Dead Elvis

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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 sordid aspects (drug abuse, erratic performance, pointless movies, questionable taste) of Elvis’s career and the inspirational role he continues to play for other performers and for a broad range of admirers and devotees. Marcus surveys numerous examples of the uses these many fans and fellow performers have made of Presley’s example. Yet despite the diversity, the author continually draws his readers back to his version of the Elvis myth and the contradictory but liberating role he believes it to have played in our culture.

Sources for Further Study

Atlanta Journal Constitution. December 22, 1991, p. K10.

Booklist. LXXXVIII, October 1, 1991, p. 202.

Cosmopolitan. CCXI, November, 1991, p. 36.

Kirkus Reviews. LIX, September 1, 1991, p. 1142.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. November 24, 1991, p. 1.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, November 3, 1991, p. 11.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, November 15, 1991, p. 53.

San Francisco Chronicle. December 1, 1991, p. REV4.

The Village Voice. December 10, 1991, p. S5.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, December 1, 1991, p. 16.