Marcus is interviewed often, usually on the occasion of a new book. In choosing the fourteen pieces included here I selected among interviews ranging from 1980 to 2011. A conversation with Marcus is marked by a complex and lively engagement with issues that, given its origins in popular culture, never strays into rarefied ether. “Real ideas,” he argued to Thom Jurek, “are exchanged in plain language.” Marcus has been blessed with smart, well-prepared interviewers; his answers are erudite and carefully composed, conversational and meaty. It’s helpful to the reader that Marcus speaks in paragraphs, and that he’s well versed in the vernacular: his answers are driven by a voice that’s inquiring, intelligent, and never condescending. He’s funny, too.
In conversation, Marcus might discus a current book or column as well as his critical methodology and broad approach to his material, signaled by a generosity of spirit leavened with aggressive critical standards. “I try and write as if the distinctions that are always being thrown in our faces between high culture and popular culture, fine art and pop art, are meaningless,” he told Brent Brambury, “because I don’t hear them, I don’t see them.” To Mark Kitchell: “My role as a critic is to intensify the experience other people might have with a given incident or object.” To John King, in an early interview: “I can’t write about music in a purely aesthetic manner. It doesn’t intrigue me.” He was quick to insist to Fafoglia several years later that, “The last thing I want to do is lead someone not to enjoy something they in fact already do enjoy.”In editing Conversations with Greil Marcus I strove to maintain balance among decades, books, and well-known and obscure subjects, to select interviews that moved between a book under discussion and expansive, interrelated issues, and to minimize the inevitable repetitions that occur over decades. There are radio interviews here as well as print and online interviews, and I’ve blended recognizable sources with the less well-known, conventional formats with the unconventional. It’s interesting to watch Marcus react in real time to hot-button issues of the era (i.e., federal funding for the arts, censorship, “We Are the World,” Reagan/Bush), name and honor his influences and contemporaries, wrestle with his ambivalence with rap and hip-hop, and defend his steadfast and frankly surprising dismissal of the New York punk scene of the late-1970s, an unorthodox position that places him at odds with many cultural observers.
The full list of Literary Conversations Series titles at University Press of Mississippi is here.