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Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music: Fifth Edition Paperback – March 25, 2008

3.3 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

More than 20 years after its initial publication, Mystery Train remains one of the smartest, most provocative books ever written about rock-and-roll. Marcus puts his subjects--which include Robert Johnson, Elvis Presley, The Band, Randy Newman, and Sly Stone--into their proper context, which is the culture-at-large. He makes you understand why these musicians matter, and what they've contributed to the American imagination. In his introduction, Marcus confesses that he's no longer "capable of mulling over Elvis without thinking about Herman Melville"--to the benefit, I might add, of both parties. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Praise for Mystery Train:

"Mystery Train changed a lot of things for me. Most basically, it plugged me into a lifetime’s worth of listening. Because of it, I erased 'English lit' as my college major and inked in 'American lit.' It remains the book I can’t help measuring critical writing against...I plan to give a copy of Mr. Marcus’s book to each of my children when they leave for college. It speaks intimately to a part of the cultural heritage that, in my haphazard way, I’ve tried to give them."–Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"Gets as close to the heart and soul of America and American music as the best of rock 'n' roll." –Bruce Springsteen
“Perhaps the finest book ever written about pop music.” –Alan Light, The New York Times Book Review, 2005
“Greil Marcus developed an ability to discern an art movement, or an entire country, lurking inside a song.” –The New Yorker, 2004
“Probably the most astute critic of American popular culture since Edmund Wilson.” –D.D. Guttenplan, London Review of Books, 2007
“The 1975 appearance of Greil Marcus’ first book, Mystery Train, was an explosion as unexpected and indelible as the first records Elvis Presley had cut almost exactly twenty years before.” –Mark Rozzo, Los Angeles Times’ Book Review, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; 5 edition (March 25, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452289181
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452289185
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #766,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Founding rolling stone writer Greil Marcus is what you'd describe, were you English and of a certain age, as an "Anorak". He's an obsessive, passionate, academic lover of rock 'n' roll in all its many forms. Here he sketches out a book structured in a loose fashion like the bible, in that it has an "old testament" surveying two of rock's 'ancestors' and a "new testament" on five of their 'inheritors'. It's a book about rock 'n' roll. In short, Marcus waxes long and with great hyperbole on things which most grown ups in this day and age find rather trifling.
Well, I don't, and I think this is a fantastic book. It's subjects are eclectic as can be: Robert Johnson is a reasonable enough choice for "ancestor of the rock 'n' roll tradition" but it would be a brave man who would pick one-man band "Harmonica Frank" Floyd, from Toccopola Mississippi, as the other. But Marcus does, and creates a fascinating case for his inclusion.
The threads he picks up of rock iconography are incredible - the myth of Stagger Lee, blended into the history of Sly Stone was something I'd never heard of, but it prompted me to head off in that direction and see what I could find. Likewise the short chapter on Robert Johnson.
In a lot of ways, that's the beauty of this book: For all its obsession-shot prose, it functions as a bunch of references; directions which the reader can follow up at leisure, and Marcus's effervescent writing style functions like a firm push between the shoulder blades. The bibliography is almost as long as the text, and it's well worth the read.
There are some who find Marcus' style too garish, and there is a view that he is too much of a boffin - an anorak, if you will - for his own good.
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Format: Paperback
I am a 20yr old English American Studies student, a verified "america-phile" (this is how i've been described by americans in my year abroad at an american university, shocked as they are by my fascination w/ american culture)...this is one of the things that started it all for me. I first became interested in american culture through the music of the country and this book convinced me that american music could be seen "not as youth culture, or counterculture, but simply as American culture." (for me the book's key line, its thesis, the simplist and yet greatest explanation for the worth of studying popular music as you would literature or even film)...yes, i admit, the book is often complex and obscure, imprenatrable (most of it rests on Marcus's own assumptions and overriding optimism for the promise of the American dream), assuming a great deal of knowledge of american history and culture (as i learn more about this country, i find it extraordinarily rewarding to keep re-reading it, to pick up on more of the allusions) and yet it is still possibly the most rewarding and influential (to me anyway) book i have ever read, reminding me time and time again of the social-cultural-human power in american music, rather than simply its commercial power (which a lot of popular music studies, ie media studies, seem to focus on)...and the discography! this is worth the price of purchase alone! its like TS Eliots notes to 'The Waste Land'! So many albums I have bought simply from reading about them here...i recommend that anyone interested in american culture and rock n roll read this! and then peter gularnick's "sweet soul music" etc etc...
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Format: Paperback
Mystery Train is much more than just a very good piece of rock criticism, nor should it be remembered as perhaps the Father of Rock Criticism. This book is astounding because what Marcus is able to do is get inside a piece of music, an artist, a certain place in time, a brief second inside a recording studio or on a movie screen, and not only recall the moment (or what the moment might have resembled) but also manage to make the moment real for the reader. So often, when reading music criticism, one feels a distance between the work of art itself and the criticism in front of you. Seldom is the excitement, passion, or wonderful possibilities of art well discussed and analyzed, because most authors are unable to find that fine balance between salivating fan and distanced critic. In Mystery Train (and in his other books as well), Greil Marcus has found that balance - or, more precisely, he has refused to accept the balance as necessary. Whatever Marcus trains his eye upon becomes fascinating and important because he sees every possibility, every ramifcation, every opportunity to return to the overriding theme, which is America. After reading Mystery Train, I not only wanted to track down those old Harmonica Frank tapes and re-listen to my Robert Johnson record, and scrutinize The Band's "Brown Album"and Sly Stone and Randy Newman and Elvis - I also wanted to go beyond the book, to attempt to apply Marcus' vision to what I saw around me. For some reason, this book reminds me of the works of Thomas Pynchon, but not just because they're both regularly classified as "post-modernists" by critics and profs.Read more ›
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