Esteemed author and rock critic Greil
Marcus discusses his latest book The History of Rock ’n’ Roll in Ten Songs with The New Yorker’s own current music and culture critic Sasha Frere-Jones. Marcus has previously authored books like Mystery Train and Lipstick Traces, but has struck out in a different direction for his new project, which attempts to unpack and explore the overarching nuances of the conception of rock and roll through a lone set of ten tracks. The songs span the near half-decade period of 1956 to 2008, and his conversation with Frere-Jones will center on the impetus for his selections and how he understands them to embody the rock genre itself. Marcus was the first-ever reviews editor for Rolling Stone, and is considered to be one of the foremost experts on music writing and a foundational part of the rock criticism movement.

Wed., Sept. 10, 7:30 p.m., 2014



It’s hard to imagine that Morrissey, king of the morose, would want a birthday party, but no matter: The Bell House wishes Mr. Bigmouth a happy 54th today. The Sons & Heirs, a Smiths/Morrissey tribute band, keep the moping alive with their spot-on covers. Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield and Spin’s Mark Spitz host the shindig —rivalries are set aside when it comes to honoring the Dark Lord.

Thu., May 22, 8 p.m., 2014



After 40 years, Blondie have had a dream career spanning decades and genres as once-pivotal members of New York’s downtown punks working with the city’s uptown hip-hop heads. Together, the band remains unstoppably influential thanks to its perfectly constructed, catchy songs and Debbie Harry’s trailblazing feminist take on punk. Tonight, Harry and her partner in crime, Chris Stein, sit down with Rolling Stone’s Anthony DeCurtis to discuss four decades of a career together that has seen and conquered it all, hopefully relating some juicy tales along the way.

Wed., May 28, 8 p.m., 2014


The Reissue Van Morrison Doesn’t Want You to Buy

What happens when a hotly anticipated new release comes out by an artist . . . and the artist encourages you not to buy it?

Such a rare occurrence is usually due to the artist’s belief that the material is either inferior, not in final form, bootlegged, or has fallen into the clutches of an evil musical overlord via some less-than scrupulous Byzantine law of recording contracts. But with the recent expanded reissue of Van Morrison’s classic 1970 disc, Moondance (available in single and double-CD formats, plus a four CD/one Blu-ray version), none of that seems to be the case. Enter classic rock’s greatest curmudgeon.

“I do not endorse this,” Morrison wrote about the new versions of Moondance on his website, as reported by Rolling Stone. “My management company at that time gave this music away 42 years ago, and now I feel as though it’s been stolen from me again.”

The magazine also reported that Morrison has rejected many balloons floated in the past about a Moondance expanded reissue, or even a career-spanning box set.

Most fans, though, won’t care one bit about artist vs. record company financial or contractual quibblings. They’ll be happy to have not only a remastered version of the classic album, but all those demos, unreleased tracks, and alternate takes that are the main attraction for buyers of classic-rock reissues across the board.

The album is arguably both Morrison’s commercial and artistic high. More than half of the record’s 10 tracks are among Van the Man’s best known and loved: “And It Stoned Me,” “Crazy Love,” “Caravan,” “Into the Mystic,” “Come Running,” and the title track. And even the remainder have little fat on them from the walking bass country/jazzish “These Dreams of You” to the strong acoustic “Everyone” and the funky “Glad Tidings.”

They all sound amazing here, especially as the remaster brings out the bass, horns (from Jack Schroer and Collin Tilton), and even tambourine sizzles of “Into the Mystic.”

Of the second CD, none of the alternate versions trump the pick that made it onto the actual record — save, ironically for “Brand New Day.” It’s the weakest track, and could have benefited from the alternate, more soulful version. But it’s interesting to hear “Caravan” buoyed with sweet electric guitar licks and more sax, or discovering just how important the horns are to making “Into the Mystic” a killer once you’ve heard the song bereft of them. An alternate take of the title track sounds like it came right from Harry Connick Jr./Michael Bublé-ville. And the disc two version of “Come Running” could have been on a Delaney and Bonnie record.

