INVISIBLE REPUBLIC; BOB DYLAN'S BASEMENT TAPES by GREIL MARCUS:

 |   |  1 min read

INVISIBLE REPUBLIC; BOB DYLAN'S BASEMENT TAPES by GREIL MARCUS:

When Bob Dylan skidded off his motorcycle in upstate New York in mid-1966, it allowed him an extraordinary career hiatus.

Before his accident - which some Dylan bores still insist never happened - he’d been a Woody Guthrie wannabe, a folk troubadour and protest singer. Then, by plugging in an electric guitar and touring with a group which would later become the Band, he turned his back on folk to explore, and some would say invent, a literate, albeit wordy form of American rock’n’roll.

As the braying of the alienated folk crowd grew to a din (“Judas!”) and the rock world headed off into psychedelic drugs and “Look at the colours, man”, Dylan withdrew from the public eye.

In that time - the stuff of rock legend - he holed up in the basement of a house in Woodstock and there, with the nascent Band, recorded dozens of songs, some of which eventually appeared as The Basement Tapes double album in 1975, an extraordinary collection of oddly mythic songs full of lyrical jigsaw puzzles.

From this pivotal point in popular culture, rock academic Greil Marcus - better known for his much acclaimed but little read Mystery Train (about Elvis) and Lipstick Traces (a tedious, sententious book purportedly about punk) - takes a journey through imaginary Americas and sociological masks.

Invisible Republic is typical Marcus; it is finely crafted and literate, is a deep trawl through various myths and histories of America, and early on parts company with Dylan’s basement tapes.

Within the songs - and Marcus has the drop on us here, he is using a five-CD bootleg collection of the music recorded - he finds fascinating antecedents in the recently reissued 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music compiled by Harry Smith.

For Dylanologists, this is where Marcus is at his best. But context is all and here too is a journey through Puritanism and Shaker culture, unique forms of American dissent and philistinism, and folk and literary traditions.

It can be fascinating, but it can equally be tediously tangential and you sometimes suspect Marcus, academic that he is, could write something with as much digressive emotional resonance if he was using a Steve Forbert album as his catalyst.

A friend once asked rhetorically, “Has anyone ever finished a Marcus book?” ‘

Well, yes.

But for a 250-page paperback, this one took a while.


Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Writing articles index

CRAIG UNGER INTERVIEWED 2004 : Inside the house of Bush and the house of Saud

CRAIG UNGER INTERVIEWED 2004 : Inside the house of Bush and the house of Saud

American author Craig Unger doesn't sound the lefty conspiracy-theory nutcase his opponents paint him. Back in New York after a European speaking tour supporting his House of Bush, House of... > Read more

ROTTEN: NO IRISH, NO BLACKS, NO DOGS by JOHN LYDON: Reviewed 1994

ROTTEN: NO IRISH, NO BLACKS, NO DOGS by JOHN LYDON: Reviewed 1994

“With the Sex Pistols we were hated, absolutely despised. There was no audience there at all to any great extent. We sold a few records in a small banana republic called Britain.”... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . THE DISCO SUCKS MOVEMENT: Divide and . . . conk out

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . THE DISCO SUCKS MOVEMENT: Divide and . . . conk out

It’s both easy and hard to explain the rise of the Disco Sucks movement at the end of the Seventies. In some parts of the world the zenith of disco coincided with the emergence of punk,... > Read more

Elsewhere Art . . . for Miles Davis in an Indo-jazz tribute

Elsewhere Art . . . for Miles Davis in an Indo-jazz tribute

By chance, some years ago I came across a three-record box set from 2007 ("audiophile collector's edition" no less) entitled Miles From India: A Celebration of the Music of Miles Davis.... > Read more