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Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's "Basement Tapes"
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Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's "Basement Tapes"

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  1,181 ratings  ·  82 reviews
'This book is terminal, goes deeply into the subconscious and plows through that period of time like a rat. Greil Marcus has done it again' Bob Dylan
Paperback, Reprint , 286 pages
Published 1998 by Picador (first published May 1st 1997)
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I need to make a little pile of cultural artifacts which have exactly the right idea and then proceed to do it in the wrongest, crassest or most migraine-inducing sesquipedelian manner possible. Then when my pile is completed I will dance around laughing and sprinkling petrol whilst the hi fi blasts out either The Martian Hop, or Surfin' Bird or Beat on the Brat with a Baseball Bat, haven't made up my mind, and I will torch the whole lot. It will be the Great Bonfire of Missed Opportunities (pos ...more
I have to give this four stars because of the profound influence it had on me the year or so after I read it. It's a silly book, to be honest. I was surprised that even Greil Marcus would go quite so far out on such an esoteric and wobbly premise. Bob Dylan and the Band's Basement Tapes as a portal to the lost soul of America? Hmm. I myself own the exhaustive Basement Tapes collection "A Tree With Roots," and let me tell you: mostly it's drunk guys singing drunken things badly.

But it's Marcus'
I first read this book about two years ago, and this is what I wrote then:

It was certainly very informative and Marcus made an interesting case about how Dylan and the Band drew on the old, weird America of the past (Kill Devil Hills, Smithville) in the summer of 1967, when they recorded the famed Basement Tape Recordings. It is a bit surrealist, drawing on the conscious and subconscious influences in art/music, on the role of masks and personas, and the essence of time. The discography is, per
Aug 27, 2007 Jonas rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dylanologists
Shelves: musicbuffstuff
This book is pretty cool. One of Dylan's most mythical albums is the Basement Tapes. Most fans know the story: After the fabled motorcycle accident disabled the dude and turned him into a recluse he healed and reared a family somewhere in Woodstock. Sometime during this period he and The Band (who were working on their first album) bided their time in the basement of the big pink and jammed the night away. The recordings done on a simple reel to reel tape machine, were then bootlegged heavily, o ...more
Matt Shake
While the content and concepts within this book were fascinating, I really could not stomach Marcus' ridiculously obtuse writing style. I think he forgot that there's a reason he's not Bob Dylan. At times it's like he thinks he's supposed to make his prose as opaque as Dylan's rhyme. I did not read the book to become more mystified about the Basement Tapes, I read the book to become more enlightened (notice the root word "light" within that word, Mr. Marcus) about the context that the Basement T ...more
I like the way Marcus writes about rock. Part of me thinks it's BS, and yet he gets under the skin of the music, which to some extent is essential, otherwise such books tend to bore me. With Marcus, when he's in stride, he reads like poetry. It's impossible to sustain that for an entire book, but just go along for the ride, and when you hit one of those passages, you'll know. In this particular effort, you get Dylan, Americana, myth, history, and music, all converging into some sort of dream tha ...more
Rama Bauer
O' Greil Marcus! What had you wrought with this piece of overly analytical long-windedness about Dylan and The Band's BASEMENT TAPES? How could you so masterfully suck all of the life and enjoyment out of such profoundly freewheeling and spirited recordings? And what did Dock Boggs and Geeshie Wiley ever do to deserve such pretentious dribble from your pen? O' Greil Marcus, you have so much to answer for....

(Seriously, it's shit like this that gives cultural studies a bad name.)
If you want to learn more about "The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes" as the cover of the 2011 edition says, do not buy this book. However, if you want to learn more about the music that influenced Dylan and The Band at Big Pink, and in my mind, many of the songs that Dylan selected for his Theme Time Radio Hour series, this Greil Marcus book is a must read.