Outtakes include a pedestrian version of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” the hot James Brown–meets-Electric-Flag–like “I’ve Been Working” (the song would appear on His Band and the Street Choir), and the incredibly vibrant but unreleased Latin-tinged “I Shall Sing” (later a hit for Art Garfunkel).

England’s fine music magazine Mojo regularly asks artists to name their favorite Saturday night and Sunday morning records. Moondance definitely qualifies as a choice for the latter. Even if this version won’t be welcome in its creator’s own home.

The reissue of Moondance is out now on Rhino, should you wish to purchase it against Van’s wishes.


Beats, Rhymes, Life

No matter what happens, no matter how many times he makes an “Oochie Wally” or an I Am . . ., New Yorkers will always love Nas, in part because there’s always a “Thief’s Theme” or a Stillmatic hiding right around the corner. His latest return to form, the summer hit Life Is Good, featured the city’s rapper laureate spitting over Salaam Remi and No I.D.–produced boom-bap, and launched a song about worrying over your daughter into Hot 97 rotation. Tonight, he comes to 92Y to discuss (with Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis) his youth in Queens, his early days in the rap game, and the real-life daughter behind his latest hit.

Tue., Jan. 8, 8 p.m., 2013



Throughout the years, Alanis Morissette has made an everlasting impression with unapologetic pop songs that are always on her terms—who can forget her breakout album, Jagged Little Pill? The Canadian singer-songwriter, who was rumored to be the next American Idol judge and frankly spoke about her postpartum depression after the birth of her first child, sits down with Rolling Stone contributing writer Anthony DeCurtis to discuss her latest album, Havoc and Bright Lights, her first release in four years. And with a repertoire of works that consists of eight studio albums and roles on the big and small screen (remember her on You Can’t Do That on Television?), there should be more than plenty to discuss.

Thu., Aug. 23, 8 p.m., 2012


‘A Conversation with Alanis Morissette’

A week after the release of her sixth non-Canadian-teen-pop LP, Havoc and Bright Lights, Alanis Morissette is sitting down Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis to talk about subjects not yet revealed for the 92Y. Safe guess, though, would be the new album, stories from around the time she released her 16-times platinum monster album Jagged Little Pill, tales about mega-producer Glen Ballard, and maybe a little about being a Canadian teen-pop singer and getting slimed after saying “I don’t know” on You Can’t Do That on Television. We don’t know. (Oops.)

Thu., Aug. 30, 8 p.m., 2012


Double Trouble

Wanna meet a rock critic this weekend? Your best bet is tonight at the Mercury Lounge, where two scribe-beloved bands are due to share a double bill full of smart words and scrappy guitars. Transatlantic headliners Low Cut Connie have charmed folks from Rolling Stone and Fresh Air—not to mention Voice vet Robert Christgau—with Get Out the Lotion, their scuzzy 2011 debut; it’s got one tune in which frontman Adam Weiner admits, “I wanna see you naked from the front and from the back.” (That second “from” is crucial.) Show up early for Ohio’s Wussy, whose brand-new best-of, Buckeye, delivers adult-size rock like you thought nobody made anymore.

Sat., Aug. 11, 7:30 p.m., 2012


Q&A: Matt Taibbi on the 40th Anniversary of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, Hunter S. Thompson’s influence, and Why Barack Obama Isn’t a Great Shark

Matt Taibbi, like many journalists, grew up idolizing Hunter S. Thompson. But Taibbi, unlike many journalists, got Hunter S. Thompson’s job.

The similarities between the two Rolling Stone scribes do not stop there, even though Taibbi himself argues he’s nothing like Thompson. Both made their name pointing out hypocrisies and flaws in the U.S. government. Both thrived (one still is) at a time of turmoil in our country’s history. Both even managed to love the same sport, the game of football. And now both have their name on the cover of the same book. Taibbi was given the responsibility of writing a new introduction to the 40th-anniversary edition of one of Thompson’s seminal works, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, which releases today.

