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The Rose and the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Balladby Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus
Synopses & Reviews
A devastatingly original work that plunges into the heart of the American psyche from America's beginnings to Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska."
The ballad has been part of American history since before the country had a name. In this book, Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus have assembled an astonishing group of writers and artists — Paul Muldoon, Stanley Crouch, R. Crumb, Jon Langford of the Mekons, John Rockwell, Luc Sante, Joyce Carol Oates, Dave Marsh, and more than a dozen other novelists, essayists, performers, and critics — to explore the ineffable power of the American ballad. In words and in drawings, the collaborators have tapped the veins of America's most imaginative and expressive form. From "Barbara Allen," one of the earliest, through "The Wreck of the Old 97," to contemporary ballads by Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, The Rose and the Briar presents a rich new patch of art and commentary — like the ballads, no two the same, but all of a piece, about stories, storytellers, and American death, love, and liberty.
"Arguing that the American ballad is 'a major form — musically, perhaps, the major form — through which Americans told each other about themselves and the country they inhabited,' Wilentz, a Princeton history professor, and Marcus (Lipstick Traces) offer this impressive, innovative tribute to it. The contributors — critics (Stanley Crouch), novelists (Joyce Carol Oates), poets (Paul Muldoon), songwriters (Anna Domino) and other writers, performers and artists — were asked to 'help create some new works of art' about a ballad of their choosing. Sarah Vowell traces the evolution of the ballad 'John Brown's Body' into the hit song of 1862, 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic.' John Rockwell meditates on the gentility of Burl Ives's 'The Foggy, Foggy Dew' ('this performance helped define vocal beauty, shaping my taste forever'). R. Crumb contributes a hilarious cartoon version of 'When You Go A Courtin'' that succinctly exposes the ballad's dark humor. And Eric Weisbard's wide-ranging 'Love, Lore, Celebrity and Dead Babies: "Down from Dover" by Dolly Parton' might be the best essay yet on the work done by this misunderstood country-pop diva. Agents, Andrew Wylie and Wendy Weil. Forecast: Sony Legacy's September release of an eponymous album featuring 20 ballads should generate a good amount of buzz for this book in the music press." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[T]he quality of the entries varies wildly....Sometimes fascinating and at other times highly dispensable, this collection offers an interesting look at a music staple. Recommended." Library Journal
Book News Annotation:
The underlying impetus here is that though we have learned much about ballads from folklorists, it is time to hear from novelists and story writers, artists and poets, songwriters and performers. Dave Marsh weighs in on Barbara Allen, R. Crumb on When You go A Courtin', Joyce Carol Oates on Little Maggie, and James Miller on El Paso. There are 23 essays in all, arranged by the major themes in the title.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Wilentz and Marcus have assembled an astonishing group of writers and artists — more than a dozen novelists, essayists, performers, and critics — to explore the ineffable power of the American ballad in words and in drawings.
About the Author
Sean Wilentz is the author of the forthcoming The Rise of American Democracy. A professor of history at Princeton University, he is historian-in-residence at Bob Dylan's official Web site.
Greil Marcus is the author of Lipstick Traces and Mystery Train, among other works. An Old Dominion Fellow at Princeton in 2002, he lives in Berkeley, California.
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