List books! Huh! Good God, y’all, what are they good for? If they’re of the ‘1,000 Varieties of Potatoes You Absolutely Must Eat Before You Die’ variety – bought but never read and almost invariably dumped into charity shops by their ungrateful recipients – the answer is undoubtedly, to quote Edwin Starr, ‘absolutely nothing’. Ditto for the outbreak of lists that now encrust all manner of printed and digital media: a predigested version of culture, designed for easy spoon-feeding, compiled by people who’re being nerdy and geeky about their chosen field of expertise so that you don’t have to.
The title of Greil Marcus’s latest book therefore induces a minor frisson of trepidation: one wonders if one of the pre-eminent American cultural pundits of his generation has succumbed to market-induced prodding from agent or publisher and produced a list book. Worse! The title is eerily reminiscent of two extant