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Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads Paperback – April 4, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (April 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158648382X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586483821
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 0.8 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #234,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In Invisible Republic (1997), Marcus delved into the legendary series of "underground" recordings by Bob Dylan and the Band known as the Basement Tapes. Here he narrows focus to a single song of Dylan's, "Like a Rolling Stone," recorded four decades ago but every bit as potent and compelling today. Nearly everything about it was groundbreaking, from its six-minute length to its solidification of Dylan's controversial move from folk to rock, and nothing Dylan recorded before or since has had its musical impact. Marcus provides a detailed account of the recording session, of course, but goes far beyond the standard behind-the-music approach, placing the song in the context not just of Dylan's work but of American music overall, from the folk and blues that informed it to the music that followed it, by Dylan as well as others, including such obscure and bizarre covers of "Rolling Stone" as an Italian hip-hop treatment. Marcus' vast understanding of American culture and intimate knowledge of Dylan's career make this an eye-opening read, and if his sometimes hyperbolic approach will strike some as overselling the song's significance, how many other pop recordings could withstand such intense--and loving--scrutiny? Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

All I kept thinking is this book ISN'T about Bob Dylan but about Greil Marcus' appreciation of Bob Dylan.
I happen to believe that Bob Dylan is the most important American artistic voice of the last half century at least.
James Carragher
In this instance, while not utterly dismissive, I'm in agreement with most of the negativity posted here.
Rodney J. Moss

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 99 people found the following review helpful By Autonomeus on April 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
A whole book about one song? If there's a song that deserves it, it's Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," but this is Greil Marcus, and there's a lot of history, social context and cultural detritus here beyond the song, no surprise. The first section of the book is on the social context into which the song was launched, the middle section is about the making of the song itself, and the last section is about its reception and effects.

I found some of Marcus's cultural commentary compelling and some not so compelling -- the highlights for me are the less disputable "facts" about the great song itself, recorded on June 15, 1965 and released on July 24, 1965. It stormed the pop charts, unprecedented for a 6-minute song, and reached #2 in the USA. What was #1, you ask? It was the Beatles' "Help!" Al Kooper's story of how he ended up playing organ is quite amusing, and Dylan's recruitment and use of Michael Bloomfield in the session is fascinating. Also superb is Marcus's account of the ensuing tour of the new electric Dylan, with the booing in the U.S. and the large-scale disruption of the U.K. concerts, some of it quite purposefully organized by the old British Communist Party, as it turns out, which controlled a network of stodgy folk clubs. "Like a Rolling Stone" was the last song every night on that tour, a perfect howl of anger for Dylan to wreak vengeance on his recalcitrant fans. (See my 9/5/04 review of the LIVE 1966 disc, the official release of the famous "Royal Albert Hall" bootleg of the Manchester concert.)

Once you realize the scope of Marcus's musings, it becomes clear that this book could have been much longer.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By ewomack TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Here lies a biography of a single song. Of course, not just any song, but the "how does it feeeeeel?" song that refuses to disappear since its release as a two-sided 45 in 1965. Has any other or, maybe a better question would be, can any other song receive the in-depth, subterranean, data mined, ultra-nuanced treatment that Greil Marcus gives to Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone"?

That the song remains legendary no one probably doubts. That it stands as one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded may also not meet with much dissidence. But over two-hundred pages on a single song? The idea alone entices a read.

So what happens in this book? And why should anyone read it? First off, this book likely won't appeal to those who don't see a connection between popular music, popular culture, how it potentially affects our lives as consumers/listeners, and how a song can take on a life of its own (which explains the "biography" moniker - this book really tries to capture the life the song took on all by itself). Some of the claims this book makes seem a little far out. Did "Like A Rolling Stone" contain seeds for a "strange revolution"? Does the song have, for lack of a better term, a metaphysical category all of its own (as some of the descriptions and rhapsodies in this book suggest) that seems unreachable and ineffable? Those who like to put on music, dance to it, and not think about it will probably close this book quickly. In other words, it's a heady book for those who want to dig into the mystique of popular music and theorize about what makes it tick. Marcus descends to levels of granularity that don't seem possible when chatting about popular music.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By David A. Bede on September 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I have read (elsewhere) that at the height of his reign as King of Greenwich Village in 1963-64, Bob Dylan literally couldn't order lunch without fans looking for a deeper meaning in his words. "Gimme a ham and cheese on pumpernickel, hold the mayo, please." "What does he MEAN by that?" After reading this book, I have to wonder if Greil Marcus was among those who were so obsessed.

Which is not to say I didn't like the book. Marcus' evocation of what transpired in Columbia's Studio A on June 16, 1965 is quite possibly the best account I've ever read of any recording session. He really makes a gallant effort not only to describe the atmosphere at the creation of "Like A Rolling Stone" down to its minor details, but to demonstrate how many seemingly irrelevant circumstances played as much of a part in the song's greatness as the words and chords did. I would have liked to hear more about how Al Kooper (whom Marcus interviewed extensively for the book) created his fabled organ riff out of scratch, reportedly without having ever played the instrument before; but of course that subject has been covered extensively elsewhere.

Marcus' analysis of the music as well as the words is also impressive, although sometimes he necessarily resorts to "it's just brilliant because it is." In discussing the gunshot-like drumbeat that opens the song, he acknowledges that numerous other songs have used the same effect (notably The Beatles' "Any Time at All," which preceded "Like A Rolling Stone" by almost a year, and Dylan's own "From a Buick 6"), but concludes, "I am sticking to my guns. There is nothing like it." I agree, and I must admit I couldn't explain why any better than Marcus does.

The problem is, none of this occurs until about 80 pages into the book.
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