First, notes from our discussion, followed by my thoughts:
Bragg uses a diversity of quotations and sources –
Sandy Martindale (127) – perspective of someone who knew him
Elisabeth Cronin (127) – president of fan club, obsession with Elvis
Demonstrates the influence Elvis had on such a diverse group of people
Bragg uses a Man-on-the-street format to introduce many people – (name), (age), (occupation):
The structure of the story and the repetition of this form give sense of being inside the convention.
Engages the audience in a dialogue – begins by asking a question (126), then, a few paragraphs later “listen to them”
Word choice implies impersonators are doing Elvis an injustice -
“impostors” (128) suggests they’re doing something they shouldn’t
And the opening line suggests that these people won’t let him rest
Descriptions of Elvis and the people (dual descriptions)
(126) "posers in thick black sideburns resurrect not just a dead man's music but also the pout of his lips and the whirlwind of his hips."
(127) "They came from all over the world to celebrate the life of the young man who seemed so wicked on stage but who loved his mama so much that when she died, he too was lost."
This gives the sense that Elvis is being compared to his fans.
Bragg does ridicule some of his sources -
(128) Megan – "She was 3 years old then" – questioning how she could have loved him immediately
Japanese Elvis – “mama-san” making fun of Elvis comparing himself to Elvis
Bragg might not be making fun of these characters but showing how these fans try to relate him to their own circumstances.
Imagery to show how Elvis is iconic.
- people took pictures of the water fountain, kiss the bathroom floor (126)
- all the different stages of Elvis's life, all the different kinds of Elvis impersonators
Bragg seems to focus on the difference between Elvis the person and the sum of his parts as an icon.
“Elvis is not an icon” (129)
Bragg writes about the over-arching Elvis and what he symbolized
“greatest interpreter of popular song” (127)
"insisted on making him less or more of what he was, even if it that means making him alive again" (129)
Bragg seems to be having fun with the story.
Contrasts silliness of fanatics/zealots with people who interacted with Elvis – people who are fans of his music with members of the Elvis cult
Did a good job of showing not telling – quote-heavy, facts of interviewees
Reveals absurdity of the zealots
Bragg relates seemingly arbitrary details that tend to immortalize Elvis, so Bragg is making him more alive to us than a cold portrayal
Multiple opinions creates a mosaic to give an idea of how Elvis changed
Bragg is constantly observing a divide – New South vs. Old South, performers vs. fans, believers vs. non-believers, outsiders vs. townsfolk – and illuminating each by putting them side by side. He also uses the classic definition of juxtaposition, in that he creates something new by putting these things side-by-side. Not in every story, but in many. In some cases, they are already side-by-side.
juxtaposition—a side-by-side placing of two or more images or words to create an artistic or literary impression
allusion—an indirect reference—in literature, frequently related to the Bible (a Biblical allusion) or Greek mythology (a classical allusion)
One way to note contrasts or juxtapositions are to look for key words, such as “but” “although” “even though”
The title and first line betray a duality of man and legend. The title is a variation on “the king is dead, long live the king,” which is an allusion to when people the British monarchy marked the ascension of the new king at the death of the previous one. It might be a stretch to say that Bragg means it to say that the legend was born when man died, so I might not mention this first in an essay, but, if I knew it (which you aren’t required to), I might end an essay with it.
The first line asks about a man who is dead who, somehow, can’t truly die.
“grew up lean and poor” then “died fat and rich” in second paragraph (126)
Recorded two-sided records, one “black music” the other “country” (127)
Scholars and writers “view Elvis from an academic distance to ponder the meaning of all this” vs. “the people who cry when they hear ‘Love Me Tender’ say meaning is not so important as feeling. Elvis was all about feeling.”
Someone who is from Liverpool calling Elvis “the greatest interpretor of popular song in this century” is a contrast if you think about the pop allusion to Liverpool (the Beatles)
Each of these forces seems to be competing over the man. In some ways, this scene is about a celebration, and, if Bragg had chosen quotations from those who seemed the strangest or those who seemed the most sensible, he’d have made a simple comment on this group. “Icons” is less about the actual symbols – Elvis, iced tea, chitlins, college football – and more about the people who care about them. In each of these stories, there’s something that a reasonable person could regard as good, interesting, valuable, or fun (note the tagline just beneath the title of this section on p. 126), but there’s also something that goes beyond. This is part of the individual stories, but it is also part of the larger human struggle concerning identity. What does it mean to be a Southerner who cares about his/her heritage, and what is that heritage, exactly? The conflict between the Old South – the backwoods, Confederate flags, slavery – and the New South has to do with whether something new can ever by created in the wake of the old and what should be preserved. That’s a question that’s confronted every society in the face of modernity. This idea of identity goes to the core of almost every Big Question we ask ourselves (including “What does it mean to be an American?”). How we revere our icons – be they Elvis, the Red Sox, Margaret Thatcher, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela – says more about us that it does about them. Our identity, how we want to see ourselves and have others see us, is wrapped up in who we admire and how we publicly show our admiration.