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Best Music Writing has faithfully collected the year's most compelling writing on music for a decade now, so it's appropriate this special edition be guest-edited by one of the best-known writers on music and popular culture, Greil Marcus, author of Lipstick Traces, Mystery Train, Like a Rolling Stone, and other groundbreaking excursions into the very fabric of music, America, and beyond. As always, Series Editor Daphne Carr has culled an impressively wide range of essays, profiles, news articles, interviews, creative non-fiction, fiction, book reviews, long-format reviews, blog posts, and journal articles on music and music culture, from rock and hip-hop to R&B and jazz to pop, blues, and more. Writers who have been published in Best Music Writing include Alex Ross, Jonathan Lethem, Ann Powers, Dave Eggers, Susan Orlean, and more.
The book begins in Berkeley in 1968, and ends with a piece on Dylan's show at the University of Minnesota-his very first appearance at his alma mater-on election night 2008. In between are moments of euphoric discovery: From Marcus's liner notes for the 1967 Basement Tapes (pop music's most famous bootlegged archives) to his exploration of Dylan's reimagining of the American experience in the 1997Time Out of Mind. And rejection; Marcus'sRolling Stonepiece on Dylan's albumSelf Portrait-often called the most famous record review ever written-began with "What is this shit?" and led to his departure from the magazine for five years. Marcus follows not only recordings but performances, books, movies, and all manner of highways and byways in which Bob Dylan has made himself felt in our culture. Together the dozens of pieces collected here comprise a portrait of how, throughout his career, Bob Dylan has drawn upon and reinvented the landscape of traditional American song, its myths and choruses, heroes and villains. They are the result of a more than forty-year engagement between an unparalleled singer and a uniquely acute listener.
A fan from the moment the Doors' first album arrived, Greil Marcus saw the band many times at the legendary Filmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom in 1967. Five years later it was all over. Forty years after the singer Jim Morrison was found dead in Paris and the group disbanded, Greil Marcus muses on how one could drive from here to there, changing fom one FM pop station to another, and be all but guaranteed to hear two, three, four Doors songs in an hour. Whatever the demands in the music, they remained unsatisfied, in the largest sense unfinished, and absolutely alive. There have been many books on the Doors. This is the first to bypass their myth, their mystique, and the death cult both of Jim Morrison and the era he was made to personify, and focus solely on the music. It is a story untold; all these years later it is a new story.
Greil Marcus saw Bob Dylan for the first time in a New Jersey field in 1963. He didn't know the name of the scruffy singer who had a bit part in a Joan Baez concert, but he knew his performance was unique. So began a dedicated and enduring relationship between America's finest critic of popular music- "simply peerless," in Nick Hornby's words, "not only as a rock writer but as a cultural historian"- and Bob Dylan. In Like A Rolling Stone Marcus locates Dylan's six-minute masterwork in its richest, fullest context, capturing the heady atmosphere of the recording studio in 1965 as musicians and technicians clustered around the mercurial genius from Minnesota, the young Bob Dylan at the height of his powers. But Marcus shows how, far from being a song only of 1965, "Like a Rolling Stone" is rooted in faraway American places and times, drawing on timeless cultural impulses that make the song as challenging, disruptive, and restless today as it ever was, capable of reinvention by artists as disparate as the comedian Richard Belzer and the Italian hip-hop duo Articolo 31. "Like a Rolling Stone" never loses its essential quality, which is directly to challenge the listener: it remains a call to arms and a demand for a better world. Forty years later it is still revolutionary as will and idea, as an attack and an embrace. How Does it Feel? In this unique, burningly intense book, Marcus tells you, and much more besides.
Gilbert Seldes, the author of The Stammering Century, writes: This book is not a record of the major events in American history during the nineteenth century. It is concerned with minor movements, with the cults and manias of that period. Its personages are fanatics, and radicals, and mountebanks. Its intention is to connect these secondary movements and figures with the primary forces of the century, and to supply a back- ground in American history for the Prohibitionists and the Pentecostalists; the diet-faddists and the dealers in mail-order Personality; the play censors and the Fundamentalists; the free-lovers and eugenists; the cranks and possibly the saints. Sects, cults, manias, movements, fads, religious excitements, and the relation of each of these to the others and to the orderly progress of America are the subject.The subject is of course as timely at the beginning of the twenty-first century as when the book first appeared in 1928. Seldes's fascinated and often sympathetic accounts of dreamers, rogues, frauds, sectarians, madmen, and geniuses from Jonathan Edwards to the messianic murderer Matthias have established The Stammering Century not only as a lasting contribution to American history but as a classic in its own right.
"Van Morrison," says Greil Marcus, "remains a singer who can be compared to no other in the history of modern popular music. " When Astral Weeks was released in 1968, it was largely ignored. When it was rereleased as a live album in 2009 it reached the top of the Billboard charts, a first for any Van Morrison recording. The wild swings in the music, mirroring the swings in Morrison's success and in people's appreciation (or lack of it) of his music, make Van Morrison one of the most perplexing and mysterious figures in popular modern music, and a perfect subject for the wise and insightful scrutiny of Greil Marcus, one of America's most dedicated cultural critics. This book is Marcus's quest to understand Van Morrison's particular genius through the extraordinary and unclassifiable moments in his long career, beginning in 1965 and continuing in full force to this day. In these dislocations Marcus finds the singer on his own artistic quest precisely to reach some extreme musical threshold, the moments that are not enclosed by the will or the intention of the performer but which somehow emerge at the limits of the musician and his song.
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