Yes, it does cover many of the songs Dylan and The Band recorded during the Summer of 1967, but the book really focuses on Harry Smith's
Timothy Hallinan
I read this directly after I finished Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music, thinking Marcus might do for American folk rock (especially, Dylan's Basement Tapes) what Rob Young did for British electrified folk. And he does, to a point; he explores the insular weirdness of folk songs, with their murky murders and the character names that mutate from singer to singer -- someone could (probably has) written a book about the evolution of Staggerlee -- and a lot of it is interesting and ...more
Sorry Greil Marcus, I quit you. Marcus' MYSTERY TRAIN tried my patience, but INVISIBLE REPUBLIC (here with a different title) is absurd in its hamstrung mythology. Marcus labors on a point - that the BASEMENT TAPES are an evocation of "that old, weird America," a weird but perfect marriage of The Band and Dylan, could be said in a long article. But Marcus invokes De Tocqueville, a catalog of blues legends, and Jonathan Edwards - in ONE CHAPTER. Meanwhile he recites the same stuff about Dylanogra ...more
This is what seems to be a word-for-word reissue of Marcus’s Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes, confusingly given a completely different title. In the Author’s Note, Marcus says this is the title he originally wanted to give it. I have to say, they still got it wrong. The new subtitle, The World of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes, is an improvement, but still doesn’t completely address the main fault with every title and subtitle given so far – the book isn’t really about Dylan, and only ...more
At one point Marcus is analyzing a piece of writing by Howard Hampton, summarizing "...this is not an interpretation I would ever think of...or rather it is not an interpretation at all. It's not an attempt to define or decode..., but a response to a certain provocation."

That is a sentiment I tried to bear in mind as I read in order to restrain my impatience at Marcus's frequently bombastic rhapsodies about every note played by Bob Dylan and the Band during the 65-66 tours and the summer of reco
I saw Greil Marcus come and speak to promote the release of this book. It was fascinating. He's been studying the Basement Tapes since before they were commercially released and he has a lot of ideas and suspicious connections to talk about. As some random guy in a coffee shop told me when he saw me reading this book, "I'll bet my friends and I can come up with a book full of iffy connections about any double album, but that doesn't mean we'd publish it when we sobered up."

In spite of this, it i
Marxist Monkey
This book displays all of Greil Marcus's strengths and weaknesses. It is ostensibly a book about the Band's and Bob Dylan's work creating The Basement Tapes. But it is more about the history of land-deals and inter-kinship strife and the move away from subsistence farming to industrial labor in and around the mountainous areas of southern Ohio, West Virginia, eastern Kentucky--those places that still give us coal to burn to run these machines we type on and to fill our air with soot. One of Marc ...more
Pete daPixie
'Invisible Republic' from Greil Marcus, published in 1997, seems to come from some place further back in time. Or perhaps this book documents a timeless art form baptised in the subconscious waters of oblivion. The electric ghost who howled in the bones of your face from Newport to the Royal Albert Hall, through a hail of confusion, social upheaval and times that were a changin', vanished into the backwoods of Woodstock and the basement of Big Pink.
An eminently readable journey through folk memo
Eddie Watkins
There's something to like here but I'm aborting a full read. I'll stick to the songs.

From other reviews I expected a book congested with wacky ideas (which I was looking forward to) but what I've gotten so far is a hanky of a wacky idea dropped here and there interlarded with great hunks of lard. Lord the lard! Sure he can write, but prose poems aren't his forte. But I shall plow on through, listening to the songs themselves as I plow.
Danielle Durkin
Jan 08, 2008 Danielle Durkin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Reading this for a class I'll be teaching/assisting for the author this fall at The New School. This was an enlightening course on the strange, weird parallel universe of rebels, outcasts, lovers, murders, songwriters, folksingers, marginalia, and how the streams of consciousness throughout particular American history unite this universe for those of us who can open up to it. An extraordinary teacher whose voice should be heard.
A must read for all Dylan fans.
This is not just a history of some of the most legendary recording sessions of all time but also a history of all American folk and blues and in conjunction with Dylans own chronicles gives you a real feel of where the great mans inspiration comes from.

Best read with the Basement tapes blasting out at max volume.
Opal McCarthy
the old, weird america: breathed like poetry and stringed like philosophy, i'm still winding my way between many folded pages. and dreaming up a new poetry project in the creases.

for now i will just trumpet one of the reviews printed on the back cover: 'Books this good should be burnt.'
Steve lovell
'Me thinketh he maketh too much of the man'- or more, particularly, one set of his songs - could be a simple response to this seminal book on this legend. My impression is that Marcus writes as Dylan con- volutes - often in person, sometimes in song. Deciphering what the man - Marcus, or maybe Dylan too - is on about is at times too taxing a task for a summer holiday read for someone who thought he left this kind of philosophising of obscurity way back in his long ago university days.The work th ...more
the chapter "old weird america" is really the only one worth reading in its entirety, but then if you are obsessed with the basement tapes, the band, greil marcus, and or bob dylan this book might be a hit for that obsession. this dude on goodreads says it WAY MORE BETTER than me, pasted:

