Greil Marcus is one of America’s great listeners. Over 30 years and nine books, he has reshaped the possibilities of criticism, departing from questions of taste and tailing instead grand, nation-sized mythologies of heroes and villains, promises and betrayals, and our need to believe in the whole thing. He takes everything seriously. Lyrics become talismans, melodies are engines for change, and the gut’s reaction delivers visions beyond the known world. He hears things differently, in ways that can sometimes confound but almost always inspire one to lean a bit closer. Marcus’s latest, The Shape of Things to Come, is a provocative and demanding book about “prophecy and the American voice.” It amplifies the last pages of 1997’s Invisible Republic, a book that was ostensibly about Dylan. It closed with a look backward at the mighty speech-acts of John Winthrop, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr., and their common willingness to offer “a prophecy of national salvation and a warning of national damnation.”
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