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Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes Paperback – February 6, 1998

3.0 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

While focusing on a select group of musicians performing privately in a brief window of time, noted music and culture writer Greil Marcus cuts to the core of the American musical legacy to study it as a slightly blurred snapshot, full of shadow and mystery. Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes centers around the now legendary recordings made by Bob Dylan and The Band in 1967, and how this music signaled a change in American music by capturing the essence of the moment within the context of a rich folk tradition. During these casual sessions they recorded more than 100 songs, some originals, but most borrowed from barely remembered folk, blues, and country musicians.

This music they derived from had been part of the American fabric in an anonymous way that can only be explained as folklore and myth, and they breathed new life into it while adhering to its legacy. Though never intended for release, these recordings molded into the tradition of music as oral history, and appropriately, a few tapes were passed hand to hand, then some were pressed as bootleg records, which then spread like rumors. This folk revival conjured up a collection of timeless stories that many had heard in a slightly different form without ever knowing who started them. Just as Dylan did with the Basement Tapes, Marcus's exhilarating book extends beyond music and into the psyche of America, making the present more clear by putting the past into focus. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Marcus here expands on his liner notes to the 1975 Basement Tapes album, the first official release of the legendary recordings by Bob Dylan and the Band in 1967. One of rock's most respected writers, Marcus (Ranters and Crowd Pleasers: Punk in Pop Music, 1977-92, LJ 4/15/93) draws on a dizzying breadth of references that link Dylan's music with such disparate sources as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Jefferson, and Moby Dick. Strongest are the parallels drawn between the basement tapes and the Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music compilation album, which was the catalyst for the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. Unfortunately, Marcus often seems overly impressed by his own prose at the risk of obscuring his point: "The performance turned the wheel of its lassitude" sounds good, but what does it mean? Extremely useful is the annotated discography of all known recordings (more than 100) from the basement tapes sessions. Expect demands from fans of both the author and artist.?Lloyd Jansen, Stockton-San Joaquin Cty. P.L., Cal.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (February 6, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 033033624X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330336246
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 0.7 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,826,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Greil Marcus's book isn't so much about Bob Dylan's album "The Basement Tapes" as it is "inspired by" the Basement Tapes. One reviewer here describes it as "fan fiction". I see the point, and to a degree agree with it, but I think there is a bit more meat to the book than that description encompasses.

The strange thing is that I didn't even think that much of Bob Dylan's "The Basement Tapes". I always thought of it as some jams by a great band with some half-finished lyrics slurred and snarled and mush-mouthed bluffed over it. The album made me wish Dylan could have stayed on amphetamines a little longer. His central nervous system and heart probably enjoyed the break, but the Basement Tapes ain't no Blonde on Blonde. With that said, I still love this book, maddening though it is.

Like in his earlier book, "Lipstick Traces", Marcus is interested in making cultural/historical connections. Showing how music from the recent past ties into much older traditions. Some of these connections are brilliant, some are completely mad (but he gets points for audaciousness nonethless) and some I remain dubious about.

What the Basement Tapes have to do with the West Virginia coal war of the 1920's I still don't have a clue, but what I learned of the coal war in this book made me interested enough to order a book Marcus recommended.
Even if the connections aren't really there this book does stimulate your curiosity.

And I can see where the divisiveness comes into it. It's the old argument that "folk music is about social protest" versus the "folk music is about flowers growing from the skulls of murdered lovers in their graves".
Woody Guthrie versus Harry Smith.
Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Music is a hard thing to write about. You can go clipped and dry in your appoach, with dates and names and other history, which can be pretty dull. Or you can, if you live and believe it like Greil Marcus obviously does, do the stream-of-consciousness thing. Despite its unevenness I think I prefer the Marcus approach. This book is not going to appeal to everyone. The actual Basement Tapes of the title really don't take up but a small portion of the book. Instead, Marcus uses the Tapes like a touchstone for everything authentic - and vanishing, in American culture. "Old Weird America," Marcus calls it. Indeed. Dylan is of course important, since he's the last musical genius (according to Marcus) to understand this. When Marcus does discuss a song on the Basement Tapes, he often, to my mind, overstates his case with pretty wild hyperbole that has me thinking whatever he's smoking, it must be good. But I'm willing to go with that. The payoff comes when he discusses, for example, Dock Boggs (an important figure for Dylan) and the often violent Southwest Virginia music and gun scene in the 1920s. Knowing something about the area, this was indeed a treat, and a high point for me in the book. Also good, is the discussion of folk music compiler Henry Smith, whose efforts would later prove to be so important to Dylan and the folk movement. Smith is an important figure, with a personal history that is both compelling and weird. Another standout is Marcus's discussion of the Bobbie Gentry classic, "Ode to Billie Joe" and its counterpart or answer on the Basement Tapes, "Clothesline Saga." "Clothesline"is a strange, and funny song, but it shares, as Marcus points out, similar Americana turf with Gentry's Ode: deadpan, even lethal, and as traditional as Twain, Poe, Hawthorne, or Melville. The kind of understandings you can't download from today's music world.
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Format: Hardcover
Perhaps I began this book with too high a set of expectations; like, for example, it would actually focus on Bob Dylan's (and The Band's) Basement Tapes. The set piece that opens the book--a brilliant recapturing of the infamous 1966 Albert Hall concert--plays to Marcus' strength as an evoker of places and atmospheres, and includes some incredible quotes from the protagonists. And even though this chapter is too brief to be thorough, it's the best thing in the book, because in setting up the context for The Basement Tapes, it delivers something close to the advertised product.
But it's all down hill from there, because Dylan, The Band, the tapes all dissappear into the shadows. They end up becoming just another facet, rather than the focus of the book. There's a lengthy chapter on Harry Smith's "Anthology of American Folk Music" and Marcus' woefully insubstantial literary analysis of a handful of "Tapes" songs that tell us more about the workings(?) of Marcus' mind than of the music. After all, how much can lyrics like "Ooh baby/ooh wee/it's that million dollar bash" really be explicated? The answer found in this book is: far too much.
If this had indeed been a book about Dylan, about the months he and The Band spent in Woodstock NY, about the process of making music--specificaly the music the book claims it will be about (and The Basement Tapes, as eventually distributed by Columbia are important enough to enough people to merit such consideration)--about the atmosphere and events surrounding the music, this would have been a much more enlightening read. I wanted to see Marcus do for the making of the tapes what he does so well for the Albert Hall concert--make me feel like I'm there. But Marcus' context overwhelms his alleged focus to the point that the title and the jacket are essentially false advertisements. Dylan fans: caveat emptor.
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