Elvis Presley remains the single most important figure in twentieth century popular music. By 2005 the 'Memphis Flash' sold over a billion records worldwide, yet his cultural significance cannot be measured by these extraordinary sales figures alone. The big question about Elvis is not just how a poor boy from Tupelo, Mississippi used popular music to become, in Greil Marcus' words "a supreme figure in American life," but also its inverse: what did Elvis do for America? First, as the most prominent figure of the rock'n'roll era, then as a charismatic superstar, he raised questions in the public sphere that allowed a global superpower to explore the limitations of its own project. Those questions concern the relationship between the individual and society, how popular art might be assessed, whether it can be fostered by the marketplace and the extent to which modern society can accommodate social difference. In effect, then, Elvis was made to carry the weight of contradictions in his own culture.
The aim of Elvis Presley is to provide an analytical portrait that introduces the major debates around him and interprets his music and image to reveal why they intersect to construct a particularly powerful and appealing myth that has important functions in wider society.
Published: Sep 1, 2020
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