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Double Trouble: Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in a Land of No Alternatives Hardcover – September 21, 2000

3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Here, critic and author Marcus (Invisible Republic, Mystery Train) presents edited versions of his book, film, and record reviews, articles, and obituaries from 1992 to 2000. Turning his pen to such icons as Bob Dylan, Oliver Stone, Allen Ginsberg, and Nirvana, he tries to understand popular culture. Most of all, he latches on to the tenuous association between Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley, both poor Southern boys who vaulted from obscurity into the national spotlight. (The book, in fact, takes its title from a 1967 Elvis movie, in which "nightclub singer Guy Lambert is pursued both by a smitten seventeen-year-old heiress and a calculating woman his own age.") Throughout these more than 40, generally brief, mostly personalized journalistic flights, the author serves up a written equivalent of MTV: slick, entertaining, pithy, and insubstantial bits of "word candy" that leave the reader temporarily satisfied but ultimately hungry for meaning. Marcus's attempt at escaping from the constraining box of American journalism is valiant, but the connections that he draws are not convincing.DDavid Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (September 21, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080506513X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805065138
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,963,728 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book should probably rate somewhere around 3 or 4 stars. It isn't Marcus's best--that would be MYSTERY TRAIN or LIPSTICK TRACES--but anything by this fine critic is a whole lot better than the average nonfiction tripe out there (e.g., another cash cow "case" against one or both of the Clintons).
Granted, the connection between Elvis and BC is no stronger than the connection between, well, me and Mahatma Gandhi, but if you hold a magnifiying glass up close enough to a watermelon and squint your eyes, you can see an image of the Virgin Mary. And a number of pieces collected under this misleading title are not concerned, even in a Marcusian "world in a leaf of grass" way, with either Elvis or Clinton.
Having said this, no one understands the relationship between rock and American culture, past and present, better than Marcus. He is always wise, trenchant, and--though sometimes overly mystifying--strongly moral. As I read Marcus I always think, "This guy's on my side; he's saying what I would like to say if I could think of the right words." This applies to a lesser Marcus work (like this one) as well as the major ones (and he's about due for one sometime soon).
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Format: Paperback
Although his subject matter (from the promised Clinton/Elvis thing to Kurt Cobain, Bob Dylan, Whitewater and more) is diverse and entertaining, Marcus takes an academic tone that sometimes failed to draw me in.
Still, he's well versed in politics and pop culture, and able to draw thought-provoking connections between seemingly disparate topics. Marcus is master of the insightful bizarre trivia detail - like the fact that Clinton-accuser Paula Jones' husband played the ghost of Elvis in the 1989 movie "Mystery Train". Like music, sometimes it feels forced, and sometimes it all comes together.
As someone who remembers Cobain much more clearly than Elvis, I found the book was a great crash course in some of the themes that influenced both today's rock stars and politicians.
As rock/pop culture criticism, it actually makes an interesting companion piece for the Lester Bangs anthology I just finished reading ("Psychotic Reactions & Carburator Dung" - interestingly enough, it was edited by Marcus, Bangs' former Creem cohort). Except that Bangs puts a lot more passion into his rants, while Marcus seems determined to stand back and make observations. Ultimately, that tone left me standing on the sidelines as well.
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Format: Hardcover
In Double Trouble: Bill Clinton And Elvis Presley In A Land Of No Alternatives, Greil Marcus examines a metaphor suggested by, among others, filmmaker Oliver Stone and New York Times columnist Frank Rich: Bill Clinton as Elvis Presley. Woven in & out of this central thread are the stories of other Americans living in the spotlight during the Clinton years: among them, Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, Allen Ginsberg, and Hillary Clinton. It's an interesting idea, and certainly (on the face of it, at least) no less tenable a springboard for a book than the theses that any of Marcus' other books are based on. There's only one small problem: it doesn't wash.
The quality of Marcus' writing isn't an issue here: stylistically, I'd put him up against anyone working today, and his erudition remains astonishing (reading him, I frequently find myself asking: "Is there a book this guy HASN'T read? A piece of music he HASN'T heard?"). Nor is it the individual chapters: many of them are great - opening up vistas in music, films, and politics you hadn't imagined were there.
No, the difficulty lies in Marcus' conclusion: simply put, I find the notion that Clinton approached Elvis Presley as a force for cultural liberation absurd. Clinton is obviously a very intelligent man and was an extraordinarily charismatic leader, but at the end of the day, he was just another politican. Elvis Presley broke - exploded - American culture in half. I don't think Clinton, as either president or cultural leader, can make a claim half so big.
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