Image: Thierry Arditti, Paris
Earlier this year I visited Greil Marcus, widely considered the greatest living rock writer, at his home on the border between Berkeley and Oakland to profile him for the British newspaper The Guardian. Over the course of an afternoon, we covered the length and breadth of his 45-year career, from his formative experiences and influences to his days as an editor at the newly founded Rolling Stone, through all his major books (Mystery Train, Lipstick Traces, Invisible Republic, The Shape of Things To Come), via his editing of the much-loved desert-island-disc anthology Stranded, to his recent monographs on Van Morrison and The Doors, and much more besides. Marcus was fighting a nasty cold that day: sniffing thickly, propping himself up with a pointed index finger that dimpled into his cheek, he sagged sometimes but never flagged during the three hour conversation. Only a fraction of the interview made into the final article, so here is installment #1 (of four) of the complete transcript. Apart from some minimal tidying up (nearly always to my questions and comments; Marcus "talks like a book," as folk in England used to say about eloquent persons) and one small liberty taken with sequencing to preserve chronological flow, this is exactly how the conversation went down.
– Simon Reynolds
SIMON REYNOLDS: LET'S START WITH YOUR NAME — Greil. It's an unusual name. One that you hardly ever come across.
GREIL MARCUS: Well, there are quite a few Greils in the South. I was named after my father, who was killed in the war before I was born. So obviously I was going to be named after him whether I was a boy or a girl. It is a non-gender-specific name.
Greil is a Southern name, and a German name. My grandmother was from Montgomery, Alabama, and it was a Southern tradition to name your second son after your maiden name, which was Greil. My great-grandfather was a big merchant in Montgomery. It was a joke that there were three Jewish families in Montgomery: the Weils, the Greils, and the Schlemiels. But there's actually quite a big Jewish community there. It's the only place I've ever been where everybody knew how to pronounce my name and how to spell it.
SR: So the father that's referenced in The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years — the one that you keep driving to visit in the nursing home, and on the drive you always hear Doors songs on the radio, which inspires you to write the book — that's your adoptive father, then?
GM: My father was killed in the war — in December 1944. I was born in June 1945. My mo...read more