Greil Marcus has been one of the most distinctive voices in American music criticism for over forty years. His books, including Mystery Train and The Shape of Things to Come, traverse soundscapes of folk and blues, rock and punk, attuning readers to the surprising, often hidden affinities between the music and broader streams of American politics and culture.
Drawn from Marcus’s 2013 Massey Lectures at Harvard, his new work delves into three episodes in the history of American commonplace song: Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s 1928 “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground,” Geeshie Wiley’s 1930 “Last Kind Words Blues,” and Bob Dylan’s 1964 “Ballad of Hollis Brown.” How each of these songs manages to convey the uncanny sense that it was written by no one illuminates different aspects of the commonplace song tradition. Some songs truly did come together over time without an identifiable author. Others draw melodies and motifs from obscure sources but, in the hands of a particular artist, take a final, indelible shape. And, as in the case of Dylan’s “Hollis Brown,” there are songs that were written by a single author but that communicate as anonymous productions, as if they were folk songs passed down over many generations.
A rare US appearance by László Krasznahorkai—the “contemporary Hungarian master of apocalypse,” wrote Susan Sontag. Winner of this year’s Man Booker International Prize, Krasznahorkai is author of The Melancholy of Resistance, Satantango and Seiobo There Below. His new collection of nonfiction is Destruction and Sorrow Beneath the Heavens: Reportage.
He is joined by one of his biggest local admirers, Salman Rushdie, whose new novel, Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, is set in a New York of the near future made strange after a massive storm. “He is rare and magical writer,” wrote Michael Chabon.
The writers will be introduced by Valeria Luiselli, who will also interview them after their readings. Luiselli's new novel is The Story of My Teeth, which is "playful, attentive and very smart without being for a minute pretentious," wrote The New York Times. "She is an exciting writer to watch, not only for this book, but also for the fresh approach she brings to fiction, one that invites participation and reaction, even skepticism—a living, breathing map."