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

The Old, Weird America by Greil Marcus
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Jan 01, 12

Read in December, 2011

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 recording what became the basement tapes. The strength of his response is in part a reflection of the 60s generation's continued sense that they lived through and created something unprecedented and since unparalleled.

Also I can't help feeling that the current availability of all this music in digital form demystifies things a bit - anyone who cares to can acquire the 14 CDs or so of the 1966 World Tour and the complete 5-CD Basement tapes without any samizdat subterfuge, hand-offs at train stations etc. As such, that "shocking, bloody" chord Robbie Robertson plays at the Manchester show or wherever, sometimes turns out just to be a G major.

The best parts of it, to my mind, are the more conventionally rock-crit historical - the "Old Weird America" chapter (with which the book was re-titled after its first release), an excellent overview of Harry Smith, his "Anthology of American Folk Music" and the milieu in which it came out, is indispensable, and the chapter on Dock Boggs is also informative and compelling.

Note to historians: I actually read the 1997 Picador edition titled "Invisible Republic".
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