A talk with Greil Marcus / by Jenn Pelly
I felt very lucky to meet with Greil Marcus last fall. Marcus writes legendary rock’n’roll stories and in the process he has also himself become a legend. If you haven’t read his sweeping books—Mystery Train, Lipstick Traces, The Old, Weird America, Stranded, In the Fascist Bathroom, to name a few—you should read them immediately because they will make your life better.
Marcus’s influence on cultural criticism is immeasurable, but I was introduced to it in maybe an unusual way. Before I got Mystery Train in college, I read his 2007 interview with Cat Power and it made a huge impression on me as a teenager. In that piece, Chan Marshall discussed the meaning of “Nude as the News,” a song about an abortion she got at 20 and the pain she harbored over it: “It meant that I carry the soul of that child in me forever,” she said.
It permanently changed the way I heard the song, which Marcus’s writing always does. Since that moment I’ve felt consistently grateful for his work—his most influential books, but also his pieces on the music I love most, like the Raincoats and Sleater-Kinney, for example.
The occasion of our discussion was partially the release of his recent book, which is called Real Life Rock: The Complete Top Ten Columns, 1986-2014. Each column surveys a month (or so) in culture through Marcus’s ears and eyes, and together they become an inspired encyclopedia of art and ideas. I cherish this book. An excerpt from our talk follows. . .