thomas. Such artists are the true prophets of America, according to Marcus. Booklist critic Flagg had a mixed assessment of The Shape of Things to Come, finding that though "the book is disappointingly inchoate, the reading is consistently exhilarating." Library Journal contributor Amy Lewontin, however, found more to like in the title, terming it a "fascinating book on the notion of prophecy in the American character." Similarly, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted: "Marcus plumbs the depth and breadth of American exceptionalism through his unique lens of cultural criticism." The same reviewer went on to term the book a "tour de force." Reviewing The Shape of Things to Come in the Spectator, Ian Sansom called Marcus "a jivetalking one-man Cultural Studies department."
Marcus once told CA: "The critics who inspired me to start writing or who have kept me going, suggesting less how to practice criticism than what it might be worth, include Pauline Kael, D.H. Lawrence, Leslie Fiedler, Harold Rosenberg, Manny Farber, and Walter Benjamin. What they have in common, I think, is the ability to go in any direction at any time; I try to do that, perhaps too self-consciously.
"When I first began writing, I was interested in continuity: in constructing a rock ‘n’ roll tradition, and connecting it to the mainstream of American culture. In recent years I have found myself more interested in discontinuities—in the broadest sense, in cultural relationships between phenomena that, given the way we usually see the world, should not be related at all. Over the years, though, I suppose my ambition has been to reconstruct a conversation that took place between people who never met, be they blues singer Robert Johnson and Jonathan Edwards, or Johnny Rotten and the dadaist Richard Huelsenbeck. Culture to me is a field of surprise; I work in it in order to be surprised, and to communicate that sense of surprise to others, because a life infused with surprise is better than a life that is not."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Book Review, April, 1996, review of The Dustbin of History, p. 10; May, 1998, review of Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes, p. 21; May 1, 2006, "A Song like a Pistol Shot," p. 26.
Artforum International, summer, 1997, Mary Gaitskill, review of Invisible Republic; summer, 2005, Stephanie Zacharek, review of Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads.
Atlantic Monthly, October 1, 2006, review of The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, p. 126.
Booklist, May 15, 1993, Benjamin Segedin, review of Ranters and Crowd Pleasers: Punk in Pop Music, p. 1667; October 1, 1995, Jay Freeman, review of The Dustbin of History, p. 247; May 1, 1997, Gordon Flagg, review of Invisible Republic, p. 1473; November 15, 2004, Ray Olson, review of The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad, p. 542; March 15, 2005, Gordon Flagg, review of Like a Rolling Stone, p. 1255; September 1, 2006, Gordon Flagg, review of The Shape of Things to Come, p. 42.
Books and Culture, May, 1998, review of Invisible Republic, p. 16.
Books in Canada, January 1, 2007, "For Love of Culture," p. 15.
Bookwatch, May 1, 2005, review of Like a Rolling Stone.
Borderlines, winter, 1990, "Interview with Greil Marcus."
Boston Globe, April 17, 2005, Devin McKinney, "Greil's World."
Chatelaine, March 1, 1988, Jay Scott, review of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, p. 12.
Choice, March, 1996, M. Cantor, review of The Dustbin of History, p. 1206; December, 1997, review of Invisible Republic, p. 646; April 1, 2005, R.D. Cohen, review of The Rose & the Briar, p. 1410; July, 2005, R.D. Cohen, review of Like a Rolling Stone, p. 1996.
Come-All-Ye, fall, 1993, review of Mystery Train, p. 10.
Commentary, June, 1970, review of Rock and Roll Will Stand p. 92; July, 1980, review of Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island. p. 77.
Contemporary Review, August, 1997, review of The Dustbin of History, p. 107.
Current Biography, October 1, 1999, "Marcus, Greil," p. 35.
Dissent, spring, 1998, review of Invisible Republic, p. 100.
English Review, February 1, 2006, Richard Danson Brown, review of Like a Rolling Stone, p. 5.
Entertainment Weekly, May 9, 1997, Ken Tucker, review of Invisible Republic, p. 75; May 22, 1998, review of Invisible Republic, p. 63.
Georgia Review, spring, 1997, Joe Bonomo, review of The Dustbin of History.
Harper's Magazine, December 1, 1988, "History outside of History," p. 21.
History Today, October, 1995, review of The Dustbin of History, p. 53.
Hollywood Reporter, April 18, 2005, Gregory McNamee, review of Like a Rolling Stone, p. 11.
Journal of American Studies, December, 1993, review of Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession, p. 417; January 1, 1999, Robert Cochran, review of Invisible Republic, p. 106.
Journal of Popular Culture, winter, 1996, Richard Gid Powers, review of The Dustbin of History, p. 25.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1997, review of Invisible Republic, p. 358; July 1, 2000, review of Double Trouble: Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in the Land of No Alternatives, p. 940; March 1, 2005, review of Like a Rolling Stone, p. 277; June 15, 2006, review of The Shape of Things to Come, p. 621.
Library Journal, April 15, 1993, Barry X. Miller, review of Ranters and Crowd Pleasers, p. 92; November 15, 1995, Scott H. Silverman, review of The Dustbin of History, p. 90; May 1, 1997, Lloyd Jansen, review of Invisible Republic, p. 105; August, 2000, David Szatmary, review of Double Trouble, p. 107; June 15, 2001, Lloyd Jansen, review of "What'd I Say": The Atlantic Story; 50 Years of Music, p. 74; October 15, 2004, Dave Szatmary, review of The Rose & the Briar, p. 65; April 1, 2005, Henry L. Carrigan, review of Like a Rolling Stone, p. 96; August 1, 2006, Amy Lewontin, review of The Shape of Things to Come, p. 109.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 25, 1997, review of Invisible Republic, p. 3.
