DEAD ELVIS by Greil Marcus


A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession
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Probing--at times beyond the pale--ponderings on Elvis as the ultimate American icon. Fourteen years dead, Elvis lives on--at least in the exuberant critical imagination of Marcus (Lipstick Traces, 1989; Mystery Train, 1975), who in this intemperate but dazzling hodgepodge of essays and commentaries (some seen in earlier form in Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, etc.) finds the singer to be nothing less than an example of "the necessity existing in every culture to produce a perfect, all-inclusive metaphor for itself" This claim and others (e.g., that Elvis "signified" an "unfathomable multiplicity"; that, like Moby-Dick and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, one of Elvis's TV spots offered "a fantasy of what the deepest and most extreme possibilities and dangers of our national identity are") at first seem the wispiest flights of fancy--but they gain flesh as Marcus nourishes them with an astonishing array of testimony to Elvis's stature as an American legend. It's not only the bestselling Elvis books the author critiques; the media's Elvismania he despairs of; the Elvis imitators and fans he marvels at (with a knowing appreciation of their religious fervor: "The identification of EMs with Jesus has been a secret least since 1956"); above all, it's the hundreds of posthumous EMs-references he nets from the American cultural jungles and here pins to the page like so many butterflies. Culled from comic-strips, street-rumors, posters, record art, song lyrics, tabloid headlines, novels, interviews, public addresses, etc., they give some backbone at least to Marcus's overarching claim "that 'So much for EMs Presley' is a sentence no serious person has yet been able to write with a straight face." With 50 b&w and 10 color illustrations syncopated throughout the text (which itself features numerous typefaces), it's a graphically as well as intellectually stimulating foray into the farthest reaches of Elvisdom.
Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 1991
ISBN: 0674194225
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1991


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