on 6 June 2011
This is Greil Marcus's "Invisible Republic" being published under a different title, so check out the reviews for that one too.
As you will see opinions are pretty divided! Some clearly loathe the book, but I am completely on the other side of the argument. As with the other two Greil Marcus books I have read this is stimulating, at times exhilarating cultural criticism. It ranges incredibly widely: from boldly claiming the most distant, obscure connections to confidently uncovering the most shadowy, implied readings-in-between-the-lines. Not an easy read then, but a rewarding one if you stick with it.
Once you have worked out where they are, you will find notes and/ or analysis on every single one of the Basement Tapes recordings, but some of these are pretty perfunctory. You just have to put up with the fact that there are longer sections on fightin' and feudin' in old-time West Virginia - and on the traumatic Dylan-goes-electric tours that preceded the Tapes - than there are on most of the actual Basement Tapes tracks themselves.
Marcus sees the Basement Tapes as containing a precious vision of an alternative America, where freedom is something personal, more earthy and dangerous than what the Folk Revival had in mind, yet also more socially inclusive and constitutionally - based than what emerged from the hippies and New Left radicals post-1967. Intriguing, attractive (to me at any rate) - but sketchy!
Clearly Dylan and the Band (still the Hawks on these recordings) were not fully conscious of all the insights and meanings Marcus identifies when they were actually playing the tunes! Especially as there was a lot of fooling around going on. But as the cover blurb quote from Dylan himself shows, he is ok with that - the book "goes deeply into the subconscious and plows through that period of time like a rake. Greil Marcus has done it again." I liked it too Mr D.