Disclosure / Disclaimer: I received this book, free of charge, from Yale University Press, for review purposes on this blog. No other compensation, monetary or in kind, has been received or implied for this post. Nor was I told how to post about it
Unlike all previous versions of rock ’n’ roll history, this book omits almost every iconic performer and ignores the storied events and turning points that everyone knows. Instead, in a daring stroke, Greil Marcus selects ten songs recorded between 1956 and 2008, then proceeds to dramatize how each embodies rock ’n’ roll as a thing in itself, in the story it tells, inhabits, and acts out—a new language, something new under the sun.
“Transmission” by Joy Division. “All I Could Do Was Cry” by Etta James and then Beyoncé. “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” first by the Teddy Bears and almost half a century later by Amy Winehouse. In Marcus’s hands these and other songs tell the story of the music, which is, at bottom, the story of the desire for freedom in all its unruly and liberating glory. Slipping the constraints of chronology, Marcus braids together past and present, holding up to the light the ways that these striking songs fall through time and circumstance, gaining momentum and meaning, astonishing us by upending our presumptions and prejudices. This book, by a founder of contemporary rock criticism—and its most gifted and incisive practitioner—is destined to become an enduring classic.
Check out the trailer and Marcus' thoughts on the book:
I actually took Broadcast Media in college and thought that was my career path (silly me!), and I was a walking font of trivia about the history of Rock 'n' Roll. Thanks to parents that wanted to make sure I experienced the great songs of the 50s and 60s, along with current music (including those by family friends in the industry), I grew up with a very varied knowledge of rock music. Add to that a foray into British punk and rock during high school, and I had a pretty well rounded repertoire of rock music, by the time I entered college. So I was interested to see how Marcus would make the entire history of rock in 10 songs!
This is not a book for casual reading at 300 pages. Marcus goes into depth with each of the 10 songs and explores socio and cultural history along with info on the recording artist. He adds in what makes the song special, and how that uniqueness can be found in most of the songs we listen to. So, what you get is a full mini-documentary, featuring each song. that all add up to a pretty complete history of rock as we know it. While you might not agree with the 10 songs he picked, once you read the chapters, you can see the reasoning behind his picks and understand them. Marcus is very much a tangent writer in this book, and it can be hard for some readers to stay with him. Which is why the book can be hard to get into. But if you take it one chapter at a time, listen to the song BEFORE you start reading about it, it helps to make his tangents make more sense.
This is an interesting historical book and if you have someone who loves the history of rock 'n' roll, they'll love this book!
About the Author:
Greil Marcus is the author of Mystery Train (1975), Lipstick Traces (1989), The Shape of Things to Come(2006), When that Rough God Goes Riding and Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus (both 2010), and other books. With Werner Sollors he is the editor of A New Literary History of America (2009). In recent years he has taught at Berkeley, Princeton, Minnesota, NYU, and the New School in New York. He lives in Oakland, California.