Double Trouble: Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in the Land of No Alternatives

Greil Marcus, Author John MacRae Books $25 (248p) ISBN 978-0-8050-6513-8
With this book, Marcus (Dead Elvis, etc.) continues his legacy of scholarly pop journalism and his persistent effort to document pop culture's influence on history. Marcus declares, ""Elvis Presley won the 1992 election for Bill Clinton,"" as he dissected the incalculable impact on the nation of watching Clinton with a sax and sunglasses rendering ""Heartbreak Hotel"" on the Arsenio Hall Show. The book's title shares its name with a 1967 Elvis movie, and it refers not only to the idea of Clinton as Elvis, but also to the bifurcated nature of the two men. Both rose out of poverty and obscurity to bring a sense of renewal to the country before declining into a tawdry version of their former selves. As Clinton took office, the U.S. Post Office asked Americans to vote on the best way to honor Elvis, and Marcus attempts to discern just which image of Clinton will leave its stamp on American history. The writing, featured in a collection of reworked essays 1992-2000, is erudite and lively, though the book taken as a whole is a bit ungainly. Several essays deal with neither Clinton nor Elvis, but serve ""as local maps of the cultural landscape the two shared."" This reasoning is a bit strained when the subjects range from the alternative band Pere Ubu and British pop star PJ Harvey to the death of Kurt Cobain, but there is enough interesting argument to engage readers throughout, particularly in one of the book's strongest pieces, a speech Marcus gave at the University of Memphis. ""Culture signifies how people explain themselves to each other, how they talk to each other: how they discover what it is they have in common."" For Marcus, pop culture is our language, one that can decipher even the presidency. ""Elvis,"" he writes, ""is common ground."" (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
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