“What's the impulse behind art? It's saying in whatever language is the language of your work, "If I could move you as much as it moved me … if I can move anyone a tenth as much as that moved me, if I can spark the same sense of mystery and awe and surprise as that sparked in me, well that's why I do what I do.”—Greil Marcus on the essence of art.
Greil Marcus 2013 SVA Commencement Address
Greil Marcus on art, taste, highbrow vs low, and fascism — turn everything else off and give it twenty minutes.
Heart of StoneGREIL MARCUS
Keith Richards with James Fox
Little, Brown, October 2010. 576 pp.
The autobiography of Keith Richards—founding guitarist of the Rolling Stones, through the late 1960s and the 1970s at once a notorious and celebrated heroin addict and one of the most dynamic and least recognized songwriters of his time, today a long-married, deeply satisfied man, troubled, in his account, only by Mick Jagger’s disinclination to take the band on the road more than every half-decade or so—has received almost uniformly ecstatic reviews. At least for this reader there was something queer about the raves: the more a reviewer quoted, the less interesting the book seemed to be. Always, it seemed, blah blah blah quotes popped up in the notices. “I also felt I was doing it not to be a ‘pop star,’” as Richards says of why he took up heroin. “There was something I didn’t really like about that end of what I was doing, blah blah blah.”
“I was the first records editor at Rolling Stone, and there were no rules. There was nothing to fall back on as to how do you write about this kind of music, so people were trying absolutely everything with a great sense of freedom and experimentation and success and failure, and a feeling of, “My God, people are actually paying attention to this. Let’s pretend they aren’t because we don’t want to be intimidated by what somebody might think of what we’re saying.”—Greil Marcus
Gut begonnen #9
Ronald Reagan und Margaret Thatcher sind namentlich genannte Hauptfiguren dieses Buches; nicht so Helmut Kohl. Aber ich finde, daß ihm im Untertitel ein Platz neben seinen ehemaligen Arbeitskollegen zusteht, weil er Reagan, Thatcher, Papst Paul II. und vielen anderen mit großem Eifer zur Hand gegangen ist, als es galt, den Westen in jenes Leichentuch zu hüllen, das wegzuschreien die meisten der in diesem Buch behandelten Künstler angetreten sind.
Greil Marcus: Im faschistischen Badezimmer. Punk unter Reagan, Thatcher und Kohl - 1977 bis 1994. Rogner & Bernhard, Hamburg (1994).
Cherry BombSARA MARCUS
on Ellen Willis’s escape from the music ghetto.
Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music
University of Minnesota Press, May 2011. 272 pp.
For a universal language, music can feel downright limiting sometimes. When I was 26 and reviewing records for Time Out New York (the weekly magazine’s pop section was then in its golden age) and The Advocate (the gay one) and a few smaller rags besides, my then boyfriend, a noise guitarist, bought me a copy of the writings of Lester Bangs. “You can’t be a rock critic without reading this,” he decreed.
I had never meant to become a rock critic — my bandmate and I moved to Philadelphia after college, and when I presented myself to the alt-weekly there as an aspiring political journalist, the editor-in-chief zeroed in on the two record reviews in my file of clips and shunted me over to the music section. In the four years since that development, I had read Greil Marcus’s (no relation) marvelous postpunk reviews, collected as In the Fascist Bathroom, and not much other music journalism at all. It seemed to me that most contemporary rock magazines were propagating an artless scorecard-genealogy version of criticism, treating music in isolation from other art, culture, and political realities. And I had certainly never read Bangs, whose irascible, rambling rock-crit from the 1970s many considered to be classic examples of the genre. I gave him a solid try, but every page I opened to just turned me off. This was the canon? If all those dudes at Rolling Stone and Spin were taking their cues from a nihilistic, homophobic, apolitical speed freak, it was no wonder the whole game left me cold.
Shortly afterward, I visited the apartment of a friend of a friend, an older critic of some renown, to take a bunch of old jazz cassettes off his hands. He asked me what I wrote. Mostly record reviews now, I told him, but I planned to expand my purview, write more about politics, teenagers, women…
The critic gave a small snort. “Good luck getting out of the music ghetto,” he said.
