Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes
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Ostensibly about the recordings Bob Dylan made in the house called "Big Pink" in upstate New York, in 1967, veteran rock critic Marcus's study in fact uses the tapes more as a departure point for an innovative view of American folk music and folklore and how it shaped Dylan's imagination and career. Dylan and his backup musicians, the Band (who would go on to a successful career in their own right and be immortalized in Martin Scorsese's film The Last Waltz) recorded traditional songs like "Lo and Behold" and "I'm a Fool for You," and Dylan's selections inspire Marcus (Lipstick Traces, 1989, etc.) to meditate on the true folk tradition, as opposed to the glossier versions of folk represented by many modern performers. It's a tradition documenting violence, loss, and opposition to authority, embodied by such disparate figures as John Henry, the steel-drivin' man, and Lizzie Borden. Marcus takes a close look at violence in the American folk tradition, symbolized not only by Borden but by such elements as the countless Mississippi Delta songs of cuckolded men who kill their lovers. The "invisible republic" of the title is the "undiscovered country" of an older, rural, more communal world, now lost, that Dylan gave unique voice to in the basement tapes. The invisibility in question is the sort that Ralph Ellison bestowed on his anonymous protagonist, who was invisible because his fellow Americans refused to allow themselves to see him. Marcus reveals the true roots of folk music, exploring what that history has to tell us about violence and loss in American life. Of course, a basic knowledge of Dylan's career is assumed by the author, but this rarely hampers an otherwise brilliant look at how America's often unseen folk tradition shaped one of America's greatest folk musicians.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8050-3393-9
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1997


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