Music

High Stakes Criticism: An Interview with Greil Marcus

Photo (partial) by ©Thierry Arditti, Paris

Greil Marcus on Van Morrison, the yarragh, the blues, the memoir, race, authenticity, imagination, his career and what constitutes 'high stakes' criticism.

“Music—any art—is there to give us more freedom, not take it away.”

-- Greil Marcus

In his latest book, When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison, Greil Marcus reflects on one of his favorite artists in a style quite different from recent work like The Shape of Things to Come and classics like Mystery Train and Lipstick Traces. During our conversation, Marcus said that the book came about after he’d been interviewed for an NPR Weekend Edition segment on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks tour.

“I was working on proposals for two other book projects,” he recalled, “but my wife heard the show and she particularly liked one thing that I said. ‘That’s what you should be writing a book about,’ she said, and she was right.”

Published by PublicAffairs this April, When That Rough God Goes Riding explores moments of contradiction, sublime beauty, audacity, failure and grace in the singer-songwriter’s career with a keen ear, weaving the rich thoughtfulness we’ve come to expect from one of America’s best cultural critics and historians into an elegantly structured series of staccato essays which reveal Marcus’ fascination with Van Morrison’s music.

“This is somebody I’ve been listening to since 1965,” Marcus said. “There’s never been a Van Morrison album that I haven’t immediately listened to, whether with delight or crushing disappointment. He’s been a constant in my life; it just so happens we’re both born in the same year. It’s very lucky when you have an artist—whether it’s a novelist or a filmmaker or a singer—whose career you can follow from the beginning and feel that you are in some way part of it, or part of the same world that it comes out of.”

It’s been a busy time for Marcus. Recent publications include a reprint of Lipstick Traces and a fascinating anthology co-edited with Werner Sollors, A New Literary History of America. This fall, PublicAffairs will release Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus, Writings 1968-2010, which Marcus describes as “a collection of nearly everything I've written on Dylan outside of Invisible Republic/The Old Weird America and Like a Rolling Stone. It’s long. I don't know how long; I’m still working on it.”

Our conversation was split over two sessions, the first from his home in Berkeley, California and the second from Cleveland, Ohio where he was a keynote speaker at a conference on narrative. Nonetheless he was gracious enough to talk for nearly two hours about a wide range of topics: Van Morrison, the yarragh, the blues, the memoir, race, authenticity, imagination, his career and what constitutes “high stakes” criticism.

Next Page
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.

Music

Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.

Film

Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Music

The Charlatans' 'Between 10th and 11th' Gets a Deluxe Edition

Not even a "deluxe" version of Between 10th and 11th from the Charlatans can quite set the record straight about the maligned-but-brilliant 1992 sophomore album.

Reviews

'High Cotton' Is Culturally Astute and Progressive

Kristie Robin Johnson's collection of essays in High Cotton dismantle linear thinking with shrewdness and empathy.

Reviews

Lianne La Havas Is Reborn After a Long Layoff

British soul artist Lianne La Havas rediscovers herself on her self-titled new album. It's a mesmerizing mix of spirituality and sensuality.

Reviews

PC Nackt Deconstructs the Classics with 'Plunderphonia'

PC Nackt kicks off a unique series of recordings dedicated to creating new music by "plundering" unexpected historical sources such as classical piano pieces or chamber orchestra music.

Music

Counterbalance 24: The Doors - 'The Doors'

Before you slip into unconsciousness, Counterbalance has put together a few thoughts on the Doors' 1967 debut album. It's number 24 on the Big List.

Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.

Television

'Tiger King' and the Post-Truth Culture War

Tiger King -- released during and dominating the streaming-in-lockdown era -- exemplifies in real-time the feedback loop between entertainment and ideology.

Music

GOD's 'God IV - Revelation' Is a Towering Feat of Theologically-Tinged Prog Metal (album stream)

GOD's God IV - Revelation is beautiful and brutal in equal measure. It's a masterful series of compositions. Hear it in full today before tomorrow's release.

Books

Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.