Greil Marcus-writing about Elvis’ cultural significance

Below, I have quoted a prominent rock critic, Greil Marcus, writing about Elvis’ cultural significance as it appeared to him in the 1970s. Your task in this essay is to respond to his point of view in a manner that demonstrates understanding of the cultural context surrounding Elvis.

Greil Marcus-writing about Elvis’ cultural significance

Below, I have quoted a prominent rock critic, Greil Marcus, writing about Elvis’ cultural significance as it appeared to him in the 1970s. Your task in this essay is to respond to his point of view in a manner that demonstrates understanding of the cultural context surrounding Elvis.
Please be sure to do the following:

(I) Indicate your own position on these issues. In doing this, you need to show an understanding of why Marcus might say what he does, and then give reasons for accepting or rejecting his views (or both).

• Be sure that you spend sufficient time both evaluating Marcus and developing your own point of view.

• As part of this, you should do a bit of research on Marcus himself. This is because it’s difficult to respond to someone’s argument without knowing who that person is and why they may take the position they do.

Greil Marcus

(ii) Back up your arguments by explicitly using musical and biographical information provided about Elvis in class (and on parts of the slides not discussed in class).

• Also, expand the scope of your argument by drawing in musical and social factors covered by other lectures besides the Elvis lecture.

• For example, Elvis’ impact on race relations it may be useful to refer to material from the blues. Similarly, in considering Elvis’ move into a pop direction, material from the lectures on the ‘in between years’ or Tin Pan Alley pop may be helpful.

(iii) Marcus’ views are heavily shaped by the pop and Las Vegas performer direction Elvis took later in his career. In order to situate that side of Elvis’ work, you should look at two of the performances that were mentioned in the lecture but not actually viewed in class.

Links for the performances in question, along with a few links for historical and cultural context, are:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Steve_Allen_Show

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elvis_(1968_TV_program)

(iv) Other outside sources are not required, but feel free to use them if you have them. You won’t specifically lose marks if you don’t. But chances are you will gain some marks if you use extra sources effectively.

Excerpts from Greil Marcus, “Elvis: Presliad.” From Mystery Train. Third Edition. New

“Elvis Presley is a supreme figure in American life, one whose presence, no matter how banal or predictable, brooks no real comparisons. He is honoured equally by long-haired rock critics, middle-aged women, the City of Memphis (they finally found something to name after him: a highway), and even a president [Richard Nixon]. Beside Elvis, the other heroes of [rock music] seem a little small-time.

If they define different versions of America, Presley’s career almost has the scope to take America in. The cultural range of his music has expanded to  where it includes not only the hits of the day. But also patriotic recitals, pure country gospel, and really dirty blues; reviews of his concerts, by usually credible writers, sometimes resemble Biblical accounts of heavenly miracles. Elvis has emerged as a great artist, a great rocker, a great purveyor of schlock, and, yes, a great American.

Greil Marcus-writing about Elvis’ cultural significance

[. . .] How could he take it seriously? How could anyone create when all one has to do is appear? ‘He looks like Elvis Presley!’ cried a friend, when the Big E stormed forth in an explosion of flashbulbs and cheers . . . It is as if there is nothing Elvis could do to overshadow a performance of his myth. And so he performs from a distance, laughing at his myth, throwing it away only to see it roar back and trap him once again .

[. . .] Only the man who says No is free, Melville once wrote. We don’t expect such a stance in popular culture. Those who do might best be advised to take their trade somewhere else.  But the refusal that lurks on the margins of the affirmation of American popular culture. What gives the Yes of our culture its vitality and its kick. Elvis’s Yes is the grandest of all, his presentation of mastery the grandest fantasy of freedom, but it is finally a counterfeit of freedom: