An entertaining miscellany by journalist, rock critic, and cultural historian Marcus (Dead Elvis, 1991, etc.).
Marcus claims that Elvis Presley and Bill Clinton co-exist “in the common imagination as blessed, tawdry actors in a pretentious musical comedy cum dinner-theater Greek tragedy.” Occasionally Marcus revisits this theme in his motley collection of previously published (but here revised) columns and essays—but more frequently the President and the King exist only as ghostly presences amid Marcus’s ruminations on subjects as varied as the autobiography of Marianne Faithfull, an important new album by Bob Dylan (“a singer who . . . can still beat the clock”), and “Real Love” (the “latest pseudo-Beatles single,” produced by adding the voices of Paul, Ringo, and George to a recording of long-gone John). A number of these pieces are eloquent eulogies for various cultural icons—Allen Ginsberg, Kurt Cobain, Berkeley Free Speecher Mario Savio, actor J.T. Walsh, et al. Others are the latest of the author’s continuing attempts to figure out Elvis, “America’s secret angel; America’s secret demon.” Among the best of all is a keynote address Marcus delivered in 1998 at an Elvis conference. Beginning with an analysis of the pervasiveness of “Elvis jokes,” the piece moves into a provocative discussion of Presley and Clinton (“one man who could, and one man who can, charm you almost to death”). Also fascinating is his review of Pleasantville, which he describes as the flip-side of the popular body-snatcher films: “The aliens come to make the pod people human.” In a number of his essays Marcus rails against the Republicans who, in his view, refused to accept the legitimacy of Clinton’s elections, and he accepts as “perfectly factual” Hillary Clinton’s statement about the right-wing conspiracy to bring down her husband. Not surprisingly, then, he sees in the Right a pernicious political snobbery, a belief that “some people belong [in this country], and some people don’t.”
Much good, little bad, no ugly.