‘When That Cop Killed Michael Brown, and When George Zimmerman Killed Trayvon Martin, They Were Killing Barack Obama’

President Barack Obama attends a meeting with senior military leadership including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey at the Pentagon on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama attends a meeting with senior military leadership including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey at the Pentagon on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama attends a meeting with senior military leadership including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey at the Pentagon on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(Salon) – Greil Marcus is a critic of music and culture who has helped redefine the job description. Known for his books like “Mystery Train,” “Lipstick Traces” and “The Old, Weird America” (on Dylan’s “Basement Tapes”), he’s forged a personal brand of criticism that blends traditional close reading with the styles of Leslie Fiedler and Pauline Kael, as well as deep, almost free-associative mediations on American history.

His new “The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs” — as eccentric as any of his previous books — has drawn him more attention than anything he’s written in a decade. These songs — whether by Joy Division, The Flamin’ Groovies, Etta James — tell their stories through the context they summon around them.

Marcus can be a bit like Van Morrison, the subject of his book “When That Rough God Goes Riding”: sometimes portentous and devoid of humor, but often lyrical and sometimes transcendent. “The History” is Marcus at his best.

We spoke to the Berkeley-based Marcus from New York, where he is teaching this term.

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