In his introduction, Taibbi highlights the importance of Thompson’s writing, calling him the “most instantly trustworthy” American narrator since Mark Twain, and argues that the book still continues to define the way we think about the dramas of politics. Taibbi stopped by The Village Voice office (where he was a summer intern in 1987) to chat about Thompson’s influence, how Thompson lives up to his own cliche, and why Obama would disappoint Thompson, were Thompson still alive.

When did you first read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72?
I remember my father [Emmy-winning journalist Mike Taibbi] telling me about when Thompson was writing the pieces in Rolling Stone at the time–not the book, but the monthly dispatches. It was such a unique thing because everybody was waiting for it at the end of every month. I didn’t read the book till I was pretty old. I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when I was in high school, and I probably read this when I was a senior in college.

Did you ever meet him?
No, but I talked to him on the phone once. That was close as I came. I was going to be hired by a publishing company to edit a compilation of gonzo journalism, and I was really broke at the time. So I sat down to really think about this project, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that gonzo journalism just means Hunter Thompson. There aren’t other examples of gonzo journalism. I tried to put something together, but then I called Thompson up and basically explained the dilemma: “I got stuck with this assignment, and what do you think of it, because if you’re not into it, I’m probably not into it.” And he goes [adopting a deep, gravelly voice], “That’s a shitty assignment. How badly do you need the money?” And I said, “Pretty badly.” And he said, “Well, I don’t envy you.” And that’s how he left it, so I decided not to do it.

You wrote in the introduction that Campaign Trail has become the bible for political reporting. Do you think it was the writing, the campaign itself, or did the stars just align?
I think it’s a lot of different reasons. Obviously, the writing has something to do with it, but as I talk about in the introduction, he created these archetypal characters that everyone has sort’ve used since as templates to compare each new slate of candidates and characters to. Almost every campaign has the bad guy, the hopeless do-gooding ideologue. I caught myself doing it when I covered the 2004 campaign, when Dennis Kucinich became my McGovern character. No writer wants to be caught copying another writer, but it just bleeds into your consciousness because we’ve all read that book so many times. There have been some other campaign books, like The Boys on the Bus, The Selling of the President, and all that, but none of them really, none of them really…

None of them start with a guy driving down a highway with a gun.
Right, exactly. It just made the whole thing accessible to people who don’t even care about politics. It’s iconic.

In the intro, you say Thompson is the most trustworthy American narrator since Mark Twain. What is it about his prose that gives you that feeling? I think many people feel that way, yet everyone always wonders if he’s making some stuff up.
Oh, he’s definitely embellishing. That’s not what you care about. I have no doubt that a lot of the things in that book didn’t happen that way. Writing is all about feeling your audience and maintaining a connection with them, and being able to anticipate what they’re going to respond to, what they’re going to think is funny, what they’re going to find sympathetic, what they’re going to find unsympathetic. Hunter just had this unbelievable innate ability–like a lot of great public speakers do. If you’ve ever seen somebody who’s a great public speaker, they can feel the crowd and they know exactly how to move people this way or that way. And he’s kind of like that. He had this ability to grab his whole audience, drag them through this story, and you never really find yourself stepping back and saying, “Eh, well.” Once you’re in, you’re in the whole way through with him.


You’ve admitted in past interviews to writing in a hyperbolic manner about something you hoped people would pay more attention to. Do you think Thompson did the same? That he was aware of his intense voice on the page?
He’s definitely hyperbolic. There’s no question about it. He likes to use maximalist expressions, like [the enemy] is the “most disgusting, depraved, corrupt,” you know? Every villain is the worst villain of all time. But [Thompson makes them] live up to it. He sets a bar somewhere, where he says this person is this, but then he makes the case. Within the internal logic of the story, it’s true. Even if it’s not factually true, it’s psychologically, artistically true. It all fits. Again, I don’t look at his books as historical works. I look at them more as novels. They’re like novels where everything fits and nothing is overstated.

