I read an interview with Greil Marcus at npr.org today (h/t Josh Paley), about his new book, The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs. I’d come across the book a couple of weeks ago at the local bookstore but held off writing about it because I planned on reading it.
I thought the interviewer did a good job at getting Marcus to explain why he chose certain songs, but didn’t get at the broader scope of why these 10 songs could tell the history of rock ‘n’ roll. That’s because these 10 songs would not, for the most part, be on anyone else’s list of the 10 songs that explained rock ‘n’ roll.
I enjoyed the interview, I very much like the way Marcus teases story and anecdote out of the close observation and empathic reading, and was distressed by the angry reaction of the commenters. I know, it’s the internet, but shouldn’t it discredit people to spew?
The interesting aspect of the spewing was the majority opinion that you can’t tell the history of rock ‘n’ roll in 10 songs, because that means arbitrarily writing about the things that interest you rather than reify the consensus idea of what is most important.
Which pretty much misses the whole idea of critical thinking, and thinking, and communicating, and discussing. Which are, I think, the broad building blocks of making a democracy. Or, for that matter, getting through the day.
On the other hand, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll and thinking about stuff. You can play your democratic part by ignoring it. Fair enough.
I got to listening to Buddy Holly recordings of Crying, Waiting, Hoping, one of which Marcus references as a version he recorded in his room in New York, which is a distillation of his music. I don’t think I found that.
What I found instead was this insane YouTube clip supposedly showing the first color film of Holly, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash at a Hank Snow concert in Oklahoma in 1955. This is film shot by someone with jiggly hands, but it offers a hint that these future stars were much like before they were famous when they were famous.
Does anything else matter?
And the chosen soundtrack to this historical ephemera is Holly’s version of Baby Let’s Play House, which is hugely mournful song that has murder at its heart.