December 22, 2016

REVERB (profanity alert):

A Conversation With Greil Marcus: 'Mystery Train' Keeps Rolling at 40 : "These artists just keep reverberating," says Marcus of figures that populate landmark 1975 work (Rob Sheffield, October 19, 2015, Rolling Stone)

Ever since Greil Marcus published Mystery Train in 1975, it's been hailed as the greatest book ever written about rock & roll. The world was a different place 40 years ago -- Elvis Presley was alive; Robert Johnson was just another forgotten dead bluesman; there were barely any rock tomes for competition. But Mystery Train is still the best and funniest book ever written about America or its music. Marcus takes a few key artists -- Presley, Johnson, Sly Stone, Randy Newman, the Band -- as a map to the country, making the whole story sound like a crazed adventure anyone can join by reading.

The idea, as Marcus wrote in 1975: "To deal with rock & roll not as youth culture, or counterculture, but simply as American culture." The book takes in history, politics, philosophy, literature, cars, movies, sex, death, dread, connecting folk heroes from Superfly to Abe Lincoln to Little Richard to Moby Dick. Mystery Train is like reading Queequeg's tattoos -- the whole country's secrets seem to be in here somewhere.

Generation of fans have gotten their minds blown by it, as I did at a tender age -- it was like a "mystery train to your brain," as Sonic Youth sang. Over the years, one of the strangest things is how much music it's inspired, from Nick Cave to Wilco to Bruce Springsteen -- the Clash echoed it all over their classic London Calling. And since the saga never ends -- Elvis, Robert Johnson and crew keep showing up all over our culture -- the book keeps growing, as Marcus updates the ever-expanding "Notes and Discographies" section to catch up with the story so far. (The 2015 anniversary edition is definitive, though hardcore fans also prize the 1997 and 1982 versions). [...]

There's always more to all these stories.

There's always more. Robert Johnson -- his presence in the culture gets bigger and bigger, as he becomes more of a focus of fascination. Not just because Barack Obama is there in the White House singing "Sweet Home Chicago" -- and that's a big part of it; it's wonderful -- but there's also things like the brewery that made Hellhound on My Ale.

Then there was this thing on Alabama Public Radio where some folklorists tracked down the daughter of Robert Johnson's legendary guitar teacher in Mississippi. He was always referred to in the literature as "Ike Zinnerman" or "Zinnman," all these different names. But they're interviewing his daughter, and she knows what the family name is. It's "Zimmerman." I think if Bob Dylan knew that, he would have connected himself to Robert Johnson's teacher -- "that's my third cousin on my father's side" or something.
Ike Zimmerman was a preacher in Compton, California. He was considered the devil because he had an ability to teach people to play guitar. But she stressed that mainly the people he taught were women. All those kinds of stories, they make it fun to keep up. These artists just keep reverberating. Whenever I finish a new edition, I start a new file.

Posted by at December 22, 2016 5:10 AM

  

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