Greil Marcus (born 1945) is an American author, music journalist and cultural critic. He is notable for producing scholarly and literary essays that place rock music in a much broader framework of culture and politics than is customary in pop music journalism.
Marcus was born in San Francisco and earned an undergraduate degree in American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, where he also did graduate work in political science. He has been a rock critic and columnist for Rolling Stone (where he was the first reviews editor, at $30 a week) and other publications, including Creem, The Village Voice, and Artforum.
His 1975 book, Mystery Train, re-defined the parameters of rock music criticism. The book places rock and roll within the context of American cultural archetypes, from Moby-Dick to The Great Gatsby to Stagger Lee. Marcus's "recognition of the unities in the American imagination that already exist" inspired countless rock scribes.
His next book, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century (1989), stretched his trademark riffing across a century of Western civilization. Positing punk rock as a transhistorical cultural phenomenon, Marcus examined philosophical connections between entities as diverse as the Sex Pistols, the Dadaists, and medieval heretics. From 1983 to 1989, Marcus was on the Board of Directors for the National Book Critics Circle.
In 1991, Marcus published Dead Elvis, a collection of writings about Elvis Presley, and in 1993 published Ranters and Crowd Pleasers, an examination of post-punk political pop. In 1997, using old Bob Dylan bootlegs as a starting point, Marcus dissected the American subconscious with Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes.
He currently writes the "Elephant Dancing" column for Interview, "Real Life Top 10" for The Believer and occasionally teaches graduate courses in American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He also teaches a lecture class at the New School University called "Old Weird America." His book The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy in the American Voice was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2006.
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