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Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes Paperback – May 15, 1998
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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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The connections are tenuous in places. For example, he refers to Constance Rourke's still widely read study "American Humor" and the concept she introduces of the mask, a protective, deadpan device worn by performers, salespeople, and con artists throughout American history - but this does not seem to really fit Dylan and his crew. There are other references to novels and the like which I had a similar reaction to. But things do click when he digs into the past of American folk music, and links the Basement Tapes to Harry Smith's famous Anthology of American Folk Music. There are many weird old songs and oddball performers there that Smith rescued from obscurity, and who plainly had an influence on Dylan. Marcus is good at digging up this strain of eccentric artistry (which he calls the Old Weird America) and presenting it to the reader. He discusses Frank Hutchison, who lived through the West Virginia Mine War of 1920-21 (something I did not hear about in my high school history classes, but should have) and gives us a long section on the life of Dock Boggs, a rough-edged Tennessean who may have been a big influence on Dylan. In other places, he rambles about Smithville and Kill Devil Hills, fictional places that represent the cultural space he is interested in.
Marcus also gives us some idea of how and under what circumstances the Basement Tapes were made, and he spends time (too much of it) sharing his bombastic impressions of the songs (some of which are only available on bootleg releases). However, he tells us virtually nothing of the history of the recording's release, whether or not it was successful, and how the record company did (or didn't) deal with it. It might have been interesting to hear some more about how Dylan and the Band felt about the project. For big fans of the record (and I am one, I love its raw, eccentric, moody power), this book will probably be a useful adjunct, and for those who are interested in some of the other things Marcus explores here, it would probably be an interesting read. Dylan himself seemed to enjoy it, and like Johnny Rotten before him on "Lipstick Traces", provided a complimentary quote to grace the cover.