Dead King Watch: Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley died thirty years ago and there is a great article in this week's Socialist Worker by Ian Birchall about how socialists might remember 'The King of Rock 'n' Roll'. Birchall notes that the contradictions of rock and of Elvis in particular were missed at the time by most of the Left:
Unfortunately the left was looking the other way. The New Left that had emerged after the Suez crisis defeat for British imperialism and the revolt against Stalinism in Hungary in 1956 preferred jazz and folk music. Communist intellectual Eric Hobsbawm declared that "the habitual rock-and-roll fan, unless mentally rather retarded, tended to be between ten and 15 years of age."
One might take issue here with Birchall a bit - surely Hobsbawm's hostility to rock came out of the rather crude anti-Americanism which affected members of the Communist Party of Great Britain at this time (Americans were routinely labelled 'Yanks' in the context of the Cold War) - and so perhaps Hobsbawm (who stayed in the CPGB after 1956) is here far more representative of the 'Old Left' rather than the 'New'? However, Birchall was around at the time - I wasn't. Yet Birchall is right to take issue with the Left's general dismissal of rock music - I am personally well up for watching the Smashing Pumpkins later this month - yet we wouldn't have got to the heights of the Pumpkins (whose excellent new Kafka-referencing album 'Zeitgeist' surely marks a political turn of sorts) without Elvis - and so it is surely right to salute 'the King' (even if this post was really an excuse for me to discuss the Pumpkins).