Greil Marcus

  • Slash: A Punk Magazine from Los Angeles, 1977–80

    Slash: A Punk Magazine from Los Angeles, 1977–80, edited by Brian Roettinger and J. C. Gabel. Los Angeles: Hat & Beard, 2016. 496 pages.

    THE PORTRAIT DRAWN IN THIS BOOK—an enormous compendium of photos, mini-memoirs, drastically reduced facsimile pages from the Los Angeles–based tabloid-form magazine; original band interviews reprinted as inserts; and special sections for Gary Panter’s Jimbo comix and flaming editorials from Claude Bessy, aka Kickboy Face—is of people having fun. While oversize and heavy, the volume is fast on the eye and throughout its nearly five hundred pages maintains

  • Greil Marcus

    THREE AMBITIOUS EXHIBITIONS and their equally ambitious catalogues (all published by Scheidegger & Spiess) appeared in Europe and New York in this centenary year of Dada—along with a little companion publication from just before. One stood out because it brought the usual sprawling cast of characters into sharp focus and unexpected conversations: “Dada Africa: Dialogue with the Other” at the Museum Rietberg, Zurich, and the Berlinische Galerie. Not that that cast isn’t all over the rest: “Dadaglobe Reconstructed” (at the Kunsthaus Zürich and the Museum of Modern Art, New York), “Genesis

  • David Bowie

    AT THE END of Lars von Trier’s Dogville (2003), David Bowie’s 1975 “Young Americans” plays in full for more than five minutes, under a roll of still photographs of American misery, with blocks of black-and-white scenes from the 1930s (Dorothea Lange and Ben Shahn and more) alternating with present-day color. It’s a typical von Trier cheap shot, as exploitative of the song as of the fierce story Nicole Kidman’s face has just told. But the music escapes; it sucks you in. You are hearing, even watching, the song more than you’re watching von Trier’s sour montage. The rush of the sometimes

  • Asger Jorn and Jacqueline de Jong

    The Case of the Ascetic Satyr: Snapshots from Eternity, by Asger Jorn and Jacqueline de Jong, with texts by Axel Heil, Karen Kurczynski, Marc Lenot, Roberto Ohrt, and Kevin Repp. New York: JdJ/D.A.P., 2015. 2 volumes, 56 pages, 1 folder, 48 ephemera items.

    EVEN THE FORMAL HEADING ABOVE will give you no sense of this book. The definition of a title, never mind the neat totality suggested by an elegant case and a cover painting, won’t help solve this case—all punning inevitable. Better to start in the middle, blank, with a fragment, a piece of pinkish-gray paper scavenged from a hotel, an

  • Viv Albertine’s autobiography

    VIV ALBERTINE was the guitarist for the Slits, the female London punk band that could have been called Upheaval. Her autobiography is a great book. It can stand next to Chuck Berry’s Autobiography (1987), Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One (2004), and Jenny Diski’s The Sixties (2009). But no genre can hold it.

    The title refers to Albertine’s mother’s judgment on the only things her teenage daughter cared about—and the title hits home near the close of the book. “Side One,” the first half of the story, ending with the demise of the Slits in 1981, is a tremendous ride, coursing through infinitely

  • Jess’s murals

    YOU OPEN A CLOSET DOOR in an otherwise nondescript playroom with a lot of natural light and come face-to-face with a barbershop pole with descending swirls in orange, cream, and black. In a narrow bedroom hallway you look up, and what could be Celtic markings, then Paleolithic meanders, are running below the ceiling.

    There is color everywhere, and everywhere there is the suggestion of the occult. There’s the hint of some unnamed ritual being performed, its meaning lost, its images somehow still persisting; there’s the echo of a joke, the setup clear, the punch line forgotten generations ago.

  • Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis

    INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, Joel and Ethan Coen’s re-creation of the Greenwich Village folk-music milieu, set over a few days in the winter of 1961, came into focus for me about halfway through. The Coens’ Job-like title character, played by Oscar Isaac, has hitched a ride back from Chicago, where he’s failed a last-chance audition. The owner of the car is fast asleep; Davis is driving in a snowstorm in the middle of the night. He’s got the radio on, and for a moment an old folk song comes through the speakers: some impossibly addled, a cappella, doo-wop version of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”

    It was

  • Lou Reed

    LAST DECEMBER, a little over a month after Lou Reed died—on October 27, at age seventy-one—Brett and Rennie Sparks of the gothic folk duo the Handsome Family were asked, at an event at the New School, how much his work had affected theirs. A lot, Brett said. “I’ve heard that Lou Reed could be kind of confrontational,” someone in the audience said. Funny how these rumors get around.

    Lou Reed was confrontational about life. It might be a matter of staring life in the face, as he did in “Street Hassle” in 1978, a hipster’s tale turned into a stoic homily on fate; of humor rushing out in

  • Greil Marcus


    I recently heard the Edinburgh-raised Philip Kerr talk about the inspiration for his Berlin cop Bernie Gunther—the character first appeared in the Berlin Noir trilogy, and the Nazi shadow has since taken him to Argentina, Cuba, and back to wartime Germany—in terms of the American-born Raymond Chandler’s British upbringing and education. “It’s the Englishness of Chandler,” he said. “You can hear that tinkling melody in every page he writes.” Chandler was writing in the same years in which Kerr sets his stories: “What if Philip Marlowe went to Berlin instead of Los

  • Robert Johnson

    ON FEBRUARY 21, 2012, at the end of a White House blues night, President Obama sang a chorus of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.” Two weeks later, on March 6, to mark Johnson’s centennial, the Apollo Theater in New York staged the tribute concert “Robert Johnson at 100,” featuring, among many others, the Roots, offering “Milkcow’s Calf Blues,” Living Colour with “Preachin’ Blues,” Elvis Costello with “From Four Until Late,” both James Blood Ulmer and Taj Mahal taking on “Hellhound on My Trail,” Bettye LaVette with “I’m a Steady Rollin’ Man” and “When You Got a Good Friend,” Shemekia Copeland


