Music of the Shears | Letters | Chicago Reader

Music of the Shears 

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To the editors:

This is in regards to Christopher Hill's "think piece" on Elvis Presley ["A New Way to Be," August 28].

Affectation is sometimes a profitable thing, when the pretense is earnest and the attitude one pretends to have is of value; it is a way of making dreams come true. But when, instead, our professions consist of empty words and extravagant gestures, corresponding to no human possibility, then we are guilty of that form of affectation known as sentimentality.

To be plain: "Elvis Presley" was (and is) the name of an exceedingly successful product. In the jargon of show business this kind of product is called a "phenomenon." Such phenomena--and since Elvis's heyday there have been many--are deliberately manufactured out of whole cloth. Phenomena became technically possible with the advent of the means for placing identical thoughts, attitudes, pictures, etc, into the heads of millions of people simultaneously. Anything that occupies the thoughts of large numbers is felt to have deep significance. While this may have had some validity in the past as only that which was inherently interesting, for whatever reasons good or bad, was likely to entertain the attentions of so many, it is no longer the case.

Elvis Presley is one of a numerous and growing class of persons who count as a technical fact and not as a human personality. No doubt the person cast in such a role may not find it a very happy condition, and Presley does not seem to have enjoyed it.

And now to return to sentimentality. I think the argument above goes some way toward explaining why so much writing on "pop culture" is weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable. For the phenomenon of "Phenomena" involves a falsification and confusion of values, an ascription of feelings appropriate to one kind of experience to another kind of experience to which such feelings do not belong. Is it any wonder that Paul Simon cannot explain why "some part of me wants to see Graceland"? And it is arrant sentimentality to see in old film footage of Presley (as Greil Marcus claims to have seen) "movements so suggestive, not merely of things sexual, but of all possibility." This is only a new way of being ridiculous.

No, my friends! The mass media have not given us so much a global village as an international sheepfold; and rock 'n' roll is not the music of the spheres--it is the music of the shears.

Rex Johnson

W. Chicago

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