Why is Elvis Presley so ubiquitous a presence in US culture? Why does he continue to enjoy a cultural prominence that would be the envy of the most heavily publicized living celebrities? In Elvis after Elvis, Gilbert Rodman traces Elvis Presley's myriad manifestations in contemporary popular and not-so-popular culture. He asks why Elvis continues to defy our expectations of how dead stars are supposed to behave: Elvis not only refuses to go away, he keeps showing up in places where he seemingly does not belong. Rodman draws upon an extensive and eclectic body of Elvis "sightings," from Elvis's appearances at the heart of the 1992 presidential campaign to the debate over his worthiness as a subject for a postage stamp, and from Elvis's central role in furious debates about racism and the appropriation of African-American music to the world of Elvis impersonators and the importance of Graceland as a place of pilgrimage for Elvis fans and followers. Rodman shows how Elvis has become inseparable from many of the defining myths of US culture, enmeshed with the American Dream and the very idea of the "United States," caught up in debates about race, gender, and sexuality, and in the wars over what constitutes a national culture.
Supernatural phenomena notwithstanding, the King is alive and well in ads, music, jokes, look-alike contests, greeting cards, memorabilia, plays, the Graceland mansion, and hundreds of other ways. Why is the public still so fascinated with everything Elvis? "For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy," quips Rodman (communication, Univ. of South Florida) in the opening of his in-depth dissection of prevailing Elvis mythsboth rational and seemingly otherwise. He analyzes the place of these myths in relation to American culture, and he carefully reviews "Elvis space" (the Tupelo birthplace and the Graceland mansion) as important representations of the man, the myths, and America. With painstaking thoroughness, Rodman explores how Elvis defined new popular cultural parameters during a time when America was in rapid transitionhelping to give rise to the legend that still lives on. This is not casual reading; but, for those with the time and the inclination, it can reward one with solid information as well as unique food for thought. Graceland is a bit more easily navigable. Marling (art history and American studies, Univ. of Minnesota) takes us on a trip to the geographical places inhabited, visited, and created by the King during the course of his rags-to-riches odysseyTupelo, Memphis, Nashville, Hollywood, and, ultimately, Graceland. The sounds, smells, look, and feel of each of these localesthen and noware beautifully evoked, and other symbols of the South, such as Faulkner, are blended into the story. Occasional boxed gems (e.g., "the custom of visiting birthplaces") are interspersed throughout. Through "place," we experience and come to terms with the atmosphere and the influences that shaped Elvis personally and professionally and gave rise to his legendary mystique. Marling is a superb writera raconteur, keen observer, poignant historian, casual analyst, and friend. Graceland belongs in circulating libraries with large entertainment collections; Rodman's book is better suited to academic collections.Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, N.J.