Picturing Greil Marcus
July 20, 2008
Picturing Greil Marcus
What polluted wretches would the next glance show…
…using the novel technique of occupying one building, and then, when the police arrived, filing out, only to seize another building, and then another, and another- Berkeley radicals called on their fellows to “Do a Columbia”; not for any reason, not in the face of any injustice or insult, but for the lack of anything better to do.
Greil Marcus is among us like some IT that came from outer space or conversely like some Creature From The Black Lagoon arising all dripping and encrusted with slime, like some Blob. And what does he want from us?
The fellow can’t genuinely be that unhappy. He was raised by a multi-millionaire San Francisco attorney by the name of Gerald Marcus. There are some conflicts in Gerald Marcus’ history. He made big money form ‘good’ causes thereby attaining a certain smugness as a defender of the downtrodden. Mr. Marcus made his millions representing various farm unions thereby combining greed with ‘benevolence.’
Using his magnificent income he provided young Greil with what now must be a multi-million dollar home next to Atherton on the Peninsula, one of the most prestigious locations in California if not top of the list. Upon graduation from high school Greil had a ready made admittance to UC- Berkeley thanks to his father’s prominence in the Boalt Law School of that insitution.
Thus at the age of twenty-one or twenty-two young Greil stepped out into the world armed cap-a-pie to begin the battle of life. No deprivation there; who could ask for more? Indeed, many of us would have settled for less and thought we were doing well.
Indeed, Amerikka, as Greil has spelled it, showed the fairest of faces to our young hero. He didn’t even have to get a paying job; he could continue to play supported, one assumes, by his step-daddy’s millions. Greil went across the big Bay Bridge to San Francisco and took a play job at Rolling Stone Magazine that started up about the time he graduated. It wasn’t a job that paid a living wage but then Greil had time. He bummed around Rock journalism for several years building a reputation that the over the years blossomed into what it is now.
The feast of Amerikka had been spread before him; young Greil had grabbed a plate, knife and fork, and dug in. Young Greil sat down with a plate heaped with good things before him and began a bitch with every bite. What he found wasn’t good. To young Greil the feast was a product of corruption. He, like his step-father, could accommodate himself to it though as the pay was good. Greil got himself a fine house in a prime location in Berkeley above the university that many would kill for. I’m not saying that Greil didn’t. He didn’t stop bitching though. Indeed, ‘what polluted wretches would his next glance show…’
Everywhere he looked his glance fell on pollution, on wretches in the horror of the ‘air conditioned nightmare’ as Henry Miller expressed it. The air conditioned nightmare! Let that concept roll around your mind for a while. Ninety-five degrees in the shade, 100% humidity outside and you’re living in an air conditioned nightmare. Interesting. Where I grew up when the heat and humidity hit one ran for the movie theatres with ‘refrigerated air.’ It was refrigerated too. Go in like melted butter and come out a solid brick. I didn’t hear anyone complaining about a ‘nightmare’ though. But then what is is how you perceive it. And how did Greil perceive it?
He sought out all the more horrid representations of the most horrid and perverse literature and movies he could find and called it ‘normal.’ He concentrates on this Twin Peaks of David Lynch and its spin off movie Fire Walk With Me. He even dwells on a novel based on the movie by Lynch’s daughter as though it were serious literature; as though the perversion of the movie and book was the accepted norm. As though the depression of Lynch was rational vision.
Indeed, a very deep psychological depression seems to characaterize Greil’s writing. As Dylan put it, he tries to get you into the hole he’s in. There is certainly no climbing out of the hole Greil is in. The more he writes the deeper the hole gets. Worse still he seems to have no reason for his depression. He ‘Does the Columbia’ on us not because of any injustice we’ve done him or any insult we’ve offered him but ‘for a lack of anything better to do.’ The man is not to be taken seriously.
Oh, he does have a deep psychological grievance but it doesn’t have anything to do with us. It seems that his mother only knew his father a couple days or weeks before his father shipped out during the war and died in that great holocaust. Greil never knew his father thus causing him to wonder what might have been and throwing him into a deep funk.
