JUNE/JULY 2006

Greil Marcus

[MUSIC JOURNALIST AND CULTURAL CRITIC]

talks with

Don DeLillo

[NOVELIST AND PLAYWRIGHT]

“THE GENIUS OF ROCK MUSIC IS THAT IT MATCHED THE CULTURAL HYSTERIA AROUND IT.”
People who are not Bob Dylan:
The Beatles
The Rolling Stones
Bucky Wunderlick
Bob Dylan

Greil Marcus is the author of The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes. His The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, will be published in September by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He lives in Berkeley.

Don DeLillo has written thirteen novels. His third stage play, Love-Lies-Bleeding, had its premiere this spring at Steppenwolf in Chicago.

This conversation took place in front of an audience at the Telluride Film Festival in Telluride, Colorado, on September 5, 2005.

*

DON DeLILLO: See, the genius of rock music is that it matched the cultural hysteria around it. Not only Dylan, but that kind of scorching electric howl of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison—and these happen to be three people who died early and tragically—as if to provide an answer, as if to present a counterpart to what was happening around them in the streets, in the riots, in the assassinations, in the war in Vietnam, in the civil rights struggle. Rock was the art form that could match that. Not that these artists all made explicit reference to the immediate culture around them. But the music itself was a perfect counterpart to what was happening in our culture—as, for example, jazz was not. I’m a lifelong jazz fan—but jazz was just too cool to be part of that. It had to be rock. Rock just came out of it. The great thing about Dylan is that he is such an American story and such an American artist. He’s an American in a more important way than the Beatles or the Stones are British. He is so identifiably American—and this comes across very well in [Martin Scorsese’s film No Direction Home], and I think it’s one of the most important things about the movie.

*

GREIL MARCUS: [Dylan] is so out there, and I don’t mean that in the vernacular sense. He is so out there in the territories. I had a book come out this spring about the song Like a Rolling Stone. It came out in the United States and England in the spring, and it will come out in France and Germany in the fall. All this time, I’d get these calls from publicists at the various publishers saying “When you’re going to be doing an appearance at such-and-such a bookstore”—in Minneapolis or in Rome or wherever—“Dylan is actually going to be playing there that night. Do you think maybe he’d want to do a joint appearance with you?” And I’d say, “No, I kind of doubt that.” But the point is that you land in any spot, and there is a reasonable chance that Dylan will be playing in that town that night. [Audience laughs] It’s not simply the fact that he’s out there on the road. Who knows why Bob Dylan is out there on the road at his age. Anyone who’s ever traveled with a rock band for more than forty-eight hours knows that it’s exhausting. It’s an unreal existence. You cannot carry on a normal conversation or even have normal thoughts to yourself. At his age, sixty-four years of age, you have to figure he doesn’t like it at home much. [Laughter] I can’t think of any instrumental explanations. There’s a passage in [DeLillo’s 1973 novel] Great Jones Street where Bucky Wunderlick says, “I’m interested in pursuing extremes. You can’t do that in the studio; you can only do that onstage.” I don’t know if that’s the reason.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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