"Somebody has to black hisself / For somebody else to stay white." So wrote Melvin B. Tolson in the 1930s in A Gallery of Harlem Portraits. Though we may think of blackface performance as a relic of the past ("I saw one of the last blackface minstrel shows," Bob Dylan writes of his boyhood in Hibbing, Minnesota, in the early fifties), cultural critic Greil Marcus will take up the persistence of blackface in contemporary culture, as bad conscience, yearning dream, and indecipherable joke.
Greil Marcus was born in San Francisco in 1945 and grew up in the Bay Area. He earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in the late 1960s from the UC Berkeley in American Studies and Political Science, respectively. In 1969, he began a career-long relationship with Rolling Stone, becoming the magazine's first record review editor. He served as the book columnist from 1975 to 1980 and is currently a contributing editor.
In 1975, Marcus released his first book, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music, which is widely regarded as one of the finest and most scholarly studies ever published about Rock 'N' Roll. A distinctive feature of Marcus's writing is his ability to connect Rock 'N' Roll to political and social history. "A critic's job," Marcus explains "is not only to define the context of an artist's work but to expand that context." The book, which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, received rave reviews. The New York Times called Mystery Train "a classic... full of passion and intellectual fervor," while The Washington Post called the book "a remarkable study of 'the very idea of America: complicated, dangerous, and extreme.'"
After the release of Mystery Train, Marcus continued writing book and music columns for magazines while embarking on a nine-year stint researching and writing his next book, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (1989). Unlike Mystery Train, which focused exclusively on the influence and context of American artists from bluesman Robert Johnson to Elvis Presley, Lipstick Traces is about European and English movements, ideas, and artists. In the book, "Marcus proposes a genealogy of anarchistic naysayings from the Dadaists to the [French] Situationist International to the Sex Pistols," observed Interview magazine.