Invisible Republic

Greil Marcus

Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes’ is a 1997 book by music critic Greil Marcus about the creation and cultural importance of ‘The Basement Tapes,’ a series of recordings made by Bob Dylan in 1967 in collaboration with The Hawks, who would subsequently become known as The Band.

When subsequently published in paperback, the book was re-titled ‘The Old, Weird America,’ a term coined by Marcus to describe the often eerie country, blues, and folk music featured on the ‘Anthology of American Folk Music.’ The term has been revived via the musical genre called New Weird America (a subgenre of psychedelic and indie music).

In Marcus’ opinion, the sensibility of the Anthology is reflected by the Basement Tapes recordings. Marcus links the First Great Awakening, the folk music revival of the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Battle of Matewan in West Virginia, with Bob Dylan’s 1966 tour with The Hawks.

Marcus quotes singer-songwriter Robbie Robertson’s memories of recording the Basement Tapes: ‘(Dylan) would pull these songs out of nowhere. We didn’t know if he wrote them or if he remembered them. When he sang them, you couldn’t tell.’ Marcus called these songs ‘palavers with a community of ghosts.’ He suggests that ‘these ghosts were not abstractions. As native sons and daughters they were a community. And they were once gathered in a single place: on the ‘Anthology of American Folk Music,’ a work produced by a 29-year-old of no fixed address named Harry Smith.’

Marcus argues Dylan’s basement songs were a resurrection of the spirit of the Anthology, originally published in 1952, a collection of blues and country songs recorded in the 1920s and 1930s, which proved very influential in the folk revival of the 1950s and the 1960s.

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