Cover image for Double trouble : Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in a land of no alternatives
Double trouble : Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in a land of no alternatives
Marcus, Greil.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Henry Holt, 2000.
Physical Description:
xxii, 248 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
"A John Macrae book."
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E886.2 .M365 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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From the critic who knows music and culture like no other, a fascinating look at two outsiders who epitomize America's fractured self-image

In June of 1992, when all polls showed Bill Clinton didn't have a chance, he took his saxophone onto the Arsenio Hall Show , put on dark glasses, and blew "Heartbreak Hotel." Greil Marcus, one of America's most imaginative and insightful critics, was the first to name this as the moment that turned Clinton's campaign around - and to make sense of why.
In Double Trouble , drawing on pieces he published from 1992 to 2000, Marcus explores the remarkable and illuminating kinship between Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley. In a cultural landscape where ideals and choices are increasingly compromised and commodified, the constantly mutating representations of Clinton and Elvis embody the American struggle over purity and corruption, fear and desire. Focusing as well on Hillary Clinton, Nirvana, Sinead O'Connor, Andy Warhol, Roger Clinton, and especially BobDylan, Marcus pursues the question of how culture is made and how, through culture, people remake themselves. The result is a unique and essential book about the final decade of the twentieth century.

Author Notes

Greil Marcus is the author of "Invisible Republic," "Dead Elvis," "Lipstick Traces," & "Mystery Train." His pieces have appeared in a wide range of publications, including "Artforum," "Interview," "The New Yorker," "The New York Times," & "Esquire." He will be teaching at Princeton & Berkeley in fall 2000.

(Publisher Provided) Greil Marcus was born in San Francisco, California in 1945. He received an undergraduate degree in American studies from the University of California, Berkeley. He has been a rock critic and columnist for Rolling Stone, Creem, The Village Voice, Artforum, and other publications. He has written several books including Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century, Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession, and When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Marcus, known primarily as a rock critic, actually focuses on how rock has affected (and reflected) culture, rather than on the music itself. Double Trouble restructures his work from the past eight years, loosely organized around the link between Presley and Clinton: outsiders, Southerners, and, the introduction suggests, "alive in the common imagination as blessed, tawdry actors in a pretentious musical comedy cum dinner-theatre Greek tragedy about their country's most unresolved notions of what it means to be good, true, and beautiful--and evil, false, and ugly." The prez and/or the pop idol are the subject of many pieces, but there are also commentaries on Dylan and Kurt Cobain, Pere Ubu and the movie Pleasantville. The collection includes essays from Rolling Stone, Esquire, Details, Artforum, cyberspace's Salon, even European publications. Marcus is opinionated and sometimes pompous, but his thoughtful observations on the past eight years of music, politics, and culture should circulate where his previous works (e.g., Dead Elvis [1991] and The Dustbin of History [1995]) have been popular. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



