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

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  1,735 Ratings  ·  117 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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Seldom is it noted that springing hope can prove a real pain in the ass. I continually harbor and hope. There are always lists and plans: prerequisites for other texts clamor for attention. This vein continues however vain. I am thinking of reading all women in April, this highlighted by reading Second Sex in Serbia. There is module on slavery I was imagining for May. We shall see. Wait, I haven't really broached The Weird Old America, have I? Well that treatment is tantamount to Marcus' fleetin ...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 28, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  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 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
Aug 30, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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'
Sep 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 07, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  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
Carol Storm
Sep 07, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The old, tired, hippy-dippy doper, telling the old, tired lies in garbled language no one can understand. Is rock and roll fun to listen to? Was Bob Dylan a genius? Can a spoiled, aging Baby Boomer redeem himself for a lifetime of sloppy, lazy scholarship with one last book that will prove beyond a doubt that the real meaning of America can only be found in obscure Dylan recordings no-one has ever heard but a tiny elite of leftist academics?

Yes, yes, and no.

As Tennessee Williams once said, "you
Rama Bauer
Dec 22, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.)
May 04, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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.
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2018
Huge swaths of this book make absolutely no sense at all, but who expects Greil Marcus to make sense *all* the time? The incomprehensible bits are worth it for when the bizarreness works. His free form recitation of of Dylan Goes Electric myth is the only thing I've ever read that conveys the earth-shattering importance of the moment. I've always thought it sounded absurd, and, in retrospect, it is...but it wasn't at the time and only Greil Marcus can describe what it felt like then.

All of Amer
Melting Uncle
I read this book because I wanted a deeper appreciation of the music from the 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music. It did work on that level, especially the chapters on Dock Boggs and the Anthology itself (which is reproduced in the liner notes of the 1997 reissue.) Greil Marcus obviously knows the material back and forth and his comments are usually illuminating. The frustrating part is that GM is not content with being a music expert but also seems to strive to be a master prose stylist/virt ...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
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: criticism, dylanology
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
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
Marxist Monkey
Nov 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poptastic
'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
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
Danielle Durkin
Aug 08, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Aug 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
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.
Brian Sullivan
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A maginfiecet exploration of the subconscious underneath of the summer of love and music.
Jan 25, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Like entering a 60's hyperbaric chamber...
M. Milner
Feb 20, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music-reads
The Basement Tapes are perhaps the most over-analyzed collection in Bob Dylan's long career. People have been listening and writing about them for about 50 years now, first in bootleg recordings, then as an edited two-record set and finally, a few years ago, in a deluxe box set that included just about every scrap and nibble. They launched The Band's career, gave hits to artists like Manfred Mann and The Byrds, and even Elvis had a stab at it.

So, you'd think that Greil Marcus - who has written
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: musica
quando lo si finisce ci si rende conto di quanti hanno copiato lo stile di greil marcus, specie in italia, senza raggiungerne i vertici. qui marcus esplora minuziosamente i "basament tapes" di bob dylan (storica session effettuata con la band nel 67, poi parzialmente edita su un doppio lp quasi dieci anni dopo, ma già circolante da anni come botleg), inquadrandoli sia storicamente sia nell'ottica di una tradizione musicale antichissima, quella tramandata dalla seminale "anthology of american fol ...more
John Bleasdale
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Marcus writes the kind of prose that Bob Dylan deserves. A mix of history and myth making. There's some great suggestions for songs to go and deepen your appreciation of the music. And the careful attention to the songs themselves allows us to revisit them fruitfully.
Barbara Joan
Feb 22, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
WHY????? did I plough through to the end? The best bit was from the Guardian review by Christopher Ricks on the back cover. Not sure if he was being serious or taking the piss, but either way it made me laugh!
Michael Powell
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll admit that (yet again) a Marcus penned book largely went over my head. However, the subject matter at its core and the great discography at the end was worth wading thru
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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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