Monty Dylan and the Holy Greil

Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes by Greil Marcus, Picador, pounds 16.99; Charles Shaar Murray rejoins The Band

My Life in a Stolen Moment" was the title Bob Dylan gave to a rambling, beat-poetic faux-autobiograhical sketch composed in 1963 for the programme of one of his first major concerts. The particular stolen moment in Dylan's life which obsesses Greil Marcus came later, between 1966 and 1968. This was the long moment that Dylan stole, under the pretext of recuperation from a motorcycle accident, to enable his drifter's escape both from a punishing work-schedule and from the increasingly arduous task of being Bob Dylan.

During that retreat, he spent much of the summer of '67 making music with some newfound friends: the Canadian psychobillies, formerly known as The Hawks, he had adopted as his backing group and who would go on to trade under the name of The Band. Rehearsing and jamming in a rented house in upstate New York, and informally recording their work-in-progress, various combinations of Dylan and The Band explored new songs and old, digging deep into their own private mythologies and the collective unconscious of North America to mine a fresh-minted folklore, simultaneously ancient and modern.

Dylan emerged from the experience shorn of his rock and roll trappings, with the mysterious neo-traditional album John Wesley Harding. For their part, The Band released a revolutionary debut album which established their guitarist, Robbie Robertson, as a major songwriting voice. Never intended for public consumption, some of the material eventually surfaced in bootleg form as The Basement Tapes.

Alongside Nik Cohn and the late Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus is one of the founding fathers of modern rock criticism. Indeed, that the field exists at all in anything like its present form is partially attributable to his pioneering work. Marcus first explored the folk-mythic world of The Basement Tapes in a major essay on The Band which formed one of the cornerstones of his massively influential first book, Mystery Train. He was the perfect - if not the only - choice to annotate the first official release of that music when it was finally offered to the public in 1975. Invisible Republic is the culmination of decades of fascination with this extraordinary achievement. Reading it is an experience akin to viewing those sequences in such movies as Antonioni's Blow Up or Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, wherein the protagonist enlarges and refocuses the background dots of a photograph to reveal new pictures that recontextualise the original.

Marcus's most formidable critical asset is his ability to make unexpected connections. He draws on his knowledge of literature, politics, art and history to tease out the resonances of the topics he addresses. His previous works have used Elvis Presley and the Sex Pistols as crowbars to pry open subterranean vaults of the 20th-century psyche.

The "stolen moment" magnified herein expands to span centuries. That summer snapshot becomes a panorama of the invisible republic of the title: "the old weird America" of Mark Twain and William Burroughs, of high tides and tall tales.

The world of The Basement Tapes exists on a mythic American frontier between "the confessional and the bawdy-house", as Marcus put it in the Mystery Train days. Invisible Republic could have used more of both: as Robbie Robertson recalls those seminal sessions, "We went in with a sense of humor ... it was all a goof."

Marcus does indeed have a sense of humour, albeit one of Gobi-like aridity. A lean, scarred Johnny Cash is described as having, at 33, "a face like cancer", which is about as mordant as you can get. But for all its awesome erudition and vaulting imagination, this epic conflation of secret history and badlands balladry could have made use of some leavening levity.

This is a subject with which the author has not finished, and is unlikely to do so this side of the grave. One senses that the saga of Monty Dylan and the Holy Greil has some distance yet to run.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game