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 #2 (of four) of the complete transcript. (Part one can be found here.) 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: YOUR ESSAY "WHO PUT THE BOMP" interested me because it's totally sixties in its emphasis on now, but you were writing it just before this big change in pop music, what could be called "rock's historical turn." One minute songs are about dancing or drugs or street fighting, then all of a sudden you've got Fairport Convention electrifying songs from centuries ago like "Tam Lin" and the Band doing songs about the Civil War.
GREIL MARCUS: The Band was so surprising. So shocking. Music from Big Pink, before anybody had seen them play, or knew who they were... I had seen them as the Hawks, but they didn't sound anything like the Hawks on the Band's debut album. There was this tremendous sense that they were opening a door to your own country and your own history. And it was a door that you had labored so hard to erect and nail shut. To have that door open was more like entering into a dream than it was like waking up from one. That historical tinge, that sense of the past, was there. But I think the Band's music sounded absolutely present. It sounded like a new way to ...read more