Thursday, October 29, 2009

Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus made his reputation as the thinking man's Rock critic. For more than 30 years he has cast a highly intuitive ear toward music, while looking to literature as a backdrop for what he was hearing on the radio. His body of work includes the seminal "Mystery Train", a careful consideration of Elvis Presley as a 1950's avatar of Herman Melville, "Invisible Republic," a thorough dissection of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes as seen through the manic visions of Harry Smith, and "Lipstick traces," a cultural unearthing of the Dadaist inspirations behind the Sex Pistols.

For Marcus, rock music isn't just an American subculture, it is American culture itself. The music in our earbuds is part-and-parcel of our cultural DNA. He recently published his most ambitious work yet, a thousand-page compendium of American literature which he co-edited with Harvard literature professor Werner Sollors. "A New Literary History of America" reads like a monument to the insight that sparked Mr. Marcus's reading of rock and roll. The book comprises hundreds of essays on American life by scholars, poets, philosophers, artists and engineers on topics arranged in chronological order from the 16th century to the present. The themes are arranged like a series of riffs, exploring the themes that the editors lay down in their introduction: "This is the story of a made-up nation... with a literature that was not inherited but invented." It's a astounding compilation which serves as a final proof that there simply are no boundaries between literature, history and popular culture.

Marcus reads tonight at 7:00 at the Downtown Seattle Public Library. The reading is free.

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