On Oakland's northernmost stretch of Telegraph Avenue there's a record store called Stranded. On the Berkeley side of that stretch, in 1978, Greil Marcus — San Francisco-born music critic, Cal grad, and Rolling Stone's first reviews editor — wrote the introduction to Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island. Last night, at Stranded, Greil Marcus read from Stranded, a book of essays by twenty rock writers who share their experiences with the albums they'd each take if stranded on a desert island.
The reading, presented by the cramped store and the apparently thriving Rock 'n' Roll Book Club, was followed by audience questions — questions whose answers were insightful anecdotes about Lester Bangs, Bob Dylan's recording of “Like A Rolling Stone,” and a companion book called Marooned: The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs, for which Marcus also wrote the introduction — but, while browsing through the record store's finely curated selection beforehand, I asked Marcus some questions of my own:
AT: I loved when, in the introduction, you write you almost didn't care if the publishers killed the book because you already got paid.
GM: Yes, it had a very John Wayne attitude about it.
AT: About the isolation though, you've written about the lack of center in music. How did this book help your understanding of that?
GM: Well, we had a deadline and the authors made claims on albums. Everyone had a different one and I only got one essay I turned down. It was about Smokey Robinson. Had to turn it down because it was all lyrics, which isn't my idea of how you write about music. And at the time quoting Smokey Robinson cost a thousand dollars per line.
AT: If you could choose a city, based on its music, to be stranded in, where would you go?
GM: New York. If you want to go to a show all you have to do is walk or take the subway, and there are infinite choices. Everyone passes through.
AT: How do you listen to your music? What format is ideal?
GM: Vinyl, CD, or whatever it's on. I'm a Luddite. I'll love it when I try it, but I'll resist it.
AT: Any favorite local acts, venues, or shows that you've gone to recently?
GM: A recent show was Fiery Furnaces about a year ago in Cafe Du Nord. Eleanor Friedberger had this fantastic guitarist. He wasn't a hot shot; he was just a good player. We're listening to Neil Young right now [on the store turntable], who's been playing for so long. Probably fifty years now. But he wasn't a hot shot. He hasn't become Eric Clapton.