DOUBLE TROUBLE Part One THE ELVIS ELECTION 1992-1993 A Moral Crisis I n late February and early March I went from London to Dublin to Amsterdam to talk about a book on the culture that's grown up around Elvis Presley since he died--you can say promote, or flog, but most of the time that's not what it felt like. Newsbreaks included the National Enquirer's Dee Presley explosion: HIS OWN STEPMOM REVEALS SHOCKING TRUTH AT LAST--ELVIS AND HIS MOM WERE LOVERS. The U.S. Postal Service announced a primary-season vote to decide which of two artist's-rendering Elvis head shots (more or less '56 vs. '73, both looking fine) would be chosen for the long-awaited Elvis stamp. (With George Bush singing Presley's praises on a campaign stop in Memphis and Molly Ivins rating Paul Tsongas "minus-zero on the Elvis scale"--despite, or because of, his win over Bill Clinton in the New Hampshire Democratic primary--the timing of this election was sublime.) Meanwhile, an Irish high court judge refused to allow a fourteen-year-old girl who, her family told police, had been raped and impregnated by her best friend's father, to travel to England for an abortion. The theme I carried in my head was "That's Someone You Never Forget," a 1961 Elvis number I'd heard for the first time a week before, on the radio--a ghostly, passionate, infinitely more personal version of his 1955 "Blue Moon." The disc jockey announced theperformance as a previously unreleased take from the latest RCA grave robbery, a.k.a. a three-CD box called Collectors Gold (the budget apparently didn't allow for an apostrophe). The number wasn't there, but the set did include something just as far away: a moment of studio dialogue worth more than the rest of the music. It's 1968: "PAPA OO MAU MAU papa oo mau mau," Elvis announces to his assembled musicians. "Be talkin' in unknown tongues here in a minute." Before the band can stop him, he slides into a distant second of "I Got a Woman," and you can imagine he is going to take the song all the way home, all the way back to the glossolalia from which both he and the song came, to the primal swamp of deliverance and revelation. Well, of course not: there's work to do, they've got a typically throwaway ballad called "Going Home" to cut. But there is a reach for that deliverance in "That's Someone You Never Forget." "It's credited to Elvis and Red West--you know, one of his bodyguards," said Ger Rijff, former head of the Dutch Elvis Society, in Amsterdam. "Elvis came to Red West with the title and asked him to write a song from it. About his mother, it's said"--Gladys Presley, who died in 1958, at forty-six, after, if Dee Presley is right, years of bliss with Elvis in her bed, or she in his. "It makes sense," said Adrian Sibley of the BBC's The Late Show. "America has brought Elvis up to date: now he needs therapy just like everybody else. Don't they have twelve-step programs for incest survivors?" "It makes sense," said Jip Golsteijn, pop critic for the Amsterdam Telegraaf. "It's what I heard again and again in Tupelo, years ago. Nobody meant it as a condemnation. Given the way Elvis and Gladys were about each other, it was simply the conclusion everyone drew." In Dublin, Joe Jackson of Hot Press looked over the Elvis stamp choices, noted that Elvis was still being shot from the waist up, and mentioned that among Irish intellectuals, it was only the revelation that Elvis, too, was a drug addict, like Charlie Parker or Chet Baker, that made him cool. The day before, Sinéad O'Connor hadtold a Dublin abortion-rights rally that as a mother she herself had had two abortions--and that if there were to be a new referendum on Ireland's nearly absolute ban on abortions, passed by a two-to-one vote of the populace in 1983, only women of childbearing age should be allowed to take part. Just as in Amsterdam it was strange to be in a great city without people sleeping in doorways or begging on every corner, in Dublin it was strange, after months of listening to presidential candidates evade the political crisis that is turning the U.S.A. into a nation of scapegoaters, to be in a city in the grip of a moral crisis, where it really made no sense to talk about anything else. People everywhere had their radios on for bulletins on the Irish Supreme Court's hearing on the fourteen-year-old's appeal; as the government spoke of possible exceptions for this "special case," one heard the story of another raped teenager, who had hidden her pregnancy from her family, and who died along with the baby, giving birth in a churchyard, alone. The papers read tensely. The Irish Times alternated hard news with a series of riveting editorials, superbly reasoned, carefully worded. The tabloid press played up accusations by anti-abortion leaders that the raped girl had almost certainly