14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
NOT JUST FOR ELVIS FANS ...
David Rosen's book reads like a meditation. He begins with two questions: "Why does Elvis' popularity persist?" and "What does that say about our culture?" He then tries to address these questions through a series of devotions centered around Taoist concepts. There are 42 devotions, one for each year of Elvis' life.
Dr. Rosen is clear that his objective is not to diagnose Elvis - as trying to define such a mythic figure would be like (in Lao Tzu's words) trying to "pin a butterfly: the husk is captured, but the flying is lost" (p. 145). Like the Tao, Elvis is a mystery full of contradiction. He is elusive. And Rosen tells us that the contradictory images of Elvis are not only what keep him alive for us - they have the potential to be the source of our own healing. The book is a compassionate work that seeks to restore this cultural icon - not through revision (e.g., trying to show that Elvis was on some path of enlightenment and made it) but rather through understanding that in the archetypal Elvis lies our own struggle with our dual nature. (Rosen focuses mainly on the double-edged quality of the King archetype - how it can function either as a channel to the divine or a destructive mechanism for the one who tries to live it out in human form.) What I like about this approach is that it emanates from a belief in the possibility of redemption - for Elvis and for us. For while "wholeness" (a Jungian ideal) may not have been achieved by Elvis in his lifetime, we can, in a sense, make him whole by finding meaning in his suffering (something he was not able to do himself) and by living according to what we learn.
Rosen uses technical terms derived from depth psychology (particularly Jung and Winnicott), e.g., archetypes, true self, false self, creative soul, shadow, and persona, but doesn't provide much explanation (although the uninitiated reader should be able to understand the concepts generally on the basis of context). As this is not a scholarly work but a meditation I think his approach makes sense. However, as a psychotherapist, I would like to have seen more text devoted to the process of individuation which Elvis, according to Rosen, was not able to complete. (Personally, I think Elvis' individuation is a failure only if we think of individuation as a completely linear process. As Rosen writes, Elvis vacillated between positions of insight and self-destruction - and this is likely what accounts for our ambivalence toward him: he is both the talented hero/rebel deserving of admiration and an obnoxious caricature who evokes disdain or pity. Perhaps there is wholeness in that.) For example, toward the end of the book, he writes "... Elvis felt there was little he could do to change. Of course, he could have done something, if he'd only been willing. He could have channeled his rage into killing his false self, then undergone a symbolic death of his self-destructive self and rebirth of his creative true self ..." (p. 145). But this is the first mention of Elvis' rage and it isn't altogether clear how this process could have transformed Elvis. Such a quick treatment may give the reader the false impression that Dr. Rosen thinks this is an easy achievement (perhaps owing to his modesty, he does not mention that he has written extensively on this process in another book, Transforming Depression: Healing the Soul through Creativity, although it is in his bibliography). And if we focus too much on Elvis' failed transformation, it is easy for us to miss one of Rosen's main points: that our awareness of our own weakness and vulnerability is the fountainhead of empathy. Elvis had this awareness (at least some of the time) along with a great capacity to care for others.
The quotes are interesting and fun, from myriad cultural sources - including Elvis himself - ranging from the popular (John Lennon, Bono, Bruce Springsteen) to the religious (Lao Tzu, Thomas Merton, and Martin Buber); however, my favorite passages were those in which Dr. Rosen speaks from his own experience.
Overall, The Tao of Elvis is a loving tribute to a cherished cultural figure who was, like all of us, a flawed human being.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Sir Charles Panther
- Published on Amazon.com
The King said it: "You've got to have rain in order to have a rainbow," (p. 99).
This book is really two books in one, and where they meet is literally in the mind of the reader. The first is the highly refined, imminently informed Taoist meditation, with some truly stunning quotations and through them, editorial injection on the part of author David Rosen. I'm no Taoist scholar, but you can sure tell that Rosen is, a highly accomplished and traveled one at that, and his take on this book is not that of a snarky intellectual art-flack winking at you as he cleverly links the pure and sublime with its apparent earthly incarnation in the form of Elvis. Rosen is serious here, and it comes through immediately.
The preface and introduction are quite good--my kudos to the editor and Rosen--providing a great view of author Rosen, where he's coming from with this book, and his qualifications to write it. These two pieces up front really set the tone of the book, and do it very well.
The structure of the rest of the book is very straightforward, a series of short chapters with thematic titles such as "Opposites," Giving and Generosity," "Alone and Loneliness," and "Spirit, Soul, and Religion." Each chapter begins with a single quote on the theme of the chapter, from someone, anyone, who spoke well upon it, such as Kahlil Gibran saying, "You [Elvis] have walked among us as a spirit," on the theme of "Sprit, Soul, and Religion." There then follows a few choice Taoist quotes on the theme, from those so qualified to do it, such as Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Ho-Shang Kung, etc. Mirroring these Taoist quotes are quotes and observations from The King himself, as well as those who knew him, including James Brown, Larry Geller, Ann-Margret, Bono, Linda Thompson, K. D. Lang, Natalie Wood, Bruce Springsteen, Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Carter, etc. The chapter then concludes with a short Rosen narrative elaborating upon and contextualizing the theme and quotes.
I found this structure to read very well and quickly, which made it quite enjoyable. The themes change quickly, and you can move through the book quickly if you choose, or you may choose to pause and contemplate. It took me a couple of chapters to see it, and then it hit: the book's narrative structure is Taoist in itself. Outstanding.
The book concludes with two truly wonderful additions. First, there are detailed endnotes, more than enough for you to pursue your curiosity in any of the issues, themes, and respondents in this book. Immediately following is a comprehensive bibliography providing full information to support the notes.
Given the depth of the scholarly attention to detail here, I'm surprised Rosen and his editorial crew did not provide an index. This would have been a simple and very helpful addition to the book, especially given the depth and number of individual names offered throughout the book.
For me, the most enjoyable part of this book was reading the thematically-grouped quotes and observations from Elvis and those close to him. Of course, there was some over-deification, the glorification of Elvis, making the somewhat predictable hyperbolic comparisons and delivering spot-on hindsight views of how he lived his life and how it would all turn out, but thankfully these were few and far between. I loved the snippets from The Gospel of Elvis, the views on his love of music, his voice, his innate rhythm, and his ability to influence others.
In conclusion, this is not a deep, thick scholarly tome crammed tight with big words on dry subjects, not even close. Rosen is definitely in his element with this subject matter, but he keeps the flow fast and positive, and does not bog down the reader with philosophical jargon or analysis, rather letting the reader draw their own meaning(s) from the quotes and ideas offered. If you're a die-hard philosophy addict looking for deep examination of Taoist concepts in the context of Elvis, rock and roll, destructive stardom, and the nature of cultural icon creation and downfall, this isn't what you're after. This book also is not another low-budget Elvis exploitation rag. Its treatment of him is respectful and positive throughout, even while admitting The King's flaws and human failings. If you're an Elvis fan, you'll enjoy this.