first met Greil Marcus in the mid 80s when he came into the music store I worked at on Sixth Street in San Francisco, Rough Trade, to buy records. About the only book he had written back then was Mystery Train which I had read, but I didn't know it was him until one day after he'd left a coworker told me, "That was Greil Marcus." I ran into him around then at the Fillmore at a Sonic Youth concert during their Daydream Nation tour and he had just edited an anthology of writing by Lester Bangs, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. Told him I loved the book and asked if he planned to do another book of Lester's stuff. "Nah," he said, "let someone else do it" and described what he was working on next, which was Lipstick Traces.
he last show I remember seeing him at was Randy Newman at Bimbo's a couple of years ago, then recently he did a reading at Vesuvio's in North Beach to promote a reissue of his book about Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes, The Old, Weird America. I bought it years ago when it was first published under the title Invisible Republic, which Marcus says the original publisher forced on him. Before the reading I gave him a copy of a mix CD that I made
which alternates Elvis cover versions of R&B hits with the original recording by the original artist. The day after the reading Marcus emailed me his song by song scorecard of who wins each song battle, which you can read here: Elvis Vs Black People
arcus read for about a half hour at a podium upstairs next to the James Joyce booth then took questions. Here is an audio clip of him answering a question about how he went from neophyte record collector to music critic.
It's a great little story that captures Greil Marcus in microcosm, the dedicated musicologist extrapolating the cultural threads of rock and roll into discursive ruminations on politics and history, self-deprecatingly aware he's stretching things to the point of ridiculousness but convinced that's the way to the big picture, throwing things against the wall, not just to see what sticks, but because the fun is in throwing things.