The Michigan Daily
Wednesday, January 8, 1992
r/ /' ,4 Marcus examines our thing for the King
,, .. Lipstick Traces author records bizarre Elvisized sociology
by Annette Petruso
Dead Elvis, Greil Marcus' latest
musical/cultural expos6, explores
the images and place of Elvis Pres-
ley in America, that is, the dead
Marcus began writing on Presley
in his 1975 collection of portraits
of certain key musicians in the
American consciousness, Mystery
Train, but Dead Elvis is of a more
odd nature. The Presley legend has
become more than just worship of a
In a recent phone interview from
his home in Berkeley, Marcus de-
scribed the process of writing the
"Around 1978, I began to notice
that what I would've expected to be
a finished story wasn't finished.
People were refusing to let Elvis go
and I kept reading odd articles or
reading strange advertisements or
hearing bizarre punk songs about
Elvis. And I just began to throw
things onto a shelf, and over two or
they came along. The kind of stuff
that just doesn't stop appearing.
"Just yesterday, somebody sent
me a comic book called Buzz Num-
ber Three. The cover story is the
'Fetal Elvis,' the adventures of
Elvis as a fetus fighting against the
evil Jesse Garon who has stolen his
television set in his mother's womb.
Actually, it's funnier than it
"I'd be walking by a newsstand
and I would see things like that
tabloid headline that's in the book,
'Statue of Elvis Found on Mars.'
And I would just buy it. That's too
strange to pass up."
Because of Marcus' "research"
methods and the manner in which
the text is collected, Dead Elvis has
a running theme, but is not a coher-
ent whole. It has a random quality
to it, shared to some degree by Mar-
cus' Lipstick Traces, which he
called a "five-hundred-page book
about a three-minute song 'Anarchy
in the UK."'
"There's a lot of Lipstick that
came out of cutting strange news
stories out of the paper more than
anything else and sticking them up
on the wall and figuring they'll
find their way into this book some-
how," he said. "And some of them
did and some of them didn't. But
Lipstick was more of a conventional
research project. I went in, I spent
three years reading about Dada and I
took two trips to Europe to talk to
situationists and look for forgotten
The concepts for both books,
however, are amusing. One of the ba-
sic concepts of Lipstick Traces, that
is that the "intellectual" move-
ment Dada is related to the Sex Pis-
tols and punk, descendants even,
See MARCUS, Page 8
Sharon (Mimi Rogers) looks awfully mystified after inexplicably
rejecting group sex in favor of God in Michael Tolkin's religious drama,
The Rapture. Unfortunately, no Christ figures in this shot.
The Rapture moves
in mserious ways
dir. Michael Tolkin
by Gabriel Feldberg
The Rapture tells perhaps the
most troubling story about what
* people do for the love of God since
Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac. It
is not a very polished film, yet The
Rapture is so intelligent and so
powerfully unsettling that its
shortcomings never get in its way.
The picture is occasionally scattered
and unclear, but writer and first-
time director Michael Tolkin
doesn't aim to make it explicitly
The Rapture is so in-
telligent and so pow-
erfully unsettling that
never get in its way.
The picture is occa-
sionally scattered and
unclear, but writer
and first-time director
doesn't aim to make it
simple: The Rapture is as confusing
0 a parable as the Book of Job.
The movie centers around an
unfulfilled telephone operator
named Sharon (Mimi Rogers of
Someone to Watch Over Me) who
tries to cure her emptiness by pick-
ing up strangers for slightly deviant
Religious messages seem to fol-
low Sharon everywhere: there are
born-agains at work and knocking
0 door-to-door, and one even tattooed
on the naked back of a woman in one
of Sharon's foursomes. Gradually,
she internalizes Apocalyptic dogma,
and has a near breakdown when she
at last realizes the uncleanliness of
After a dream in which she finds
God, Sharon's faith becomes limit-
less. She joins a church, marries a
Christian and begins a deeply reli-
gious family. A vision carries her to
the California desert with her
daughter, Mary (Kimberly Cul-
lum), where she waits, and waits,
for God to call her up to heaven.