seduced whoever got her pregnant, while a Catholic priest claimed that abortion-rights groups had conspired with the girl to create a "test case" to overturn the abortion law. There were marches in the street, and biting satire on television. RAPED? read a cut-in on Nighthawks, an interview show filmed in a studio made over into a crowded Dublin pub: PREGNANT? DISTRESSED? IRISH? FORGET IT. With a cut back to the pub, a woman spoke into a pay phone: "Yeah, this is Sinéad O'Connor," she said, in a good imitation of O'Connor's thick snarl. "You tell the prime minister I'm hangin' on this line until he picks it up--I don't care if I stay here all week." O'Connor was taking a lot of heat in Dublin--for pop-star arrogance, for "divisiveness"--but people missed the point. Singing or talking, she stands up to saywhat she thinks, to piss people off. Like Madonna, she means to make everyone uncomfortable in their turn. She's a punk, not a politician. So was Elvis, in a different way--in the clothes he wore, the way he moved, not what he said. No, you can't imagine him in O'Connor's shoes, even if he helped put her in hers; that's why it remains so easy to write him off. "American history doesn't look the slightest bit different for the presence, or the art, of Elvis Presley," I read in the London Review of Books as I arrived in the U.K. "Presley is a distraction, a placebo," the writer went on--unlike, he said, the "feral" Howlin' Wolf. The pictures of Elvis in almost every London newspaper and magazine, marking a William Eggleston retrospective at the Barbican Art Gallery--"Colour Photographs Ancient and Modern"--were not an answer. Every publication used the same shot from Memphian Eggleston's Graceland portfolio: the only one that included a portrait of Elvis himself. But the reference was to nothing. In the service of publicity, this Elvis was less a recognizable symbol than a symbol of recognizability. So I tried to talk around such ciphers, and I was lucky to get back more than I gave. Ger Rijff had been at one of Elvis's winter 1976 concerts, and remembered it with horror: "I knew it couldn't go on." Jip Golsteijn had met Presley after being ushered up to his Las Vegas suite with presidents of various international fan clubs. "I got his ear somehow," Golsteijn said. "I said, 'Was this your ambition? Did you ever think you'd get so far?' He just looked at me. 'If I had any ambition,' he said, 'it was to be as good as Arthur Crudup'"--the bluesman who wrote "That's All Right," Elvis's first record. "'I wanted to be as good as Arthur Crudup when I saw him, back in '49. Arthur Crudup--you know that name?'" Yeah, he knew it. Interview, May 1992 Copyright © 2000 by Greil Marcus. All rights reserved.. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address Picador USA, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. Excerpted from Double Trouble: Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in a Land of No Alternatives by Greil Marcus All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. xiii
Part 1 The Elvis Election: 1992-1993
A Moral Crisisp. 5
Advice to Bill Clintonp. 9
How the Heartaches Beganp. 12
Images of the Present Dayp. 16
The Roger Clinton Experiencep. 34
Flashback: The Music Playing Outside Bill Clinton's Oxford Dorm Roomp. 37
Pop Music Saves the World Againp. 41
Artist of the Yearp. 44
Bill Clinton: Hound Dog or Teddy Bear?p. 46
Part 2 Traces of Extremist Culture in a Time of Broken Politics: 1993-1997
Bob Dylan Argues with Himself at the Inaugurationp. 55
The Summer of Love Generation Reaches the White House. So Do Their Kidsp. 58
More Thoughts on the White House Playlistp. 62
But Not Lifep. 66
What's New in the Cemeteryp. 70
Mystery Train After Thirty-nine Yearsp. 74
Elvis and Hermes, Together Again at Lastp. 77
Clinton Places Behind Juliette Lewis, Ahead of Prince in New Poll; McCarthyism Tops "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"p. 83
Traces of Extremist Culture in a Time of Broken Politicsp. 87
Kurt Cobain 1967-1994p. 91
Nirvana After the 1994 Congressional Electionsp. 96
Gladys Love Smith and Vernon Elvis Presleyp. 100
Bob Dylan After the 1994 Congressional Electionsp. 104
Nostalgiap. 108
Mario Savio 1943-1996p. 112
Allen Ginsberg 1926-1997p. 116
Tell-Tale Heartp. 119
August 16, 1997: The Drifterp. 122
August 16, 1997: The Farmerp. 129
A Map You Can Throw Awayp. 132
The Story Untoldp. 138
Part 3 The Last Laugh: 1998-2000
J. T. Walshp. 149
Heaven's Gatep. 155
America at the Beginning of the Twentieth Centuryp. 159
Pennsylvania at the End of the Twentieth Centuryp. 163
The Last Laughp. 170
Demand the Impossiblep. 192
Artist of the Yearp. 198
Center of the Universep. 201
Pleasantvillep. 206
A Look Backp. 211
The Man from Nowherep. 217
Works Citedp. 231
Acknowledgmentsp. 235
Indexp. 239