Dave Marsh’s Dream

A world where everybody has a place to live and nobody has to stay up at night trying to figure out how to pay for it. Same with food. Same with education. 

A world where health care is dispensed rationally, not to the highest bidder. 

A world where everyone has some kind of productive work, everybody shares in the scut work at some level and nobody capable has to or gets to not have a job. 

A world where being child-centered is something more than rhetoric, where no child is left behind because no child is pushed forward by circumstances of birth. 

A world where decisions about important things (not just who's going to decide about the important things) are made by a broad, educated consensus. 

A world where a major goal is to keep technology, resources and the environment in balance. 

A world where everybody is free to exhibit their differences so long as the aim is not harming others. 

A world where the consequences of misbehavior are the same for everybody—and so are the incentives for misbehavior. 

A world where creativity is nurtured, inquiry is supported and encouraged, and rules are made to be broken but only with care. 

A world where there is peace, and when there can't be, nobody makes a profit or gets to bully others as a result of it. 

This is a world that would require tremendous gains in education; rather than the liberal “nanny state” it requires the utmost in personal accountability: a world where the government serves but doesn't control. A world where freedom is more than an abstraction. 

Do I believe there are ways to accomplish this? Absolutely. Every bit of it, and as I say, more that I can’t even imagine right now. Because with freedom, as with everything else, quantity changes quality. 

Do I think that this stuff is easily realizable? From the top down, sort of--meaning, I think we could almost overnight solve the problems of homelessness, hunger and lack of education and training. I think it would take a great deal more time before peace could be achieved—for one thing, the real capitalists , the guys that own the guys that loaned your restaurant owner the money to start his joint, would rather die. (I think.) For another, we all think in ways that are pointlessly competitive, uncooperative, selfish in all the wrong ways. ALL of us do this, to some degree, and really, it can hardly be helped—we have never lived in a world where a lot of advantage didn't accrue to competitiveness and selfishness didn't confer great advantages. For a third, we need to develop our sense of each other as worthy of trust and respect. 

Andrew Vachss wrote a book about child abuse that has my favorite title, I think ever, for anything. It is called Another Chance to Get It Right. What Andrew means is, every child is another chance to get it right, to raise a human free of the burdens predatory adults bring with them. But you know, we humans as a species are children for an extremely long time—far longer than any other animal on Earth. It may well be that we are always children, in some respects. And that is a good thing. Because the quality that, all children, except for those seriously impaired, possess is the ability to learn. In fact, the quality that almost all children possess before this ruthless world begins its extremely strenuous effort to dissuade them is the DESIRE to learn. 

As adults, we lose that quality at our peril. Because we lose the chance to get OURSELVES right. I'd die to create a world where that chance came home more often. But I'd rather live for it. 

Email to Strat email group, 8/15/03

Suggested readings:  "Patti Smith: Her Horses Got Wings," Rolling Stone, 1/1/76; "Rolling Stones: I Call and Call and Call on Mick," Rolling Stone, 9/11/75; "MC5 Back On Shakin' Street," Creem, October 1971.

Suggested reading:  “Lesley Gore: They Don’t Own Her,” Let It Rock, (1975); “Big (Fleetwood) Mac: The Cover Story,” Rolling Stone (1978); “Perils of Rock Criticism,” Rock & Rap Confidential, (1994)

Suggested reading:  The Great Levi Stubbs,” Rock & Rap Confidential, (2008, reprinted in Counterpunch)

Suggested reading:  Sun City, Dave Marsh (1985)

Suggested reading:  Wanted for Attitude: The FBI Hates This Band” Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack, Village Voice (1989); “The Politics of File Sharing,” Counterpunch (2002)

Suggested reading:  Back in Black” (on rock censorship and war), Rock & Rap Confidential (1990); “Wanted for Attitude: The FBI Hates This Band” Dave Marsh and Phyllis Pollack, Village Voice (1989);

Suggested reading:  “Epilog” from Trapped: Michael Jackson and the Crossover Dream, Dave Marsh (1985); “Perils of Rock Criticism,” Rock & Rap Confidential, 1994.

