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The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  1,402 ratings  ·  96 reviews
A Special Edition with a New Introduction and an Updated Discography

This is Greil Marcus's acclaimed book on the secret music made by Bob Dylan and the Band in 1967, which introduced a phrase that has become part of the culture: "the old, weird America." It is this country that the book maps—the "playground of God, Satan, tricksters, Puritans, confidence men, illuminati, b
Paperback, 320 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by Picador (first published May 1st 1997)
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Paul Bryant
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

After a divided season of amplified dandy pop and
Rimbaudian symbolist jangle Dylan and co. exile themselves to Big Pink, ragged Boo Radleys in Charley Patton masks, to wait out the end of the world. The basement feels like a rollicking Ferris wheel rolling through a field, while the music casts phantasmagoric campfire pantomimes on the walls.
There are surreal sawdust wonders beside the furnace and distilled moonshine lantern fireflies. Meanwhile Hank Williams Sr. and Mississippi John Hurt coll
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.)
Tony Newton
It's true. I can predict the future. I read this book last summer (just browsing the ol' bookshelf) and whaddaya know? Came the winter and suddenly it's Dylan time. (To some people at least.)

The long lost basement tapes were finally released! In their entirety (138 songs, some with different versions. hmm.) There was a Showtime documentary! There was hoopla!

What did I read? Well, in typical Greil Marcus form, lots of loooonnnng, overly-analytical, tortuous dissections of songs. What did Emperor
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
Bill O'driscoll
Obviously required reading for fans of Dylan or The Band, Marcus' book (previously titled "Invisible Republic") delves into their 1967 collaboration when Dylan was secluded in upstate New York, and they spent days and weeks playing through ramshackle but often gorgeous versions of some brilliant new Dylan songs as well as folk songs and other standards to which he introduced his former backing band (who'd go on to incorporate this knowledge in their own groundbreaking, still-to-come first albums ...more
This book is as much about the folklore of American folk music as it is about the Basement Tapes. It is certainly not for the literal minded, and banjoist Dock Boggs and Harry Smith of the Anthology of American Folk Music are as important in the telling as Bob Dylan and the Band.

Here's a sample of author Greil Marcus' writing, in which he is describing the song, "I'm Not There."

"Sometimes the music reaches such a pitch of intensity the slightest turn of a word or a note can seem to tell the song
Marcus, who used to review rock records, now seems to be mostly writing books. He specializes in connecting whatever performer he is interested in to various historical trends and cultural figures. It can be witty and deft at times, but for the most part the tone and the endeavor is serious. I enjoyed his book on Johnny Rotten (real name John Lydon) and the Sex Pistols in which he connected them to John of Lyden, a Dutch religious fanatic who led a movement of crazies several centuries ago. Here ...more
Dan Downing
(This has been published under a couple of titles, in hardback and paper. Search by author, if you happen to be interested.)

The title here is a bit misleading: Marcus is not giving a blow by blow account of the goings on that produced the 'basement tapes', nor is he delivering the world's longest liner note. Although he does do all of that to a degree.
Rather, what we have is an almost surreal examination---one does wonder at times about the intense quality of mind altering substances used during
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.'
Matt Good
The thesis is that the Basement Tapes of Bob Dylan the group to soon be called The Band tapped into, both consciously and subconsciously, an idiosyncratic "otherness" that has characterized America and American music since the country's inception. As such, it didn't work for me. I doubt Marcus intended that thesis to be examined for causal links between the Tapes and bizarre aspects of Americana, but I couldn't help but look - and fail - to find them. Is there a correlation? Certainly. Am I thin ...more
There are perhaps two theories on Dylan’s now legendary (and recently released in their entirety) Basement Tapes. One is that following his tumultuous 1965-66 records and tours, his subsequent amphetamine addiction and motorcycle crash, he went off to recuperate and write some music, with the goal to pen some songs that could be recorded by other artists. The other is that Dylan, along with the Band, went into the basement and tapped into the mysterious, indefinable core of American music, wheth ...more
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
East Bay J
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
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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
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