GRACELAND by Karal Ann Marling


Going Home with Elvis
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 This cultural history of Elvis's interiors is intended as high-concept but reads like a hastily researched brochure from a generalized Presley museum. In tones of not-quite-believable enthusiasm, Marling (Art History and American Studies/Univ. of Minnesota; As Seen on TV, 1994, etc.) attempts to humanize Presley by concentrating on the physical spaces he inhabited, as well as describing the larger areas he frequented (Oxford, Miss., Memphis, Las Vegas). The concept isn't altogether bad--but Marling fails to come up with a fresh take. Consistently she loses her grip and slides into the most basic biographical territory: ``Sun Studios is the stuff of legends''; ``He appealed to some primitive streak in the young.'' She's at her best when describing Graceland as nearly pure metaphor--as a vision of the old South whose precedent was Tara Mansion in the movie version of Gone With the Wind. Some of the room-by-room exegeses of Graceland are diverting, too. But the lack of effort shines through. Ever wonder why Elvis wanted a jungle motif for his living room? She points out the well-known fact that he loved Hawaiian kitsch, and the less well known fact that one of his record producers had his office done that way--but beyond that, your guess is as good as hers. ``Of course,'' she rambles, ``when everything is said that can be said to account for the den at Graceland, there is also the possibility that Elvis Presley had terrible taste, or that Elvis chic occupies an aesthetic dimension in which conventional standards of good taste are irrelevant.'' Too obvious to qualify as cultural studies, too blandly written for a Wayne Koestenbaum-esque personal-interaction-with-subject book. Peter Guralnick's biography remains the standard for those who want to understand the King. (35 line drawings)

Pub Date: Aug. 16th, 1996
ISBN: 0-674-35889-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1996


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