In your own writing, what’s more important to you? Creating something that is factual or something that will resonant with the reader–like stretching the truth in order to tell a greater truth?
Well, I’m a little different than Hunter. I think he can get away–well, it’s not that he’s getting away, he’s just doing something different than I am. He’s an artist. Again, I think of his books as being more novels, whereas what I’m doing is more classic, straightforward journalism and editorial commentary. I have to stick to the facts. Also, we’re in a different era, and my career just evolved into the direction where I am sticking to the actual factual truth. He didn’t do that, but it worked for him. If I tried that, it wouldn’t work.

If Campaign Trail were published today, would it have the same effect?
Oh, yeah. I tried to say this in the introduction, but I don’t think that was really just a story about 1972 and those people. It’s a very personal, timeless story about a person who is trying to believe, and he’s thrust into this environment where everything is fake and disappointing, and he’s still trying to find that meaning in it. That’s a timeless story. That could’ve existed anywhere. The format would’ve been different now, because nowadays, it’s just so much harder to make that good versus evil story out of a Democrat-versus-Republican timeline. I just think it wouldn’t be believable. But he’d find some way to do it.

What do you think he’d say about the current political climate?
This era has a lot in common with the early ’60s. We had a very long period of relative stability, relative cultural conservatism, and it’s kind of coming apart at the seams as people are seeing the hidden fractures and discrepancies and the way our economy has been set up, and all of this is coming out in Occupy. That, to me, is a little bit like the early ’60s. And that was a time that Hunter really liked. He loved that whole era, and it really comes out in the other book, the Las Vegas book, that he really fell in love with that whole time period. And what Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was about was that whole era rolling back, and all the great hopes of that era coming to an end. Right now, we’re at a beginning stage. I’m sure eventually it’ll turn into disillusionment, but we’re not there yet. I think he would enjoy this time period.

How do you feel about the comparisons that are often made about you and him?
I’m definitely embarrassed by it, if that’s what you’re asking. I’ve said this always: What he does and what I do are very different things. I think his writing is a lot more ambitious than mine is. There was a time in my life when I was really young and [Hunter Thompson] was what I wanted to be when I grew up. I disabused myself of that notion a long time ago. Again, what I do is more classical editorializing. What he does is this weird, four-dimensional kind of writing that’s once a generation. I understand where those comparisons come from, because I have his job. I’m writing in the first person. I have a drug problem–well, I had a drug problem.

Also, there’s another factor with Hunter Thompson that sets him apart from other writers. Physically, the guy was just a force of nature. The scale of everything. The indulgence. All these adventures, they were so enormous in scope, and I don’t think any of us have done that. He definitely lived up to his own cliche.


You wrote in the introduction that people who call Hunter S. Thompson a cynic don’t really know him, and that he was always searching for the “Great Shark” to come save American politics. With the end of his life being so tragic, do you think he felt this way his entire life?
I think what people really connected with during those years that he was really, really on fire–which was, you know, mid to late ’60s to mid to late ’70s, his most productive time–it wasn’t all the flamboyant writing. It was the earnestness, the passion, the drive, the sincerity, it all boomed through all of his books. I do think at the end of his life, or in his later years, he had some trouble recapturing that. I think there were some times when he got older where he was having trouble recreating his own style. He drifted into self-plagiarism a little bit, where what he was doing was trying to sound like Hunter Thompson rather than saying what he felt. I think he just got confused and a little lost. But that happens to every writer.

You wrote that Hunter reminded the American public that we are supposed to have high expectations for our leaders, maybe even impossibly high expectations. Do you think the American public, today, views their leaders in that way?
I think there is a lot of idealism. I think a lot of what Occupy is is disappointed idealism. A lot of the people who thought, in Hunter terms, that Obama was the “Great Shark” who was going to come and right all the wrongs. And then they realized that he was very much, for all his good qualities, a conventional Democratic party politician, and all the negatives that that comes with. I think people were extremely disappointed, and that’s why they’re all out on the streets right now. There’s a tremendous cynicism embedded in mainstream American politics right now, where people who are in Washington and live on Capitol Hill really don’t think they have any obligation to be truly honest. They think that everything is a compromise. They’ve lost touch with what people actually want. And they really do want somebody who is idealistic.

