Sunday, November 8, 2015

"Real Life Rock" by Greil Marcus (Yale University Press)

ISBN: 978-0-300-19664-1 Yale University Press
"Real Life Rock" is Greil Marcus' long-term column of top-ten items per month.   Written for various publications and websites.  What is impressive is not his taste or opinion, but his ability to wander through pop culture and pick up the pieces that interest him the most.  I don't always agree with his opinions, but I do admire the thought and writing skill that he uses to support his vision of culture on the run.  

 For instance, he took the title "Real Life" from Magazine's first album.   He loved the title of the album, but not the album itself.  I, on the other hand feel that it is one of the great musical moments of the 1970s.  And on top of that, he admires my father's (Wallace Berman) artwork, but thought the writing/essays were dull in the book "Support the Revolution" about my dad, which is silly, because I wrote an essay for that... Hey!   Nevertheless, he is a superb writer, and I like how he thinks about music and how it relates to the bigger picture.   The book is a collection of his columns from 1986 to 2014.  "Real Life Rock"  does not constitute a snapshot of the late 20th century, but more how Marcus sees the world around him, and his critical writing is very personal, as well as his taste, which is very consistent throughout the years.  One sees Bob Dylan, The Doors, Joy Division, Gang of Four, The Mekons, Guy Debord, David Lynch, Robert Johnson, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Eleanor Friedberger, Bryan Ferry, over and over again, but no David Bowie!  No Sparks!  In fact, there are a lot of music and musicians that he doesn't mention in any shape or form. 

  Which is OK, because this is Greil Marcus' world and we're allowed to go in, but we shouldn't bring in additional (critical or musical) guests.   It's interesting to read his columns in one volume, instead of reading "Real Life" on a monthly basis.   I would have often looked at Artforum Magazine on the newsstand, and the first thing I would look at is his column.   I never get pissed off with his viewpoint, but I'm fascinated in how he uses music as a springboard into the other arts.  The majority here is music, but there is theater, politics, film, and even TV commercials that he comments on.  "Real Life Rock" is a good way to go into Marcus' brain to see how it works, and what comes up in his world.  If you are a long-time reader of his column, there is usually nothing surprising, but on the other hand you do get his sense of aesthetic, and that is what I try to find in a critic.  Not if he or she likes a work, but how they "see" that art.    "Mystery Train" was my introduction, and "Lipstick Traces" made me a card-carrying fan, but I don't follow him blindly into the alley, but still, the adventure to go with him is quite good. 

- Tosh Berman
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