‘Folk Music’ review roundup

Online reviews of Greil Marcus’s Folk Music: A Bob Dylan Biography in Seven Songs

“By the time Folk Music: A Bob Dylan Biography in Seven Songs is finished, the reader realizes that they know more about those songs than they probably did before and maybe more than they ever believed there was to know. More importantly, they realize they know more about the human experience than they did before.”
Jeffrey St. Clair, CounterPunch

“It’s criticism—as dare, almost: how far can you go with one subject, how discursive can you be and stay on-topic, how granular? On occasion, Marcus ventures into the extra-auditory…”
Kate Micucci, UK Art Review

“He delights in flitting forwards and backwards in time, disrupting any sense of chronology and threatening to bury the music beneath the load of its antecedents. In this telling, every monitor comprises multitudes.”
Damini Sharma, News NCR

“He seems to connect everything from Hannah Arendt to the Archies, from Jean Ritchie to Lionel Ritchie to Salman Rushdie, D.H. Lawrence, Fenimore Cooper, Christopher Guest, and Ovid. The most abstract, nebulous connection—often with a pleasingly cosmic bent—is proposed, not only as a ghost of a theory but, once stated, as a stone monumental fact. Decades converge. The world fuses. Coincidence is fate. The zany goes cosmic.”
Daniel Gewertz, Arts Fuse

“It would be easy to be repetitive in writing about Dylan’s songs, but Marcus isn’t. He sees connections, certainly, but also things that set individual songs, and times in Dylan’s life, apart, and lifts them into sharp and well- reasoned relief. The jacket cover and thoughtful interior drawings by Max Clarke complement and illustrate Marcus’s, and Dylan’s, words with bite and flair.”
Anne Margaret Daniel, The Spectator

“But in the Marcus analysis, place, time, and timing may matter very much. They’re direct evidence of how songs—so many songs, not just Dylan’s—can slip in and out of time, not stopping the clock but melting it. And that’s a kind of magic that only art, history, and criticism, working together, can pull off.”
Devin McKinney, Critics at Large

“Throughout his narrative, Marcus free associates from his store of musical knowledge, improvising on his theme like a guitarist riffing on a melody. The result can be dazzling, if not a bit exhibitionistic, and calls into question whether the book is more about its author than its ostensible subject.”
Arthur Hoyle, NY Journal of Books

“Though the book is described as a biography, its chapters swing from modern events such as the death of George Floyd and the riot at the Capitol to Dylan’s embarrassing stint as a fundamentalist preacher. It is not chronological and the reader can sometimes feel suspended in the air, weightless and waiting for Marcus to reveal what a painting done by the Black artist Henry Taylor in 2017 has to do with a song written by Dylan in 1964.”
Lauretta Charlton, New York Times

“The reader comes away marvelling at what Bob Dylan has done with such a violent cultural inheritance, and also at how enmeshed the beauty of the songs are with the brutality in life. And vice versa.”
Gregory Day, Sydney Morning Herald

“All this may be too much exegesis for some, but Marcus’s willingness to suspend disbelief, walk down the mean streets most of us go out of our way to avoid, is engaging, provocative, and brave.”
Paul Wilner, ZYZZYVA

“[Marcus] shows—in a digressive, indirect way—the value of thinking about Dylan in terms of history, and the shared vernacular music of a nation. It is not surprising, then, that Marcus is so sanguine about the accusations of plagiarism that have dogged Dylan since almost the beginning of his career.”
David McCooey, The Conversation

Bonus Beat: Listen to a sample of the audiobook version of Folk Music, as read by Ian Porter.


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