Dead Elvis (Magill Book Reviews)
In DEAD ELVIS: A CHRONICLE OF A CULTURAL OBSESSION, Greil Marcus, author of such influential works of cultural criticism as LIPSTICK TRACES: A SECRET HISTORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY (1989) and MYSTERY TRAIN: IMAGES OF AMERICA IN ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MUSIC (1976), publishes the results of a curious project he began after first learning of the death of Elvis Presley in August, Marcus resolved to collect whatever references to or manifestations of this legendary rock-and-roll star came his way. At first he expected these to be limited to the months immediately following Presley’s death, but he found that they continued in a steady stream throughout the following years. Informally yet thoroughly, Marcus chronicled the proliferation of Elvis-related anecdotes, imagery, “sightings,” and continuing influences throughout mass media and the arts, both in the United States and abroad.
In a handsome volume replete with illustrations (many of them in color), Marcus demonstrates the persistence of Presley’s celebrity status, one looming even larger after the singer’s death. The former senior editor of ROLLING STONE draws upon his extensive knowledge of so-called “alternative” music to show how such performers as Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols approached their own careers with “The King” in mind, even if they expressed their response to his example through violent rejection or scorn.
DEAD ELVIS delivers a constant interplay between the...
(The entire section is 374 words.)
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Dead Elvis (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Not so many years ago, the idea that rock and roll or related aspects of American pop culture could provide suitable material for serious writing would have been laughable. Greil Marcus was one of the writers who changed all that. Through his writing in Rolling Stone and through the significant books he both authored and edited, he demonstrated myriad ways to connect what was vital in American pop music to the deepest currents in American culture in general, wedding, one might say, pop music criticism to “American Studies” in its more ambitious academic manifestations.
Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (1989) stands as his major work, one that suggested startling parallels between punk rock and the modernist avant- garde. His earlier Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ’n’ Roll Music (1975) was a tour de force that explored liminal, subterranean aspects of culture brought to the fore through the music of Elvis Presley, The Band, Randy Newman, Sly and the Family Stone, and others. Marcus’ edited books as well have been distinctive contributions to often overlooked aspects of recent pop culture. The collection Rock and Roll Will Stand (1969) captures the spirit of that brief cultural moment of the late 1960’s when Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets” sequed into The Rolling Stones’s “Street Fighting Man,” and somehow, each seemed equally central to the...
(The entire section is 2077 words.)