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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 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. Marcus comes down on the Harry Smith side and perhaps disparges the Guthrie side more than is warranted. After all there is a bit of both in Dylan himself. From Masters of War to Hurricane to Jokerman. From Boots of Spanish Leather to Mr. Tambourine Man to Desolation Row.
If you're looking for a straightforward biography of Dylan or a historical record of the Basement Tapes sessions, this isn't it. This is as much about union wars of the 1920's and songs about men murdering their pregnant girlfriends and old coal-mining, bootlegging banjo players who sang a few songs back in the 1920's that still get played today and how they might all be connected (or maybe not). Its the kind of book that makes you want to read even more books, or listen to even more music with this book as a starting point.