Mother Jones, September, 2000, Ana Marie Cox, review of Double Trouble.
Nation, August 25, 1997, Bruce Shapiro, review of Invisible Republic, p. 44.
New Statesman, March 4, 1988, Simon Reynolds, review of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, p. 29; May 30, 1997, Ben Thomson, review of Invisible Republic, p. 54; May 30, 2005, "In the Basement," p. 49.
New Statesman & Society, June 11, 1993, Laurence O'Toole, review of In the Fascist Bathroom: Writings on Punk, 1977-1992, p. 40; January 12, 1996, Phil Edwards, review of The Dustbin of History, p. 39.
New York, May 5, 1997, Luc Sante, review of Invisible Republic, p. 81.
New York Review of Books, February 3, 1977, Mark Crispin Miller, review of Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, p. 31; April 9, 1998, Geoffrey O'Brien, review of Invisible Republic, p. 45.
New York Times, June 14, 1975, John Rockwell, review of Mystery Train, p. 25; November 25, 1987, Michiko Kakutani, review of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, p. 25.
New York Times Book Review, February 10, 1980, Laurence Gonzales, review of Stranded, p. 13; November 22, 1987, Ken Tucker, review of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, p. 15; April 9, 1989, Terry Eagleton, review of Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, p. 12; November 3, 1991, Terry Teachout, review of Dead Elvis; December 20, 1992, review of Dead Elvis, p. 24; January 28, 1996, review of The Dustbin of History, p. 20; May 4, 1997, review of Invisible Republic, p. 12; October 1, 2006, "American Dreams," p. 17.
Observer, October 25, 1992, review of Dead Elvis, p. 63; June 13, 1993, review of Lipstick Traces, p. 62; August 1, 1993, review of In the Fascist Bathroom, p. 52; June 25, 1994, review of In the Fascist Bathroom, p. 21; May 25, 1997, review of Invisible Republic, p. 16; July 27, 1997, review of Invisible Republic, p. 15.
Popular Music, October 1, 1994, Jason Toynbee, review of In the Fascist Bathroom, p. 365.
Popular Music and Society, spring, 1997, review of Mystery Train, p. 121.
Prospects, January 1, 2002, "Hip Americana: The Cultural Criticism of Greil Marcus," p. 611.
Publishers Weekly, July 31, 1987, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, p. 64; November 15, 1991, "Greil Marcus: The Rock Critic and Social Analyst Picks Elvis as His Newest Subject," p. 53; March 15, 1993, review of Ranters and Crowd Pleasers, p. 77; March 7, 1994, review of Ranters and Crowd Pleasers, p. 67; September 18, 1995, review of The Dustbin of History, p. 119; March 17, 1997, review of Invisible Republic, p. 62; August 28, 2000, review of Double Trouble, p. 69; May 28, 2001, review of "What'd I Say," p. 64; October 18, 2004, review of The Rose & the Briar, p. 58; February 21, 2005, review of Like a Rolling Stone, p. 169; June 5, 2006, review of The Shape of Things to Come, p. 48.
Reference & Research Book News, February 1, 2005, review of The Rose & the Briar, p. 220; May 1, 2005, review of Like a Rolling Stone, p. 234.
Reviewer's Bookwatch, April 1, 2006, Oliver Norton, review of Like a Rolling Stone.
Rolling Stone, June 10, 1993, Matt Damsker, review of Ranters and Crowd Pleasers, p. 33; October 16, 1997, Anthony DeCurtis, review of Invisible Republic, p. 32.
Saturday Night, March, 1970, review of Rock and Roll Will Stand, p. 36.
Shift, December 1, 1998, "Everything New Is Old Again: Veteran Rock Critic Greil Marcus Has Seen Pop-culture Trends Come and Go," p. 34.
Spectator, August 5, 2006, Ian Sansom, "A Never-ending Story."
Times Literary Supplement, June 14, 1996, Phil Baker, review of The Dustbin of History, p. 12; July 18, 1997, Tim Adams, review of Invisible Republic, p. 12; January 12, 2007, "From the Lost Republic," p. 9.
Utne Reader, March, 1993, review of Mystery Train and Ranters and Crowd Pleasers, p. 111; May, 1997, review of Invisible Republic, p. 84.
Variety, April 4, 2005, Phil Gallo, review of Like a Rolling Stone, p. 70.
Village Voice, May 26, 1975, Frank Rich, review of Mystery Train, p. 41; January 21, 1980, review of Stranded, p. 47; October 5, 1993, review of Ranters and Crowd Pleasers, p. 68.
Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1996, review of The Dustbin of History, p. 57.
Washington Post Book World, November 29, 1992, review of Dead Elvis, p. 12; August 22, 1993, p. 13; December 18, 2005, Rachel Hartigan Shea, review of The Rose & the Briar, p. 11.
Wilson Quarterly, summer, 1993, review of Mystery Train, p. 30.
Boston Phoenix,http://www.bostonphoenix.com/ (February 8-15, 1996), Charles Taylor, review of The Dustbin of History.
Eyecandypromo.com,http://www.eyecandypromo.com/ (July 14, 2007), "Marcus Greil."
RockCritics.com,http://www.rockcritics.com/ (July 14, 2007), Nate Seltenreich, "An Interview with Greil Marcus."