Rock Critic, Greil Marcus Discussing the Origins of His “Real Life Top 10” Salon Column

Dave: How did you start writing the “Real Life Top 10” columns for Are those a major focus for you or something to keep you busy between larger projects?

Marcus: I started a column in New West magazine in 1978 called “Real Life Rock.” At the end of each essay, I’d include a little list called “Real Life Top 10.” The point was not to just be a list of records, but anything that remotely had to do with music, a dress Bette Midler wore at an awards show or a great guitar solo in the middle of a song that otherwise wasn’t very interesting. At some point, Doug Simmons, the music editor at The Village Voice, said, “What if you made that into a real column, annotated each item?” I’d never thought of that. So I made it a monthly column for The Village Voice in around ’86.

When The Voice got a new music editor who didn’t like the column, I moved it to Artforum, and I did it there for quite some time.

It’s the kind of column that really needs a general interest magazine to work. It wouldn’t work in a music magazine – everybody else would be covering at least half the things I’d be covering, and it wouldn’t make sense to go as far afield as I like to go, into books or movies or advertisements. I’d been reading Salon with more and more enthusiasm during the impeachment year, when they were at their absolute best, both in terms of reporting and critical writing, so I asked if they were interested, and they were.

They said that because people have a shorter attention span on the web the column should appear every two weeks, and in fact it’s much easier to do it that way. I’m always thinking about it; I’m always looking for items. I can’t afford to let it pile up till the end of the month. Also, with Artforum, I had a two-month lead time. With Salon, I can have a two-day lead time if I want. It’s much more current in that way.

It’s not a central focus, but it’s a kind of organizing principle. I do it for fun. It keeps me looking, keeps me listening, keeps me alert. I’ll do it as long as someone will publish it for me

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