A Review: Exhuming Bob 3: Weird Old Greil Marcus

January 17, 2008

A Review

Exhuming Bob 3

Weird Old Greil Marcus


R.E. Prindle


     We have a very interesting phenomenon here.  Greil Marcus is technically a non-fiction writer.  I don’t know if I can fully agree with that.  I think I would classify him as a fiction writer using a non-fiction base.  I always have the feeling of reading a novel.  That’s not bad but it’s not non-fiction.  This is nowhere more evident than in his amusing The Old Weird America. 

     The interesting thing is that he has managed to convince his readers that his personal vision of Al Capp’s Dog Patch is in reality true, or factual.  Yes, I’m afraid Greil’s vision of America falls into the Anglo-Saxon baiting genre I noted in my essay Exhuming Bob 2-2:  Detourning The Folks.  In this effort Greil continues to make a specific minority of people look goofy damning the whole people in the process.

     In this respect he is reminiscent of the movies of Adam Sandler and Steven Seagal.  Both of these Jewish actors, Greil is Jewish of course, constantly put down non-Jews in their movie roles.  In Fire Down Below Seagal goes into the hills of old Kaintuck to show the Anglo-Saxon Hillbillies how to stand up for theyselves.

     Part of Greil’s success is that the majority of his readers seemingly are as unfamiliar with country music as he is.  As I pointed out in Exhuming Bob 2-2 the majority of White Americans despise, to use the old and correct term, Hillbilly music.

      That is what the performers on Harry Smith’s Anthology Of American Folk Music are.  In a country of, shall we say, unusual ethnic musics it is difficult to understand why Hillbilly music should be considered quintessentially weird.  Actually I’ve already explained it in Bob 2-2 but we’ll ignore that.  Certainly the Country Blues of the Blacks,  which is not so distant from Hillbilly, the Blacks had to learn somewhere and where closer than their Southern roots, is virtually unlistenable music.  It take a lot of good will toward Negroes to sit through that stuff and that goes for the majority of Black Gospel.

     The Klezmer music of Greil’s own Jews is some of the least listenable stuff available.  If you want weird try Klezmer music of Weird Old Judaism.  I could go on but I won’t.

     The problem with greil’s reverence for Harry Smith is that he lacks background while having no real appreciation for the music.  It’s too weird.  Some of my ancestors came down from the hills of old Kaintuck so I was raised on Hillbilly music.  I know most of the tunes of Harry’s Anthology without ever having heard the records.  I mean, this stuff used to be played on the radio.  Back in 1950 there wasn’t really all that much else to play.  Heck, even guys like Hank Snow and Webb Pierce were just getting started. The great Hillbilly recordings of the fifties were still in the future.  The world of the LP hadn’t even been thought of yet.  45 RPM records were introduced only in 1949 although they caught on fast.  I remember the first spindle I ever saw with amazement yet.  You just bought a spindle to connect to your radio.  Amazing innovation.  Unlike 78s, 45s didn’t break when you looked at them.

     So, really, as far as Hillbilly went back then there wasn’t much else to listen to other than the stuff Harry collected.  Patsy Montana’s I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart could easily have made Harry’s collection if it had fit his particular psychosis.  I mean, really, the guy was straining it, booze, drugs and all; living on the same street Greil Marcus would live on.  That could unsettle an intellect…or two.

     By the time Greil got hold of Harry’s compendium he was four or five times removed from the music, maybe more.  He never talks about remembering Lonnie Donnegan so I don’t know if he knows him but Lonnie sang a lot of stuff as ‘weird’ as anything Harry Smith ever collected.  I’ll even go on record as saying that old Lon was the greatest recording singer who ever lived.  Yes, Sir, I would say that.  He was that good.

     Greil has Bob down in the basement mixin’ up the medicine at Big Pink which he surely was.  Now, Bob goes back musically almost as far as I do.

     He grew up in the same kind of semi-rural backwater.  I mean, Little Jimmy Dickens held down the quarter hour Hillbilly show at noon right after the farm report on our local station.  Little Jimmy was definitely Harry material if he had fit Harry’s psychosis.  Little Jimmy sang such humorous, but ain’t they true, though sad songs, rueful actually, such as Take An Old Cold Tater And Wait and Sleepin’ At The Foot Of The Bed.  I’ve been there done both those things so I didn’t think they was so weird.  I knowed how it felt.

     Having access to the same kind of midwest mega blaster radio stations that I had I’m sure Bob didn’t need Harry’s memorable compendium to give him any roots although he sure goes on like he did.  Still, I think anyone who could sing Accentuate The Positive at four didn’t need Harry to give himself much help.  There’s musical stuff going on in Bob Dylan’s mind that he cain’t even remember.  I mean, that there boy’s got roots, roots down below the roots where they don’t even show and there ain’t nobody can never convince me other wise.  Weird Old Bob they usta call him.  Weird Old America.  Weird Old Greil Marcus.  Weird Old…well, just plain weird and old.  I’ve been to both places and I’ll take weird over old.  There, I said it and I ain’t sorry for it either and I ain’t goin’ ta ‘pologize to nobody neither.  Don’t ask.

     So, in point of fact bob’s got some weird old stuff running ’round his mind mixed in with the cocaine or whatever.  Bob had seen a lot of movies.  Weird Old Cinema, read some Weird Old Books.  Weird old American stuff.  Weird Old Jewish stuff; Bob was just into weird I guess.  Sounds like it some times if you listen real close.

     Greil locked onto this weird thing and began to run with it.  Tom Wolfe did it lots better though.  What was it the Tangerine Flake something or other.  I can see the influence of Wolfe on Greil even if it’s not there.  Remember that piece about the stock car driver?  Compare that with Greil’s handling of Dock Boggs.  There’s some real similarities there or I ain’t as weird as I usta be.  Still just a Hillbilly boy though.  You knowed that though didn’t yuh.  I always like it in those hillbilly sharecropper movies when you can tell you’re dealing with real rural types when they say ‘knowed’ even though they look like they have a luxury apartment on Wilshire Blvd.  I knowed that when I fust seen him.  Yes, Sir, I did.

     Greil creates this novelistic atmosphere out of his material but he doesn’t have the feel of the material.  What did Bob say?  Everything is phony.  Actually Bob portrays himself as a better hick in Chronicles Vol. I.  Some his book is OK.

     So, really, I think Greil should have written after a couple of hours of reading Tom Wolfe.  While the glow lasted he might have turned out some hot stuff; wouldn’t sounded any more authentic but the heat would have covered up the lack of authenticity.

     Kandy Kolored Tangerine Flake Baby was pretty flashy but its a lot harder to do than it looks, even Tom Wolfe couldn’t keep it up but when he was hot he was hot like with that Hillbilly stock car driver.  Loved it.

     Even though Greil has made a terrific impact with Weird Old America very successfully detourning the image of Anglo-Saxon America in the direction he wanted it to go I’m afraid I’m going to have to give him his second C.  If he had wanted to be more convincing he should have gone back to them hills of old Kaintuck and immersed himself in the culture for a weekend and made it his own.   They got some snappy new modern motels now although yu can still find the old cabins if yu really want to do it up authentic.



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