Tolkin's script is deliberately
ambiguous - it's hard to say if
Sharon is going crazy or if she
knows something we all don't. She
says things like, "God made me an
information operator for a reason"
with such conviction that she makes
the absurd seem sensible.
Tolkin treats both believers and
unbelievers with remarkable sensi-
tivity and fairness. He conveys the
alienation Sharon's old friends feel,
but he also gets across how wonder-
ful it must be to have the Universe
Equally ambiguous is the film's
capricious style. Quite a bit of the
movie whips by without explana-
tion, while in other places it passes
as slowly as waiting for the Apoca-
lypse. Some of the script makes
faith sound perfectly natural, but
other snatches of dialogue are as
disingenuous as a Sunday sermon.
Impressive in some scenes, many of
the actors are wooden in others.
Such inconsistencies make The
Rapture unlike conventional Hol-
lywood features. Tolkin isn't con-
cerned with making things look ab-
solutely real. The lighting is exag-
gerated and theatrical, and the
film's few special effects are pleas-
Questioning the way things ap-
pear in The Rapture is like fussing
over whether or not the Red Sea
could have parted. The Rapture is
not meant to be a realistic movie:
like other effective and moving
parables, it is simply human and ac-
THE RAPTURE is playing through
Sunday at the Michigan Theater.
Write for Arts!
Come to the
Monday at 7:30 pm
Arts criticism is a lot like jerking off:
1) You're not actually doing The Real Thing
(although it does take some talent to do what you're
doing if you wanna do it right).
2) Forcing your opinions on readers, like
masturbation, has to be one of the ultimate forms of
3) As long as you don't take what you're doing
too seriously, it can be gobs of fun.
Which brings us to Greil Marcus, rock 'n' roll es-
sayist/pseudo-sociologist supreme. His last offering,
the absurdly overwritten Lipstick Traces, which at-
tempted to link punk, dada and lots of other flashy
subversive movements, was a far cry from his latest,
Subtitled "A Chronicle of a Cultural Obses-
sion," this collection of previously published essays
written between 1977 and 1990 attests more to the
personal obsession of Marcus, who has not only
managed to write about 200 pages (big type) on Pres-
ley without really saying anything, but has also
meticulously collected every pop culture reference
to the Big Fella imaginable, from Sun headlines
("STATUE OF ELVIS FOUND ON MARS") to
album covers (including Detroit's own Elvis
Hitler's Disgraceland LP) to "The last Elvis imi-
tator I fucked was carrying your sacred seed. Please
Sounds like a fun read, right? Well, at times,
Dead Elvis can be. Marcus is obviously quite sin-
cerely into the current subject of his spoutings, and
while entire essays spent on cultural analyses of the
seemingly trivial - Diego Cortez's Private Elvis
collection of photographs, or The Last Temptation of
Elvis compilation cover album - are definitely ex-
cessive, they remain accessible as well.
Unlike Lipstick Traces, which quickly became a
convoluted mess, this group of shorter works is
much easier to digest.
But the problem is that they still ain't satisfying
as a whole. In the opening essay, "Blue Hawaii,"
Marcus - writing from Maui after hearing of Pres-
ley's death - eloquently states his general premise:
I understood Elvis not as a human being (his di-
vorce was interesting to me musically), but as a
force, as a kind of necessity: that is, the necessity
existing in every culture that leads it to produce a
perfect, all-inclusive metaphor for itself. This, I
tried to find a way to say safely, was what Herman
Melville attempted to do with his white whale, but
this is what Elvis Presley turned out to be.
But from here, Marcus' work degenerates, mean-
dering from such extremes as the overkill of a point
by point diatribe attacking Albert Goldman's Elvis
scam ("The Myth Behind the Truth Behind the Leg-
end") to the intriguing outlandishness of an attempt
to draw a connection between the King and Situation-
ist theory ("A Corpse in Your Mouth: Adventures
of a Metaphor, or Modern Cannibalism").
On top of (or perhaps because of) the overall lack
of cohesiveness, the essays eventually dissolve into
an almost indistinguishable, repetitious haze: Elvis
was important. Elvis has permeated American cul-
ture, deeply. Many people are obsessed with Elvis.
