Greil Marcus’ latest book is The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs, a non-chronologically-ordered eccentric book, focusing on 10 songs that Marcus has chosen for his own reasons (reasons which he went into in the QA below). Part of the fun of the book is removing the demands of chronology, prioritizing emotion and association. How do songs speak to the singers that sing them? Marcus also highlights a lot of pairings, a song covered by two separate artists, and how those different versions inform and reflect and disagree with one another.
This past week, my pal Charles Taylor hosted a QA with Greil Marcus at the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute as part of their “Close Readings” series, narrowing the focus on one or two passages from the book, those dealing with Cyndi Lauper and The Beatles. But of course in order to discuss those artists you also need to discuss The Clash and Buddy Holly and a host of others, everyone crowding onto the stage at the same time, which, I suppose, is one of Marcus’ ultimate points.
The event was held at the Journalism Institute, with a small stage, two chairs, and a bunch of folding chairs for the audience. The audience members were primarily students at the school, faculty, and a couple of interlopers like myself. Charles Taylor is an incredible writer himself (film, books, music), and Mr. Marcus, naturally, needs no introduction. He’s a great and entertaining story-teller and it was fun because I know all of these songs, but he made me want to listen to them again immediately. I listened to Bo Diddley all the way home. It was a special evening, gracefully run by Charlie, and I was really happy to be there. I’ve been reading Greil Marcus’ stuff since I was 15, 14 years old. He’s wonderful in person. The best part is is that it’s not so much about getting such lists right, because that would be an impossibility anyway. Marcus writes from his own taste, experience, and his own “close readings” of the songs he loves. There are things to discuss, and I think there may be more satire/humor in The Beatles’ version of “Money” than he seems to feel is there, but again, it was a great and thought-provoking discussion. Music. Let it live and breathe.
Here are some snippets from Charles’ QA with Greil Marcus, as well as some audience questions. I tracked down as many clips as I could.