Over the decades this sense of anomie preyed on his mind. Gradually he developed a hatred of the Amerikka that had ‘murdered’ his father so senselessly. He conceived the notion that that the Captain of his father’s ship was an incompetent who had purposely been placed over his father to cause his death. He developed the notion of the heroism of his father based on nothing but his wishes. And then one day he learned that a television production about his father’s squadron had been made depicting the manner in which his father’s ship sank. Terrible storm, huge typhoon. Under wartime conditions when the ship was improperly ballasted for such a monster the top heavy ship rolled. The whole fleet suffered terribly. In those days they didn’t have satellite weather reports that gave advance warning of what was coming. Weather was weather in those days. Look out. Keep your head down.
So misconstruing the whole situation against the Beast Greil bore a grudge against Amerikka. I don’t know if that’s the whole reason for his grudge but that form its basis.
I suppose it’s terrible to lose your biologic father at sea. I lost mine when three when he and my mother divorced. I haven’t ever really regretted it though. People are different but it didn’t bother me. It would have bothered me even less if someone like Gerald Marcus came along and married my mom. I might even have considered that a blessing. I got a real clinker for a step-father. I’ve got a reason for depression. Could easily have done without him. Should have stayed an orphan.
But rather than try to dig his way out of his hole, Greil dug in deeper. He wrote weird stuff like Weird Old America, left out the double K so as not to limit the size of his readership. I can’t tell you what Greil was thinking. He freehandedly insulted a whole group of people who had little reason to regret their pasts. I mean, Grandpappy lived in those Kentucky hills where Dock Boggs lived. That’s my ancestry Greil’s talking about. And Greil says we were all…well, I don’t know exactly what we all were in his mind but it isn’t good. I mean, compared to what? What is Greil comparing us to in which the comparison is so unfavorable? Himself? I look around me and I don’t see any people or thing much better. I’ve been around too. This Lynch guy and his portrait of ‘smalltown’ Amerikka isn’t all that familiar to me. I grew up in that environment. Sure there were nasty things going on but that’s just the way people are. Small and nasty most of the time. But they had and have their ideals too. Those people created a town that was a lot nice than the Twin Peaks Lynch portrays.
Of course, I haven’t seen what Lynch portrayed because I never saw the show that apparently wasn’t all that popular because it didn’t get that far. Greil himself says that movie was so horrible that everyone ignored it but him. He makes it sound so terrible that I have no reason to check it out.
But Greil revels in that corruption. Rolls around in it, enjoys it. He almost shouts for joy that a major slut is elected home coming queen. He loves it that her father is doing her and then kills her. That’s how I read it anyway. So, maybe Greil should do something about his depression.
I mean, Freud lived and died a hundred years ago; his legacy lives on practiced by a legion of psycho-analysts. Why not check one out. Why not step back and look a the life he’s leading. Running around making people feel bad with his book of murder ballads.
We all know that stuff goes on. There are unbalanced men and women out there who do terrible things. But there are a lot more who are better balanced and don’t do those things. There are lots of people who work hard to make the world a better place, to make their immediate vicinity a better environment. There are people who create beautiful gardens and wonderful parks. There is pleasure and joy in this life. It’s a struggle to get it but it’s worth struggling for. Greil should open his eyes and keep some kind of perspective on pollution and cleanliness.
I can’t imagine someone getting up and delivering the commencement address that Greil delivered at UC in 2006. He opens with a positive reference to a perverted Mafia figure who goes to some kind of pervert heaven in New Hampshire, wakes up in the moring to find that the whole world has gone pervert. Greil calls this the American Dream. They talk perversion over breakfast. As Greil wants us to believe, they are free and this is the freedom that Amerikka is supposed to represent before the Weird Old Americans got in the way.
I don’t know, Greil, get a life and then get some help. Life doesn’t have to be as weird as all that.