    THE TELEVISION DRAMA MAD MEN—featuring advertising-agency creative director Don Draper as the hero whose outer cynic is locked in combat with his inner existentialist—was first set in the late 1950s; it has now reached 1966. When the parents of Megan Calvet, Draper’s new wife, arrived in New York from Montreal, it was hard to see Calvet père as anything but a wave to Marshall McLuhan, the ultimate media savant as media celebrity in the mid-1960s. McLuhan was so big that in 1977, years after his moment had passed, he could still offer Woody Allen a great coup, allowing the actor-director

  • Captain Beefheart

    “GOD, PLEASE FUCK MY MIND FOR GOOD!” Captain Beefheart shouted at the end of Doc at the Radar Station, his second-to-last album. It was 1980, and it was a dare to whatever version of God might be present to receive it: his audience, maybe; music itself. Or it was a dare to time—the fifteen years since he’d made his first record, or the thirty years to come. Can you shut me up? Can you scramble my rhythm and my words until they’re a labyrinth I’ll never escape? I’ll do it first!

    His first record—a single that was cut in 1965 in Los Angeles, a street sign away from Glendale, where he was

  • Malcolm McLaren

    TWENTY-TWO YEARS AGO Malcolm McLaren and Richard Hell politely faced off over “Who created punk?”—a question Lester Bangs once answered, after citing and dismissing Hell, by naming, among numerous others, himself, Lou Reed, Robert Mitchum (“the look on his face in the photo when he got busted for grass”), Pretty Boy Floyd, Theodore Roosevelt, Billy the Kid, Napoleon, Voltaire, and Lady Godiva. The occasion was a panel on punk and fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, with Hell, McLaren, the designer Stephen Sprouse, the critic Jon Savage, the curator Paul Taylor, and myself.


    IF YOU SEE MALCOLM MCLAREN’S new video piece, Paris: Capital of the XXIst Century, you’ll be telling people about it the next day. Like this:

    A TALL, NERDY-LOOKING GUY with big, dark-rimmed glasses—sort of a French Buddy Holly—walks into an airy, well-lit Paris boutique. It seems to have just opened; in the background, there’s a painter on a ladder. The salesman, an Alfred Molina type in a purple sweater, smiles: “Vous désirez?” Light romantic music comes up; the customer executes a jaunty balletic step as if he’s been waiting all day for the chance to do just that and begins to sing about how he wants a gift to surprise his wife. The salesman sings back that he has just the thing—“My wife’s trying it right now”and

  • Marianne Faithfull

    MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS AGO, in 1987—eight years after her shocking punk album Broken English, already twenty-three years after her worldwide smash hit “As Tears Go By” offered the angelic face and voice of a seventeen-year-old who soon enough didn’t just happen to become Mick Jagger’s girlfriend—Marianne Faithfull made Strange Weather. It was an album of cover songs, a collaboration with the producer Hal Willner—and it was leaden, labored, even the lightest arrangements buried under layers of self-consciousness. The idea, it seemed, was to use experience—that is, Faithfull’s

  • Mad Men

    DON DRAPER SAT in his third-floor walk-up in the rue du Temple in the Marais. It was the winter of 1971. He had been there four years. After Maud, the Columbia English professor, his third black lover and the last woman to refuse to go to Paris with him, he went himself. To write, of course. His first book, a novel called Solitudes, about a boyhood on a Pennsylvania farm with adults as “walking nightmares from which it was impossible to awake”—that was what James Baldwin wrote for the flap copy—had respectful notices months after the few copies New Directions printed had already been returned,




    Kierkegaard once said that his goal in writing was to make life difficult for people. I read Edward Said’s On Late Style (Pantheon) because its title suggested that it might offer insights into my life’s pursuit of trying to understand art. The subtitle of the book is Music and Literature Against the Grain. The photo of Said on the back cover shows his shirt collar slightly askew, which I chose to understand as an unintended message.

    There are no artists (in the narrow sense) discussed, but the book contains

  • Greil Marcus on Harvey Kurtzman

    BEGINNING ON NOVEMBER 20, through March of next year, you can go into the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and see the postwar half of the ambitious survey “Masters of American Comics” (the prewar portion is at the UCLA Hammer Museum). Featured are Jack Kirby (The Fantastic Four), R. Crumb (Zap), Art Spiegelman (Maus), Gary Panter (Jimbo), and more—along with Harvey Kurtzman, who in moments can make them all seem square.

    In the ’50s Kurtzman’s MAD magazine was Lenny Bruce for kids. As a comic book it was the comics inside out, all id, and going too fast for kids to catch, especially

  • the best books of the year


    Arthur C. Danto

    The title of Joseph Leo Koerner’s extraordinary study The Reformation of the Image (University of Chicago Press) refers to the way Martin Luther “reformed” religious pictures to make them consistent with the Second Commandment, thus protecting them against the wave of iconoclasm that swept Protestant churches in the early sixteenth century. Luther’s remedy consisted in treating images

  • Top Ten

    When “Real Life Rock”—Greil Marcus’s Top Ten column—first appeared in these pages in 1990, his epic, pop-inflected diary on a dizzying range of subjects was perfectly suited to an art world obsessed with heterogeneity. But what does this critical format provide us today, when the Top Ten’s radical juxtapositions seem as natural as the weather? On the occasion of our “Best of 2003” issue, I asked Marcus to revisit the early days of his Top Ten and to reflect on the virtues and vices of a column that became a genre. —TG

    IN ’78 I STARTED WRITING a column on pop music called “Real