So the final question, the one that everything
hinges upon, remains: Is Marcus really taking this
shit seriously? At times, with section headings such
as "The Absence of Elvis," the answer is undoubt-
edly, "Probably not totally completely." But even
if the author is being serious, the reader can't be. The
only thing Dead Elvis is good for is a few laughs, and
reading it won't make you grow hair on your palms.
three years, the shelf became a cou-
ple of shelves, and then it became a
whole bookshelf, and then it became
a second bookshelf," Marcus ex-
"This wasn't a file. This wasn't
anything kept in an orderly manner.
It was really, 'Oh, just look at that,'
'Oh, look at this,' and throwing it
on there. Strange records. Books as
Soundgarden has definitely come
a long way since its 1985 debut EP,
Screaming Life. Some fans of the
Seattle quartet, however, wouldn't
necessarily declare this a good thing.
No longer will one hear the raw,
emotionally draining guitar sound
that spawned many a Sub Pop band.
In that respect, anyone expecting
another Ultra-Mega OK would do
best looking elsewhere. In its place
stands a more polished hard rock
outfit with a greater vision of its
Badmotorfinger sounds more like
a total group effort than any previ-
ous Soundgarden release. Guitarist
Kim Thayil successfully tries his
hand at lyric writing on the song
"Room A Thousand Years Wide."
Throughout the rest of the al-
bum, Thayil produces a cleaner,
richer guitar sound that allows him
to show off more of his technique
than in earlier efforts, which were
drowned in a wall of guitar noise.
Hiro Yamamoto, with his inno-
vative bass style, is absent from this
album, replaced by newcomer Ben
Sheperd. Sheperd fills the vacant
role admirably. In "Somewhere,"
his playing is quite reminiscent of
Yamamoto's own standout bass
performances. Sheperd seems to fit
in nicely with the rest of the band,
especially with Matt Cameron, the
other component of the rhythm sec-
tion, who delivers yet another mas-
terful show on drums.
The center of attention, never-
theless, largely continues to be lead
singer Chris Cornell. Although
Cornell's voice has sometimes
lacked sincerity, he gives a very
powerful performance throughout
Millions of 'em... all your faves!
340 la S. State STAIRWAY
OPEN 7 DAYS A WEEK TO0 HEAVEN
With the ability to change from
a low growl to a high-pitched
frenzy, Cornell doesn't seem to be
half-hearted about his singing any-
more. "Room A Thousand Years
Wide" displays him at his finest -
changing from his husky, mild-man-
nered voice at the beginning to an
all-out vocal beating by the finish.
Don't let the polished sound
fool you. Soundgarden continues to
break traditional heavy metal/hard
rock clich6s. Lyrically, Cornell sub-
tly rips apart various stereotypes in
our society. Everything from over-
using the Christ figure ("Jesus
Christ Pose") to people forcing
their views upon others ("Holy
Water") is fair game for Cornell's
criticism and biting abuse.
Badmotorfinger has a degree of
depth that is quite uncommon in
music today. Granted, it still offers
a hard rock workout all by itself.
But, for the more attentive listener,
Soundgarden actually has some in-
teresting things to say.
The band doesn't beat you over
the head with politically correct
See RECORDS, Page 8
Program in Film and Video Studies
Available Courses --Winter 1992
Film\Video & English 412 Sec 002
The films of Max Ophuls and Joseph von Sternberg.
Lecture: T & Th, 9:30 -10:30 pm, MLB Aud 4
Screening: W, 7:00 pm, Angell Hall Aud A
Instructor: Visiting Professor Susan White
-nm 0 I'A A Af% - e flf
WOMEN'S RIGHTS. DATE RAPE.
See how students in the 60s dealt with the
same issues facing you today.
ZOO ZOO CHRONICLES
a play written and directed by Elise Bryant
Bring Your Best Friend
to revisit life on campus in 1969-1974 as Chronicles
takes you effortlessly on a journey of self-definition for
three college roommates who form life-long friendships at
the height of the Viet Nam war, the escalation of the Afro-
American movement and the beginnings of the women's
movement. The foundation of our future, built by students
then, is awaiting completion in our choices of today.