Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Review: Elvis Is Dead and I Don't Feel So Good Myself

Author:  Lewis Grizzard

Date: 1984

Publisher: Peachtree Publishers / Warner Books

ISBN: none

Length: 269 pages

Quote: “[I]f Elvis Presley was forty-two and old enough to die, what did that say about me?”

Lewis Grizzard became a curmudgeon prematurely. He was an early baby-boomer, and in this book he complains about the trends in pop culture that defined middle and late baby-boomers—listening to the Beatles or Run-DMC instead of Elvis Presley, e.g. So he basically spends the whole book talking about my less-than-half of our generation. I suppose that gives me the right to pass judgment on how offensive it is. I think most of his criticism of people my age was hilarious, and the rest of it was much-needed advice more of us should have listened to. So there.

He left, of course, an opening, which so far nobody seems to be taking, for someone currently between ages 40 and 55 to write a book explaining, in witty detail, how the Beatles actually composed and performed some interesting music during an historical period when Elvis Presley had completely lost whatever shock value or sex appeal or youth appeal he’d ever had. The Elvis I remember looked older and sicker than my mother, who was the same age and was certified hypothyroid. Of course by this time the Beatles were evolving in an underwhelming direction too, taking drugs and acting stoned in public even to the extent of bragging, because they had apparently been composing music in their heads on the day the word “hubris” was explained at their school. But this is supposed to be a book review, so someone else can complete the analysis of what else went wrong with pop music in the twentieth century. Possibly one of my sisters, both of whom definitely belong to Generation X, and one of whom can make a pretty good case for Run-DMC.

Aside from fascinating arguments about the merits of different bands and singers, what else does this book contain? Well, there’s an assumption that readers “never forget days like...the day John Kennedy was killed. Like the day Martin Luther King was killed. Like the day Robert Kennedy was killed. Like the day Nixon resigned.” Funnily enough, although I was alive on more than one of those days, the only one I remember at all is the day Nixon resigned.

There’s a demonstration of ignorance about hippie styles. Grizzard thought that the hygiene problem with bare feet would involve sweat. Duh.

There’s a comically exaggerated reminiscence about the fad for skin-tight jeans, in which Grizzard fails to consider the possibility that women who demanded that men buy into this fad were just making a point about previous fads for girdles and miniskirts and similar badges of oppression.

There’s an oddly moving anecdote about a woman who allegedly lured Grizzard over to her side in a singles bar, inflating his mistaken ideas of what women might want, just to tell him his fly was open.

There’s an excellent comment on the real reason why today’s out-loud “gay” lobby are losing sympathy even among those of us who have no desire to persecute homosexuals. My way of putting it might be that homosexuality is one kink, promiscuity is another kink, and exhibitionism is another kink; whatever your kinks may be, if you don’t think “don’t ask, don’t tell” is an excellent and liberating policy for all of us, your primary kink is exhibitionism, to which I think nobody should even try to be friendly. Grizzard uses 163 words to make this point, but his words are funnier.

There’s a reminiscence about the movies and TV sitcoms of the 1950s. (Since we didn't pick up TV broadcasts reliably here until 1978, a lot of retired people are now subscribing to cable channels that re-broadcast the classics of war-baby and early-boomer culture. So it's possible for anyone who's interested in these articles to know what they're about.)

There’s a chapter full of excruciatingly funny reminiscences about the changing trends in parenting and educating between the 1950s and the 1980s. All I’ll say about a chapter with a title like “Who Does My [body part with a name that resembles the word "but"] Belong to Now?” is that this is Grizzard’s real revenge on women my age who do things like wafting a guy to our side just to notify him of some fixable problem with his appearance. Some of us were unsuspectingly reading this book in public, and this chapter forced us to giggle out loud, which caused people to demand that we share the joke. Sure, a modern woman can read this chapter aloud, even to a third-grade class, but some things don’t change: when you read a first-person account of the gender-specific experience of someone of the opposite sex, you become the joke.

There’s a chapter about sports and male bonding, which culminates in a story about a young man eating a phonograph record. And I’ll bet Grizzard would have thought today’s stupid-guy jokes are bad.

There’s a chapter about food trends, in which Grizzard expresses his strange, but well stated, inability to appreciate the trend toward letting people assemble their own salad their own way in a restaurant. He also expresses a perception that asparagus resembles a house plant, which I find strange, in the sense that I’ve never seen such a house plant, and a perception that asparagus is not a taste treat, which I find tragic. Home-grown asparagus, fresh out of the garden, is a once-a-year treat to which even toddlers will look forward next year. By the time it's been trucked to the store, asparagus is just another vegetable. When it's been in the store for a few days, or has been canned, asparagus is yucky. People who don't like asparagus are people who've never had the opportunity to find out what people who love asparagus are talking about, and it's sad that any American should have to be one of those people.

There’s a bit about computers, written long before anyone had even imagined the kind of computer on which you’re reading this, which of course makes the chapter a real scream.

There’s a bit about why Grizzard didn’t spend enough time in therapy to maintain hipness during the Age of Therapy, which, incidentally, exposes the real root of the problems with women that weren’t so funny in his real life: Men who make good husbands do understand cats.

There’s also documentation of the real secret of Elton John’s success. I would not have known this firsthand, but I’m sure it’s true, because there had to have been some secret to that pretentious no-talent’s success...Well, there’s probably not a way to read or discuss this book without getting into some kind of argument about pop music. Too bad. One book can’t have everything.

By now Lewis Grizzard is dead too, so this is not a Fair Trade Book, just a book that I...have already sold in real life, actually, though I can get more copies if local readers want them. To buy it here, e-mail; the minimum price for online orders is $5 per book and $5 for shipping. This book has been printed in a few different editions and you might find a better deal on one of them at Amazon or E-Bay.