Thursday, November 20, 2014

An American Story

'The great thing about Dylan is that he is such an American story, and such an American artist. He’s an American in a more important way than the Beatles or the Stones are British. He is so identifiably American—and this comes across very well in the movie, and I think it’s one of the most important things about the movie.'
Don DeLillo in conversation with Greil Marcus after a screening of Martin Scorsese's documentary No Direction Home.
Bob Dylan is the golden thread that runs through my novel Cowboy Angels. He never appears: he's in the air: a ghost, a breath, a vibration. Cowboy Angels is about America's dreams of itself; one of its sources was Greil Marcus's The Invisible Republic, which was about Dylan and the Band's Basement Tapes, and its relationship with what Marcus called the old, weird America. The country of dreams and myths recorded in old-time blues and country music before big-box retailers and Clear Channel and Fox News and the blipverts of the internet homogenised and leveled culture. I was lucky enough to live in America for a couple of years in the early 1980s, when the last traces of the old weird were still visible, if you knew where to look. That experience informed Cowboy Angels, where agents move through alternate versions of America in 1984, including our own, chasing dead men and deep conspiracies.

My publisher at the time tried to suppress the novel. Talking of conspiracies. It was a kind of cold-war paranoia thriller (it was structured as a thriller, at any rate), but it was also 'too science-fictiony' for their taste. It sprawled over their rigid notions of what genre boundaries should be, and what genre was supposed to do. I had to buy it back from them eventually, and was lucky enough to find a home for it elsewhere. It was published in 2007, four years after I wrote it, when talking of 'genre boundaries' already seemed so tired and old-fashioned - and how much more that seems now, when everything gleefully appropriates tropes from everything else without a thought of boundaries or obeisance to the keepers of the mirrors where alternate realities cross and mingle.


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