Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The King is gone, long gone...
He's fading into the mist through the ages, isn't he?

ELVIS PRESLEY would've been 72 years old today. He left this world over 30 years ago, and he's been mocked and made fun of through the years; perhaps in some cases, justifiably so, but then again, there was only One Elvis; indeed, who else did things like he did? He started out strong in the '50s, faded away in the early '60s, staged a successful comeback in the late '60s and early '70s, and by 1977, the flame burned out, and he was gone. My own Elvis memories are really patchy; my Mom had the singles of "Hound Dog" and "Love Me Tender", and I remember her playing them on a little RCA phonograph that would only play 45's, and you had to plug it into the back of an RCA radio before you could hear the record. That's back when I was a fairly new arrival in this world.

As I grew up in the '60s, listening to whatever music was popular, I didn't hear all that much of Elvis Presley; he'd stopped having big hits during that time, and his presence just wasn't on the radio very a whole lot. I remember hearing "U.S. Male" and "Long Legged Girl (With The Short Dress On)" a few times on the air; both of those songs came out in the late '60s, but they weren't big hits and soon they weren't played anymore. The first Elvis record I bought was "In The Ghetto" (1969); that one got a lot of airplay, and then, of course, came "Suspicious Minds", which was ha-hyoooooge, and I grew to like that one a lot, too. That was the second Elvis single I bought, waaaay back when.

Then, all of a sudden, he seemed to disappear from the radio again until 1972, when his "Burning Love" single was all over the place, and I thot, "hey, this is as good as anything else out there", and then he disappeared from the radio AGAIN until he came out with his version of an old Timi Yuro song, "Hurt"...which he belted out in a big hunk o' tortured passion in 1976. Shortly after that, "Moody Blue" hit the airwaves, and then, wham, bang, The King Was Gone. I found it ironic that the first posthumous Elvis hit was "Way Down", since that's where he was. Six Feet Down.

I never have understood why Oldies radio stations seem to always feature Elvis' later-period song, "Kentucky Rain"...to me, that's not really an Elvis song. It's good, but it's fairly generic country-flavored schmaltz that isn't really representative of What Elvis Could Do. I have since backtracked into the Elvis catalogue, and have most of his albums; the movie soundtracks he recorded range from innocuous to purely awful. That said, one of my favorite Elvis songs is from his movie, "Girls! Girls! Girls!"...yep, that's right, for some reason I really 'dig' the song, "Do The Clam". I don't know why. And believe me, I've asked myself dozens of times. It's just a fun song. Dumb, but fun.

Of course, now, in these latter days, I've bought Elvis movies and DVD's, and of course, we've all seen his concerts here and there, whether live or recorded, and all I can say is, when he was good, he was GREAT. I see him as a vulnerable talent manipulated by cruel and sadistic management, courtesy of Colonel Tom Parker, who reportedly was a corrupt so-and-so who never was a U.S. citizen; he was in the states illegally; he was born in Holland. There are Elvis books galore where you can pursue the details of his life...right now, I'm reading, for the first time, Albert Goldman's distorted, inflammatory Elvis biography; I've read quite a few others
which aren't inflammatory. I suppose the complete truth lies somewhere in-between.
Why didn't I post a photograph of Elvis here, opting to instead use an artist's rendition of The King? Because, all an artist can do in a painting is represent the subject, and as memories fade, a sort of idealization and distortion takes place, until we don't really remember the details, but we remember the concept. Elvis has been gone so long, now, that he can basically be anything we want him to be. Some choose to poke fun at him, others are still devoted fans; like the Elvis books that have been published, again, I suppose the complete truth lies somewhere in-between. So, here's a painting of Elvis, and this is an image we generally remember because he made his first, and most successful comeback in 1968, and this was the way he looked. He'd been 'away' for most of the decade doing stupid movies, but with this comeback TV special, he announced to the world that he was BACK. In Elvis' greatest moments, he was almost superhuman. A fascinating character study, but if you don't want to get clinical, you can always hear an Elvis rock song, and it'll get the blood flowin' and the toes a-tappin'.
My own favorite Elvis records (in addition to "Do The Clam") are "Hound Dog", "Too Much", "Money Honey", "Marie's The Name", "Little Sister", and "Viva Las Vegas" (another fairly dubious choice on my part)...and he does some fantastic blues on the album, "Elvis Is Back!", his first album after he was done serving time in the Military over there in Germany. John Lennon once said that, basically, Elvis died the minute he went into the Army in the late '50s. It is true that Elvis all of a sudden became sort of a cleaned-up, buffooned image of his previous self. I probably am being cruel when I say that Elvis wasted his talent during the early-to-mid '60s...but that's precisely what he did. Elvis devotees loved everything he ever recorded...ack! I'm an incurable Beatles fan, and THEY did songs I don't like all that well.
But, hey, Elvis, you did some mighty fine stuff, too. You were what you were, and like the rest of us, there was some 'good', a lot of 'mediocre' and some 'bad' thrown in as well. But, as far as some of the great music you put down on vinyl, thankya. Thankya very much...and try not to spin in your grave too fast, should you ever hear that purely awful "Viva Viagra" commercial, okay?
Ladies and gentlemen, I have now left the building...please exit in an orderly fashion. Thankya. Thankya very much...


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