That’s how Obama seemed to win the last election.
Exactly. People have this image of him as somebody who had beliefs and, more than anything, stood for a certain kind of decency and intellectual sincerity, and it turned out that he mostly wasn’t that. I think that’s a lot of what prompted Occupy. That, and the continuing corruption and financial mess. But more than anything, it was that. Because a lot of those same people were out there in 2008, you see the same faces now.

Is there anyone today that’s writing who could be viewed in the same way as he was?
No. Forget about journalism, we just haven’t even had a writer like that. When was the last time everybody in this country was talking about a novel? I think his books were the last books like that. Even going back to before then, the ’30s and ’40s and ’50s, there was always something that captured the public imagination, whether it was Catch 22 or Catcher in the Rye, we just sort’ve stopped having that. I think his books were among the last that seized the public imagination and became the focal point of the debate. Part of that is because people don’t read as much, people have shorter attention spans, and television is so dominant. But, it’s also, we just don’t have that type of writer.

Do you think it’s more a product of the culture we live in, or not having that writer?
I think it’s both. I think if that writer existed, he’d have an audience. But we don’t.

What do you think Thompson would say about Obama?
I think he’d be disappointed. I think he would’ve liked him at first. I think he would’ve wanted to believe in him. Obama would’ve been his McGovern in ’08. And I think he would’ve been disappointed afterwards. I hope. That’s my impression. He went through that cycle with a number of politicians, I guess Carter comes to mind. He really liked Carter at first, but then he got turned off to Carter over time. His tendency was to fall in love with politicians and then fall out of love after he got a good look at them.

That’s what happens with everyone, it seems. We love ’em all, but then…
Right. That’s the trick, though. You have to hold up under scrutiny. What’s been so disappointing about these guys is that they don’t even try. It’s one thing to fail, but they didn’t particularly try very hard. Somebody like Obama who had such an incredible opportunity to be that person, and he wasn’t him.


Does that fall more on Obama or the political climate?
Ah, well, it’s probably both. But I just always think about things where people say, on the finance front, “Oh, he doesn’t understand this material. He has to trust his advisors. So that’s why he’s doing this and that.” On the other hand, he’s a constitutional lawyer and, with the Guantanamo Bay stuff, the rendition policies, drone attacks, all those things, he knows the difference between what’s legal and what’s not legal, what’s constitutional and what’s not constitutional, and he never put up a fight about it and he expressly said he would when he was campaigning. It’s not like, you know, he tried to fight the good fight and he couldn’t overcome the bureaucracy in Washington. There just was never a fight. He never tried. That’s got to be on him.

If he wins, do you think he’ll be tougher?
People always say that, but I don’t know. I’m not going to hold my breath for that. If he didn’t do it his first term… I mean, I just don’t see it as a manner of strategy. These are moral absolutes. It’s not right to assassinate innocent people. It’s not right to jail people without due process. And he just did it. Whether it’s good strategy or not, whether he has political reason to do it or not, he did it.



You might know him as Tom Haverford, the hilarious co-star next to Amy Poehler on Parks and Recreation who’s more obsessed with one-liners and looking fresh in the office than maintaining his municipal job. Or you might know him as the erratic character “Raaaaandy!”—an alter ego of his that gained stardom through Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s website Funny Or Die and Judd Apatow’s heartfelt comedy, Funny People. But if you go by full names, you know him as Aziz Ansari, the “funniest man under 30,” according to Rolling Stone. The NYU Stern School of Business graduate and buddy of Kanye West begins his “Buried Alive” tour tonight, where he’ll go across the country and dress better than you—and make you laugh the entire time.

Sat., April 14, 8 p.m., 2012