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

BONFIRE OF ROADMAPS by JOE ELY (2008)

BONFIRE OF ROADMAPS by JOE ELY (2008)

Joe Ely who grew up in Lubbock, West Texas (Buddy Holly's hometown) is something of a legend in Americana/alt.country rock: he was on the road in the early 70s hitching around to play gigs far... > Read more

ANTONY BEEVOR INTERVIEWED (2003): The Anatomy of War; Berlin 1945, Baghdad 2003

ANTONY BEEVOR INTERVIEWED (2003): The Anatomy of War; Berlin 1945, Baghdad 2003

In the final weeks of the siege, battle-weary troops defending the capital were forced back through the inner suburbs by tanks and artillery. They fought out of fear of capture, and some from... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

LOVE AND MERCY, a bio-pic by BILL POHLAD

LOVE AND MERCY, a bio-pic by BILL POHLAD

Murray Cammick – whose knowledge about and passion for soul music are not to be questioned – had an interesting criticism of Get On Up, the biographical film of James Brown's life.... > Read more

Augustus Pablo: This is Augustus Pablo (Southbound)

Augustus Pablo: This is Augustus Pablo (Southbound)

In the mid-Seventies the hypnotic sound of Augustus Pablo pulled 95bFM listeners close to their radio, because host Duncan Campbell used a Pablo piece (the leisurely Up Wareika Hill) as the... > Read more