The best music book of 2014 is now coming out as an audiobook read by Henry Rollins. The punk icon’s recitation of Greil Marcus’ exhaustive and surprising exploration of the language of popular music, The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs, will become available on Audible beginning tomorrow, January 27th.
To go along with the book, which zooms in on some unexpected song selections (Flamin’ Groovies’ “Shake Some Action,” Etta James’ “All I Could Do Is Cry”) and plays out over seven hours, Rollins recorded his own introduction. “I have been a fan of Mr. Marcus’ writing for many, many years, when I first read a book of his called Mystery Train,” the former Black Flag singer said in his intro, referring to the author’s 1975 contextualization of artists ranging from Robert Johnson to Sly Stone.
Regarding The History of Rock, Rollins said, “It is one of the most interesting music books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read quite a few. But no music book I’ve ever read has made me think about music in the way that History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs does, because Greil Marcus takes a song and goes forth from it, and brings in so much other music and history.” Listen to what he has to say here.
Rollins also conducted a fascinating interview with Marcus to discuss the book. Over the course of 30 minutes, the pair discuss the challenges of writing about artist Christian Marclay’s “Guitar Drag,” the ability for a song to transform over time as others record it, the way in which Rollins read Marcus’ six-page sentence and what lies ahead for the future of rock & roll. “One of the things I learned writing this book was how ignorant I am, how much I don’t know, how much I haven’t heard, how much I haven’t heard of,” Marcus said. “I’m never going to catch up one percent, but I’m glad there’s so much out there to discover.”
Rollins also asked Marcus which of the 10 songs is his favorite. Although the author calls them all “more than perfect in their own way,” he did mention one as a sure thing for inclusion in the book. “When I came up with the idea for the book, I knew that ‘Shake Some Action’ by the Flamin’ Groovies would be the first thing I would write about,” he said. “It had to be there, and that’s because from the first time I heard it, and every time since, I’ve just been so shocked by it. It’s like, ‘This is it. This is what rock & roll is. This is everything rock & roll wanted to be. This is a performance that isn’t jazz, that isn’t blues, that isn’t country, that isn’t pop, that isn’t anything but rock & roll. Nothing like what you hear on ‘Shake Some Action’ was in the world before there was rock & roll.”
The audiobook is available for preorder on Audible now.