Suggested reading: Celebrity Skin” (on “We Shall Overcome”), Rock & Rap Confidential (1999)

Suggested reading:  The MoJo Wire’s Top 20 Political Songs,” Mother Jones, 1996.

Suggested reading: The Lonesome Death of Florence Thompson,” Fortunate SonDave Marsh (1985) Brian DePalma in Two HeartsDave Marsh (2003)

Tom Morello

I used to hear Dave Marsh’s name around the house. He was this nice guy who was in one or two radical left/anti-censorship organizations with my mom. Then one day I put two and two together: this was the SAME Dave Marsh who’s “BOOK OF ROCK LISTS” I had read cover to cover north of 10,000 times. I’ve also never been able to put down his “THE HEART OF ROCK & SOUL: 1001  GREATEST SINGLES EVER MADE” and “50 WAYS TO FIGHT CENSORSHIP.” All brilliant examples of his poetic and passionate writing and spectacularly opinionated list making. Dave has always been a tireless advocate of justice, human rights, and rock n roll. His pen and voice are an important player in the history of the music we love and the struggle for a more just and decent world. 

            The most important thing Dave ever did for me was to tell me I was wrong. Somebody had to do it and he was very good at it.  I met him during an interview for my college newspaper. It was when The Book of Rock Lists came out and the thing I most remember about the interview—and I swear I think I still have the cassette somewhere—is that for every statement I made or theory I posited he said some version of, “Well, I don’t think THAT’S true.” You have to imagine this all in a very thick Southern accent and a still quite strong (at least to my ear) Detroit accent. Finally, toward the end of the interview I made a reference to Eudora Welty.  “It’s like Eudora Welty says,” I drawled, bad grammar and all, “there are no potential writers. There are people who are writers and people who aren’t.” There was a long, trademark Dave Marsh pause and he said, “She’s terrific, isn’t she?” Then we were off to the races on Southern literature and we could have done that for another hour but his daughters had arrived home from school. So at the end of this largely challenged and contested exchange he declared, “I’ve done a lot of interviews. This is a GREAT interview.” We agreed to keep in touch.

            And we did. I sent him a handful of my record reviews in college and he mostly liked them. Then when I moved to Los Angeles and started writing for Music Connection, I sent him those, too. He liked those quite a bit less. Finally I sent him my first novel when I finished it, titled Little Heroes from a Bruce Springsteen lyric. 

            I remember the letter I received about that. He said, “I hope you don’t take my silence as meaning that I didn’t like the book because nothing could be farther from the truth.” This was finally what unqualified Dave Marsh praise looked like.  I was beside myself. (Later I got a much stronger dose of that from a blurb for my novel The Music Teacher and I remember honestly thinking that I could die happy.)

            Not long after this response to my first novel (whose title later changed to Skeeball and the Secret of the Universe), I sent him a few more record reviews and this prompted a phone call from him. Here’s some version of what he said:

            “Look, you don’t want to do this. The only place this profession goes, if you want to advance, is becoming an editor. And you wouldn’t like that job.  Here’s the thing. You’re not this kind of writer. You’re a creative writer. You need to write fiction.”

            So I did.

            It’s strange to say that the most important advice I ever got as a writer, from a writer, was to stop doing what I was doing. But of course he was right. And so very Dave.

            Over the years, I have read everything Dave has written, including on Stratlist, and there have been times—many, many times—when I felt breathless and inspired by the greatness of his writing. I’ve enjoyed it all the more because I didn’t have to be jealous of it or feel insecure about it because I’m not that kind of writer. I might have spent way too many years finding that out.

            So thanks, Dave, for showing me how to give up.  And for, in the tradition of Bruce Springsteen, helping me to see the difference between running away from something and running toward something. Thanks to you both, I arrived.