Interview Excerpt: “My Reagan book…” (05/11/12)

Simon Reynolds: I seem to remember you once characterizing your shift of interest to the European avant-garde in terms of your profound alienation from America during the eighties. As if you had almost gone into exile during the Reagan years.

Greil Marcus: That was overwhelmingly part of it. Mystery Train is my Nixon book, Lipstick Traces is my Reagan book, Invisible Republic is my Bill Clinton book, and The Shape of Things to Come is my Bush book. They reflect how I was feeling, and the way in which my life was dominated by… not just the politics of any given era, but the sense that “yes, this is my country and I have a place in it”; or–to the powers that be, to those who presume to rule– “no, I don’t have a place in it.” People like me don’t have a place in it. Look, I was lucky to write Lipstick Traces, I was lucky to have that overwhelming feeling of alienation. I hated Ronald Reagan. I hated him as governor of California, when he was a much meaner, crueler person in his public persona than he was as president. But he was a cold, evil bastard and I hated him. I hated what he did to this country and I hated what he stood for. And I couldn’t bear to look at the country–to seriously, intellectually, grapple with it, critically–in those years.

I started Lipstick Traces in 1980. After Reagan was elected at the end of that year, I went into a depression that took almost a year out of the book, when I couldn’t fucking do anything. And I pulled myself out of it and began to pursue all these strands: Dada and the Situationists, and Malcolm McLaren and Johnny Rotten, and the medieval heretics and the Brethren of the Free Spirit. I wasn’t original in making these connections, but maybe I pursued them farther than other people had. Lots of people have made these connections but, I thought, in a glib manner. To me it was this great mystery.

In some ways, I think of Lipstick Traces as an act of cowardice, or betrayal. In other words, at a time when I should have been devoting my energies to the crisis in my own country, I left. I didn’t really leave, as in “if Ronald Reagan’s elected president, I’m leaving the country.” That’s a load of bullshit, and I’ve heard people say that in every election. But I did in a way “leave the country.”


Myths and Depths: Greil Marcus talks to Simon Reynolds, Los Angeles Review of Books, May 11, 2012

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