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Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus
Festival SOS 4.8 in Murcia, 2014.
Born (1945-06-19) June 19, 1945
San Francisco, California
Nationality American
Citizenship American
Occupation Author, rock critic, journalist
Known for Rock critic for Rolling Stone, Creem, and The Village Voice
Spouse(s) Jenny Marcus (1966–)[1]

Greil Marcus (born June 19, 1945) is an American author, music journalist and cultural critic. He is notable for producing scholarly and literary essays that place rock music in a much broader framework of culture and politics than is customary in pop music journalism.


  • Biography 1
  • Bibliography 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Greil Marcus was born Greil Gerstley in San Francisco, the only son of Greil Gerstley and Eleanor Gerstley, née Hyman.[2] His father died in the Philippine typhoon that sank the USS Hull, on which he was second-in-command, when his mother was three months pregnant.[3] Admiral William Halsey had ordered the Third Fleet to sail into Typhoon Cobra "to see what they were made of",[4] and, despite the crew's urging, Gerstley refused to disobey the order because there had never been a mutiny in the history of the US Navy, an incident that inspired the novel The Caine Mutiny.[3] In 1948 Marcus's mother remarried, and Greil was adopted, taking his adopted father Gerald Marcus's surname.[3] He has several half-siblings.[5] He earned an undergraduate degree in American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, where he also did graduate work in political science.[6] He has been a rock critic and columnist for Rolling Stone (where he was the first reviews editor, at $30 a week) and other publications, including Creem, The Village Voice, and Artforum. From 1983 to 1989, Marcus was on the board of directors for the National Book Critics Circle.[6] Since 1966 he has been married to Jenny Marcus, with whom he has children.[1]

His 1975 book, Mystery Train, was notable for placing rock and roll within the context of American cultural archetypes, from Moby-Dick to The Great Gatsby to Stagger Lee. Marcus's "recognition of the unities in the American imagination that already exist" inspired countless rock scribes.[7] On August 30, 2011, TIME magazine published a list of what they consider the 100 best non-fiction books since 1923, when the magazine was first published and included "Mystery Train" on the list, one of only five dealing with culture, and the only one dealing on the subject of American music. Writing for The New York Times Dwight Garner said, "'Mystery Train' is among the few works of criticism that can move me to something close to tears. It reverberated in my young mind like the E major chord that ends the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”[8]

His next book, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century (1989), stretched his trademark riffing across a century of Western civilization. Positing punk rock as a transhistorical cultural phenomenon, Marcus examined philosophical connections between entities as diverse as medieval heretics, Dada, the Situationists, and the Sex Pistols.

In 1991, Marcus published Dead Elvis, a collection of writings about Elvis Presley, and in 1993 published Ranters and Crowd Pleasers (reissued as In the Fascist Bathroom: Punk in Pop Music), an examination of post-punk political pop. In 1997, using old Bob Dylan bootlegs as a starting point, Marcus dissected the American subconscious with Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes.

He currently writes the "Elephant Dancing" column for Interview, "Real Life Rock Top Ten"[9] for The Believer, and occasionally teaches graduate courses in American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.[6] He also teaches a lecture class at The New School called "The Old Weird America: Music as Democratic Speech – from the Commonplace Song to Bob Dylan".[10] During the fall of 2008, Marcus held the Winton Chair in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota, where he taught and lectured on the history of American pop culture.[11]

His next book, When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison, was published in March 2010.[12] It focuses on "Marcus's quest to understand Van Morrison's particular genius through the extraordinary and unclassifiable moments in his long career".[13][14] The title is derived from Morrison's 1997 song "Rough God Goes Riding".

His most recent books are Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968–2010 (Public Affairs, 2010) and The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years (Public Affairs, 2011). A collection of his interviews edited by Joe Bonomo was published by University Press of Mississippi in 2012.

The Los Angeles Review of Books in 2012 published a 20,000-word interview with Marcus about his life.[15]


  • Greil, Marcus, ed. (1969). Rock and roll will stand. Boston: Beacon Press. 
  • Double Feature: Movies & Politics (1972), co-authored with Michael Goodwin
  • Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music (1975, fifth revision March 25, 2008)
  • Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island (1979, editor and contributor)
  • Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century (1989)
  • Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession (1991)
  • In the Fascist Bathroom: Punk in Pop Music, 1977–1992 (1993, originally published as Ranters & Crowd Pleasers)
  • The Dustbin of History (1995)
  • Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (1997; also published as The Old, Weird America: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes, 2001)
  • Double Trouble: Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in a Land of No Alternatives (2001)
  • The Manchurian Candidate: BFI Film Classics, 68 (2002)
  • The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad (2004, co-edited with Sean Wilentz)
  • Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads (2005)
  • The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy in the American Voice (2006)
  • A New Literary History of America (2009), co-edited with Werner Sollors
  • Best Music Writing 2009, 10th anniversary edition (2009), guest editor with Daphne Carr (series editor)
  • When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison (2010)[16]
  • Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968–2010 (2011)
  • The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (2011)
  • The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years (2011)
  • Conversations With Greil Marcus (2012), edited by Joe Bonomo
  • The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs (2014)
  • Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations (2015)
  • Real Life Rock: The Complete Top Ten Columns, 1986-2014 (2015)


  1. ^ a b Beckett, Andy (May 23, 1993). "A Surfer on the Zeitgeist: This isn't exactly life on the edge: Greil Marcus is married, nearly 50, and lives in a nice big house in northern California. But he is still making something new out of writing about rock". The Independent (London). 
  2. ^ Greil Marcus (1 October 2012). Conversations with Greil Marcus. University Press of Mississippi. pp. xvii.  
  3. ^ a b c Conversations with Greil Marcus. 1 October 2012. pp. xi. 
  4. ^ "Marcus, Tied to History". The Threepenny Review. 1941-12-07. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  5. ^ "Myths and Depths: Greil Marcus talks to Simon Reynolds (Part 1)". The Los Angeles Review of Books. 1945-06-19. Retrieved 2014-08-11. 
  6. ^ a b c "Una's Lectures – Greil Marcus". Townsend Center for the Humanities, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved December 3, 2009. 
  7. ^ "The 50 greatest music books ever". London: The Observer. June 18, 2006. Retrieved December 3, 2009. 
  8. ^ Garner, Dwight Just a Book? No, More Like a Trusty Companion New York Times. September 4, 2015
  9. ^ "Contributors: Greil Marcus".  
  10. ^ "Riggio Forum: Samuel R. Delany". The New School University. Retrieved December 3, 2009. 
  11. ^ "Blackface: Then and Now – A talk by Greil Marcus". Retrieved November 20, 2012. 
  12. ^ "Greil Marcus/When That Rough God Goes Riding". The Booksmith. Retrieved March 26, 2010. 
  13. ^ Thompson, Brent (April 28, 2010). "Marcus on Morrison". Birmingham Weekly. Retrieved April 29, 2010. 
  14. ^ "Public Affairs Books: When That Rough God Goes Riding". Retrieved December 3, 2009. 
  15. ^ "Simon Reynolds Interviews Greil Marcus", Los Angeles Review of Books, April 27, 2012.
  16. ^ "When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison: Greil Marcus: Books". Retrieved 2014-08-11. 

External links

  • Video interview with Greil Marcus on "The Shape of Things to Come" on YouTube on The Alcove with Mark Molaro
  • "Obsessive Memories," essay on memory and his father, Greil Gerstley, who died in World War II.
  • Exchange with Greil Marcus at
  • "The Shape of Things to Come" at fora.TV
  • Author Interview: Greil Marcus by Dave Welch @
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