Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads


Greil Marcus saw Bob Dylan for the first time in a New Jersey field in 1963. He didn't know the name of the scruffy singer who had a bit part in a Joan Baez concert, but he knew his performance was unique. So began a dedicated and enduring relationship between America's finest critic of popular music? "simply peerless," in Nick Hornby's words, "not only as a rock writer but as a cultural historian"? and Bob Dylan. In Like A Rolling Stone Marcus locates Dylan's six-minute masterwork in its richest, fullest ...

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Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads

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Greil Marcus saw Bob Dylan for the first time in a New Jersey field in 1963. He didn't know the name of the scruffy singer who had a bit part in a Joan Baez concert, but he knew his performance was unique. So began a dedicated and enduring relationship between America's finest critic of popular music— "simply peerless," in Nick Hornby's words, "not only as a rock writer but as a cultural historian"— and Bob Dylan. In Like A Rolling Stone Marcus locates Dylan's six-minute masterwork in its richest, fullest context, capturing the heady atmosphere of the recording studio in 1965 as musicians and technicians clustered around the mercurial genius from Minnesota, the young Bob Dylan at the height of his powers.

But Marcus shows how, far from being a song only of 1965, "Like a Rolling Stone" is rooted in faraway American places and times, drawing on timeless cultural impulses that make the song as challenging, disruptive, and restless today as it ever was, capable of reinvention by artists as disparate as the comedian Richard Belzer and the Italian hip-hop duo Articolo 31. "Like a Rolling Stone" never loses its essential quality, which is directly to challenge the listener: it remains a call to arms and a demand for a better world. Forty years later it is still revolutionary as will and idea, as an attack and an embrace. How Does it Feel? In this unique, burningly intense book, Marcus tells you, and much more besides.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
"No less than Dylan's song, Marcus' book is a performance."
April 10, 2005
Orlando Sentinel
"Marcus approaches his topic with enthusiasm and enough breezy style to make it fan-friendly."
April 24, 2005
San Francisco Chronicle
'Like a Rolling Stone' is Marcus at his companionable best,"
April 22, 2005
The New York Sun
"Worth the time of any reader fascinated... by popular culture."
April 12, 2005
Boston Globe
"Marcus has contributed something of his own blood."
April 17, 2005
Washington Post Book World
"Marcus displays a gift for couching the musical culture in its political era."
April 6, 2005
Associated Press
"Marcus is able to tell the familiar story in such a lively and light way that even the old sounds new again."
April 6, 2005
The Age July 31 2005
"The fun is in keeping up with Marcus' runaway trains...The song stands alone. So does the book."
Gambit Weekly July 19
" impressionistic history, with less concern for the chronological... events... than critical consideration of the elements of the song..."
Contra Costa Times 7/10/05
"[Marcus'] ability to... describe the combined meaning and effect of a song is what makes his book worth reading..."
Time Out New York 8/4/05
"Greil Marcus's unique command of both literary and musical references makes him unquestionably the best of Dylan's legion of critics."
Alan Light
[Marcus'] description of the pure sonics of ''Like a Rolling Stone'' — a sound so complete and perfectly realized that it ''never plays the same way twice'' — forces you to approach a 40-year-old song with new ears.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Marcus's engaging exegesis on the musical and cultural ramifications of Dylan's 1965 six-and-half-minute hit is not just a study of a popular song and a historic era, but an examination of the heroic status of the American visionary artist. Recorded when American popular music was "like a running election," Dylan's "music of transformations" induced a conflicted, confused America to look at its social disasters of racism, drug abuse and Vietnam, Marcus says, while simultaneously permitting it to strip away its illusions and hope for a better future. Ostensibly about a rich young socialite's fall from grace, the song's lyrics are open to many interpretations, which may have helped make it such a phenomenon. Marcus displays a comprehensive knowledge of American popular and political history, tracing the song's roots back to Robert Johnson and Hank Williams and spotting its influence on such disparate artists as Frank Zappa, the Village People and various contestants on American Idol. Part scholarly discourse and part beatnik rambling, the book is chockfull of lively metaphors and includes 20 pages of studio outtake banter. Marcus successfully convinces readers that (in the words of hit songwriter Gerry Goffin), "Dylan managed to do something that not one of us was able to do: put poetry in rock n' roll and just stand up there like a mensch and sing it." Agent, Wendy Weil. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Veteran rock critic and cultural historian takes on Dylan's rock 'n' roll legacy. Marcus last held forth on Bob Dylan in his 1997 work, Invisible Republic (later retitled The Old, Weird America), which put Dylan's 1967 "Basement Tapes" recordings with The Band under the microscope. Here, he tackles Dylan's explosion into rock consciousness and mass culture with the release of the six-minute single "Like a Rolling Stone" in the summer of 1965. It's a cornerstone record in the Dylan canon: it was his highest-charting hit, reaching number two (kept from the top slot by, who else, the Beatles), and providing a staggering demonstration of his imagination and artistic ambition. Marcus calls the song "an event" and relates it to the cultural, social and political ferment of the time. He has always had a rare talent for making exciting and unexpected connections, and he does so here, pulling such diverse artists as R&B singer Clyde McPhatter, reggae stars the Wailers and the punk band the Replacements, among many others, into the mix. (Some digressions, like one about England's Pet Shop Boys, are less convincing.) His retelling of Dylan's move from folk musician to electric prophet is compelling. During the singer's stormy world tour of 1966, Marcus says, "Like a Rolling Stone" was thrown into the faces of outraged audiences like a curse, and indeed the present book's strongest suit is its recounting the thrill of that moment when Dylan's vision and sense of risk came together in one (and only one) perfect take of a song that summed up his time. Unfortunately, as in Invisible Republic, the volume is also weighed down by Marcus's overcooked and contorted attempts to get inside the music. When hegrapples with Highway 61 Revisited, the album that featured "Like a Rolling Stone," things grind to a numbing halt. On the history and reverberations of the music, however, Marcus is near the top of the game. How does it feel? Pretty good, most of the time.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586483821
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 4/28/2006
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 836,375
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus is the author of Mystery Train, Lipstick Traces, Dead Elvis, In the Fascist Bathroom, The Dustbin of History, The Old, Weird America and Double Trouble. He has written for numerous publications, among them the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Threepenny Review, Artforum, Esquire, the Los Angeles Times, Salon, and Granta. In 2000 and 2002 he taught at Berkeley and Princeton, and he currently lectures in the U.S. and Europe. He lives in Berkeley, California.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1
Part 1
The Day Kennedy Was Shot 13
Top 40 Nation 35
The Man in the Phone Booth 47
Part 2
San Jose Idol 69
Once Upon a Time 87
In the Air 93
Part 3
On the Air 135
Three Stages 153
Democracy in America 165
Swinging London 177
One More Time 185
Epilogue 203
Works Cited 227
Acknowledgments 265
Index 269
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