His tone spooked me. I took my plastic spork and started digging an escape tunnel right then. That tunnel led to the writing of my first book, Girls to the Front, a history of Riot Grrrl, a feminist movement of young women. It always gets shelved in the music section.
Promised Land (Single)Chuck Berry
“Promised Land” by Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry wrote “Promised Land” in a prison cell, and I’m sure he must have remembered how apprehensive he’d felt when he was touring across a nation that was hostile to a black man singing Rock & Roll to white kids. Greil Marcus passes along an interesting theory:
See, what that song is really about is the civil rights movement, the Freedom Riders, the way he plans the Po’ Boy’s bus route to avoid Rock Hill, that’s in South Carolina, a Klan town, then the bus breaks down in Birmingham, where the Klan blew up a church and killed four little girls, that was in 1963, ‘turned into a struggle,’ see?
To a racist DJ deciding whether or not to play this single when it came out in 1964, “Promised Land” must have sounded like an uncomplicated road song, but if you knew what the score was in those days you knew this song was a lot more than that. That’s what early Rock & Roll was all about. You can try and censor artists all you want, but they’ll subvert you at every turn.
Moving Through Space: Marcus & Debord
Oct. 28, 2011
Greil Marcus: Legends of Freedom
Guy Debord: Society of the Spectacle
I try to facebook minimally, and I believe I can give myself credit for saying that I rarely do use facebook, and only really do because school somewhat requires me to, but I kept connecting everything in the presentation on Marcus and Debord to facebook. Maybe because facebook is used in every possible example in theory class so it’s just automatic now.
Let’s begin with Debord’s theory of Dérive. The idea is that every urban space has a psychogeography, and by engaging in derive, or drift, one can escape the mundanity of everyday routine by following the route of least resistance, which is drawn out by the city’s psychogeography. Through derive, people are able to live in their own utopia and escape the effects of spectacle.
Here is the first example where facebook offers itself as a contradictory space. I use facebook as an example, but this applies to internet surfing in general. People who “surf” the internet engage in a form of derive. It does not occur in physical space, but derive is a mental state, so theoretically it can occur online, as long as it is occurring in the mind. Although the internet is surely part of the “spectacle,” while “surfing,” people glaze over pages; scan past images and text without really seeing them. They escape the spectacle in this way. They also escape the spectacle of “real life.” We can agree that the internet is a method of escape for many. Furthermore, while scanning through pages, something catches our eye: a link. We click on it, without purpose, and sometimes not fully conscious of where we are going. We browse from page to page in a dream-like state, until we awake and wonder whose picture we are looking at, or how we ended up reading about “Günther von Etzel” (I don’t know who that is either). Is this spectacle or derive?
Furthermore, we engage more intimately with people online than we do in “real life.” We message people that we would otherwise never see or talk to. It is true that real relationships are much more overwhelming and a burden to maintain than the derive-like facebook relationship. If you disagree, consider this: someone might have 1000 “facebook friends.” Even if they talk to 1/10th or 1/20th of them, that is still 50-100 somewhat-active relationships. Imagine maintaining 100 active relationships in real life. There is a huge gap in effort. Do real relationships become part of the “spectacle” that we are trying to escape from?
If we follow the way of derive in relationships, and use detournement as a defense, it is likely that “the way of least resistance” would be to have as many meaningless relationships as one would like, and as few meaningful relationships as possible. This might be the closest to a struggle-free “utopia” as we can get.
Wake UpEssential Logic
Essential Logic - Wake Up
When a review of Essential Logic’s Beat Rhythm News compared to it to Frank Zappa, Lora Logic got hold of a Zappa lp, but failed to see the connection. When another notice insisted on an unmistakable Captain Beefheart influence, she picked up a copy of Trout Mask Replica, and found a kindred spirit. When a third writer, desperate for a handle on a singer who phrases scattershot lyrics off the madly jerked riffs of her saxophone, declared Essential Logic the harbinger of a beatnik revival (“beat rhythm news,” you see), Lora Logic dutifully bought herself a Jack Kerouac novel, which she was unable to finish.
-Greil Marcus, “It’s Fab, It’s Passionate, It’s Wild, It’s Intelligent!”, Rolling Stone, July 24, 1980