Paul Bryant
Sep 28, 2007
Paul Bryant rated it 3 of 5 stars · review of another edition
Shelves: bob-dylan
I need to make a little pile of cultural artifacts which have exactly the right idea and then proceed to do i
I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would, but then it wasn’t the book I thought it was. I suppose the fact that the subtitle is The World Of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes gave me an inkling but I figured there was a lot of stuff about Harry Smith and his Anthology.

In fact, I’m still not sure what this book is about. Yes, it’s an examination of the Basement Tapes made by Dylan and what would be come The Band, but I’m not sure how the world of those tapes comes into play. I mean, I get t
Jan 03, 2011 Spiros rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those with a penchant for the backroads
Shelves: freebox
I like Bob Dylan, to a degree. I can't imagine not owning BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME, HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED, and BLONDE ON BLONDE; I like the band he has been using with Larry Campbell on guitar. I flat out love the Band. However, I do not subscribe to the notion that every time Bob Dylan clears his throat or farts it "Means Something". I have always liked to think that by 1964, when there was a substantial portion of the Intelligensia who did subscribe to that notion, Mr. Dylan started mischievou ...more
One of the world's best poet/songwriter's silent period wasn't so silent in a basement near Woodstock. Bob Dylan spent the days recuperating from a motorcycle accident with some little known musicians, passing the time playing music never intended to be heard by outside ears. Copies of tapes were leaked and although not released (until 15 years later), hits were charted with songs created in "The Basement Tapes" by artists from many different genres.

Greil Marcus takes you through the substance
The writing style is at times exceedingly onerous, particularly in the sections that discuss the music made in Big Pink. Makes me wonder if Marcus is attempting to echo the eccentric Basement Tapes style in his own prose. Without the pretty music, though, there are spots in the book that are as trying as Tarantula. The sections that focus on Harry Smith and Dock Boggs, on the other hand, are absolutely perfect -- enough to make the whole experience worthwhile.

Says Smith: "When I was younger I th
Ted Newell
Ate this one up. Not sure if it is just the old Romantic story-under-the-story trick, or if Bob Dylan really was onto myths so ancient that they are practically DNA -- at least in Appalachia. I got interested in this topic when Joni Mitchell called Bob a plagiarist. Of course an academic would be interested in stolen songs right out in public with his own name right on them. Outrageous. But the back story is: plenty of popular music is recycled recycled recycles. Bob just knows it and borrows fr ...more
It's so difficult to write about music. Marcus constantly tries to get at that feeling of haunting strangeness inherent in most American folk music—a feeling which I love—and it seems to work, at least some of the time. The rest of the time, I’d rather take his discography and listen to the songs on my own, in the dark, to actually evoke those same feelings.
Maybe it should be packaged with a mix cd?
Besides that little quibble, however, this is a great study--structured in an ingenious way--of
James Cook
You know, almost all of the Goodreads reviews I've seen of this book are negative, and sadly I think this is partly a lack of imagination on the part of its readers and partly a case-in-point for what Marcus is saying here:

There is a lost America which folks can no longer perceive or even fathom. It is Kerouac's 'warp of wood of old America."

In my opinion Greil Marcus does for America what writers like Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd do for Great Britain - plumbs ancient connections, discovers
I was hoping for more focus on the influences on Dylan. The material on Dock Boggs and the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music were excellent. The author devolves into some strange ruminations on music and culture, invoking some idealized past that never existed. Lots of unnecessary mythologizing. This would be a great companion to the newly released Basement Tapes box set.
Jason Hillenburg
I have the feeling that Marcus doesn't have much in the way of objectivity when it comes to Dylan - it is apparent that he is the transformative performer of his life and has made a tremendous impact on his thinking. Don't let the idea of possible hero-worship sway you from reading this. This is a tremendous book that correctly ties Dylan's songwriting into a much larger thread reaching back to early 20th century popular music, ancient folk music traditions, and poetry. More importantly, Marcus ...more
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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 ...more
More about Greil Marcus...
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