Cover: Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations, from Harvard University PressCover: Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations in HARDCOVER

The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in American Studies 2013

Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations

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Product Details


$19.95 • £15.95 • €18.00

ISBN 9780674187085

Publication Date: 10/07/2015


176 pages

4-3/8 x 7-1/8 inches

4 halftones

The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in American Studies


[This] volume find[s] Marcus doing what he does best: hearing what you didn’t hear or nailing precisely what you did.—David Cantwell, The New Yorker

[Marcus’s] book is a prose poem describing American popular culture’s embodiment in the media.—Nigel Smith, The Times Literary Supplement

[Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations is] wonderful: emblematic of Marcus’s interest in how words and melodies find truths that survive the centuries, or appear likely to… He just makes your spine tingle with the feeling he has for music and the things he can perceive in it.—Danny Eccleston, Mojo

Superb.—Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone

Greil Marcus may be the single most influential American music critic of the past half century. A compelling stylist and seemingly omnivorous listener, reader, and viewer of Americana, he teases out echoes of American art and of U.S. history’s spiritual dimensions to find a depth in pop forms that few others seek as seriously… Brisk and brilliant.—Josh Garrett-Davis, The Los Angeles Review of Books

Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations is elegant and focused… [It] examines the commonplace as a subject and a way of being, as a language anyone might use and a way of listening that’s true to ordinary life and all its plainness, order, customs, and moments of the unexpected. The ordinary begins with performance, the singer’s work, and in Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations, Marcus is keenly attuned to the details of that work—to words but also to sounds, the way notes drop off, rhythms shift, the way a guitar (Wiley’s) can be ‘round, heavy, a stone that in an instant sinks to the bottom of a lake.’ …Few risk writing this way about music anymore; it’s alien, almost obscene to give inflection the weight of meaning it receives here.—Robert Loss, The Los Angeles Review of Books

Wildly, lyrically, Marcus writes in Three Songs of seemingly ‘authorless’ compositions—songs by no one that belong to everyone, that change as they appear and reappear with new interpreters… In this alluring mystico-musicology, songs bend singers to their disembodied will, not vice versa.—Sara Marcus, The New Republic

Greil Marcus walks a fine line between grand, romantic, almost dreamy poetic prose and analysis. The enterprise could easily have turned purple, but he does it with consummate skill: distinctive and readable, capturing the sense of a nation haunted by its songs. And the notion that the ultimate accolade might be an artist’s work acquiring anonymity is all the more resonant in an age of cheap fame.—Steven Carroll, The Sydney Morning Herald

Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations is a beautiful and hypnotic treatise about how songs journey from origin to ether, from nowhere to everywhere, from a single voice to a common one. As always, Marcus writes with an exhilarating musicality that posits the reader inside the notes, directly upon the sonic road itself, at once both visceral and transcendent.—Carrie Brownstein

Greil Marcus remains pop’s most visionary writer, following the thread that flows like the ghostly Mississippi beneath America’s musical traditions. He’s always essential reading.—Bruce Springsteen

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