Greil Marcus (born June 19, 1945) is an American author, music journalist and cultural critic. He is notable for producing scholarly and literary essays that place rock music in a much broader framework of culture and politics than is customary in pop music journalism.
Marcus was born in San Francisco and earned an undergraduate degree in American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, where he also did graduate work in political science. He has been a rock critic and columnist for Rolling Stone (where he was the first reviews editor, at $30 a week) and other publications, including Creem, The Village Voice, and Artforum. From 1983 to 1989, Marcus was on the Board of Directors for the National Book Critics Circle.
His 1975 book, Mystery Train, was notable for placing rock and roll within the context of American cultural archetypes, from Moby-Dick to The Great Gatsby to Stagger Lee. Marcus's "recognition of the unities in the American imagination that already exist" inspired countless rock scribes. On 30 August 2011, TIME magazine published a list of what they consider the 100 best non-fiction books since 1923, when the magazine was first published and included "Mystery Train" on the list, one of only five dealing with culture, and the only one dealing on the subject of American music.
His next book, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century (1989), stretched his trademark riffing across a century of Western civilization. Positing punk rock as a transhistorical cultural phenomenon, Marcus examined philosophical connections between entities as diverse as medieval heretics, Dada, the Situationists, and the Sex Pistols.
In 1991, Marcus published Dead Elvis, a collection of writings about Elvis Presley, and in 1993 published Ranters and Crowd Pleasers (reissued as In the Fascist Bathroom: Punk in Pop Music), an examination of post-punk political pop. In 1997, using old Bob Dylan bootlegs as a starting point, Marcus dissected the American subconscious with Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes.
He currently writes the "Elephant Dancing" column for Interview, "Real Life Rock Top Ten" for The Believer, and occasionally teaches graduate courses in American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He also teaches a lecture class at the New School University called "The Old Weird America: Music as Democratic Speech – from the Commonplace Song to Bob Dylan." During the fall of 2008, Marcus held the Winton Chair in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota, where he taught and lectured on the history of American pop culture.
His next book, When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison, was published in March 2010. It focuses on "Marcus's quest to understand Van Morrison's particular genius through the extraordinary and unclassifiable moments in his long career." The title is derived from Morrison's 1997 song, "Rough God Goes Riding".
His most recent books are Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968–2010 (Public Affairs, 2010) and The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years (Public Affairs, 2011). A collection of his interviews edited by Joe Bonomo was published by University Press of Mississippi in 2012.
The Los Angeles Review of Books in 2012 published a 20,000 word interview with Marcus about his life.