An Evening with Greil Marcus

October 25, 2015 | By French Culture

On Thursday, October 22, 2015, Cultural Counselor Bénédicte de Montlaur delivered the following remarks before a conversation between cultural critic Greil Marcus and poet and essayist Robert Polito to mark the release of two of Marcus’ new works, Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations and Real Life Rock. The event was held at Albertine Books.

Good evening everyone!

Tonight we gather to celebrate the release of two of Greil Marcus’ new books: Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations and Real Life Rock. As some of you may know, Greil was the curator of our first Festival Albertine.  In a just few weeks, we will open the second edition of the Festival, in this very space that he helped us inaugurate just over a year ago. Greil has been instrumental in defining Albertine’s cultural programming, so I am especially glad to welcome him back tonight.  

Greil’s spirit is woven into the very fabric of this space. Thanks to Greil’s curiosity, collaborative style, and artful selections, we launched a fascinating, intellectually rigorous French-American festival. It featured great minds from diverse fields, such as mathematics, fashion and history.

Greil’s deep engagement with the festival has had a lasting impact the intellectual life this bookshop. His depth, warmth, and drive to create cultural and intellectual dialogues are still at the core of our bookshop.  One year after Albertine’s opening, the effects of Greil’s strong curatorial vision have not worn off. We have hosted over 80 talks, sold more than 38,000 books, and welcomed extraordinary guests from Yasmina Reza, Russel Banks, and Etienne Balibar, among many others. We decorated Wes Anderson here in the store among the bookshelves. We hosted a 12-hour DJ set and conversations with 52 philosophers during Night of Philosophy, which was attended by over 5,000 people last spring.

Tonight we have the opportunity to explore your written work, past and present. Your fearless voice has been called one of the most distinctive in the past 40 years of American music criticism. Critics gape at your talent for unraveling rock songs from our past. This is especially evident in your History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in 10 Songs, which was published last year and has made an indelible impression on the history of music. Similarly Mystery Train, which launched your career as a critic, has been on TIME Magazine’s list of 100 best nonfiction books. Your new Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations examines tunes that seem not to belong to any one composer but to have evolved organically over time. They give us a glimpse into the songwriting tradition in the United States and give us new insights into this country’s history.

Your other most recent book, Real Life Rock, grew out of a column that you write and gives readers an uninterrupted experience of culture and history over the past 30 years through your eyes. It is no surprise that that book has been highly praised for the way it translates the experience of music onto the page. As reviewers have noted, it fully immerses the reader within both the sounds and the social world of each song you describe.

We are fortunate to be joined by Robert Polito, who is a poet and essayist. He will illuminate Greil’s historically rich books with his own insights on music and culture.

Robert Polito shares your talent for translating American cultural history into brilliant, instructive written works that examine a range of pop culture media. Robert and Greil both delve into mid-century American culture and analyze it through its music, film, and literature. Like Greil, Robert is interested in Bob Dylan, whom he is writing a book about. In a poem dedicated to Patti Smith, Robert Polito writes, “I loved you like a guitar string breaking / Under the conviction of a clumsy hand—.”  But Mr. Polito’s poems, essays, and biographies are anything but clumsy. His work has been widely praised and published in several magazines and journals including The New Yorker, The Believer, Bookforum and many others. His written works transcend literary genres and shape and interpret our culture.  He is the author of the poetry collection Doubles, as well as A Reader’s Guide to James Merrill’s The Changing Light at Sandover, and a study of Byron’s poetry, among many other works. He is the former head of the Poetry Foundation, and has been Director of Creative Writing at The New School for two decades.

So, it is a very special treat to hear from these two brilliant minds, Greil Marcus and Robert Polito, tonight. By shedding light on our cultural past, they are sure to open our eyes to brand new ways of seeing the present.  Thank you and enjoy! 

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