Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for Elvis




The couple of hours left of E is not enough time to do justice to Elvis, the King of Rock 'n' Roll who was more of a cultural icon than anybody before or since.

There's a Talking Heads lyric: "One day you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack." Elvis didn't have to wait. He was born into one in Tupelo, Mississippi.

There can be few less promising places to rise to stardom from. Elvis was said to be mediocre at music at school but he was inseparable from his guitar. When his family moved to Memphis, occupying rooms in boarding houses, the influence of the musical Mecca, rubbed off on Presley.

Elvis ushered in a new age of music and his matinee good looks and gyrating moves ensured he became the first global teen idol.





Britain is often hailed as the home of cool music but in the 1950s and early 1960s British youth looked wistfully west and had to make do with Cliff Richard closer to home, a singer who would years later have a Number One hit called Mistletoe and Wine. Enough said.

Elvis was also launched into movies with dizzying results. The audience response at Presley's live shows became increasingly frenzied. One commentator recalled, "He'd start out, 'You ain't nothin' but a Hound Dog,' and they'd just go to pieces."

If Elvis was the world's first superstar he also had a classic superstar downfall. Ruined by wealth and a failed marriage to Priscilla he became increasingly dependent on a cocktail of drugs. There are tales about Elvis ordering dozens of hamburgers a day and shooting TV sets to liven up his miserable existence.

By the early 1970s the idol had become a huge and grotesque mockery of himself. Guitarist John Wilkinson recalled, "He was all gut. He was slurring."

There are now two personas of Elvis in the public imagination; the energetic young crooner and the big bejeweled Elvis with heavy dark glasses so beloved of Elvis impersonators. There didn't seem to be an in between Elvis.

Elvis died in 1977 and his home at Graceland instantly became a shrine. Later there was an unsuccessful attempt to steal his body.




Elvis' life and death should have been a clear lesson to all of those who came after him. But it's not one that the Amy Winehouses, Michael Jacksons and Whitney Houstons of later years, chose to heed.

Curious fact about Elvis: He had an identical twin brother who was stillborn at birth. It's curious to think what would have happened had he lived. Would he have made a living as an Elvis body double?

11 comments:

  1. If you get a chance, David, you've gotta - just gotta - visit Graceland. The tour begins with everyone laughing and singing Elvis' songs when they get on a little bus to take them across the street to Graceland. It doesn't take long for the merriment to fade into tears. How RCA took advantage of Elvis was criminal. How the Army treated Elvis was heartless. His mother was dying but the Army didn't want him to have favored publicity so wouldn't let him visit her before shipping out to Germany (as other soldiers would have received) but relented too late. Elvis had little time to bury his mother and get to Germany (unlike other soldiers). He couldn't sleep so started taking speed (diet pills) to really stay up and play baseball. The rest is history. One thing all commented on at Graceland: The outfits he wore while bloated were small. "Last Train to Memphis" is a superb read you won't put down. Yep, I had a crush on Elvis, just knew Pricilla would be a witch and he'd dump her for me, LOL.

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  2. 4sure Kitty - I do want to visit Graceland actually as it's pop icon history and you are right. It seems he was a victim as much as a superstar.

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  3. Okay, so yesterday I oddly spent like 30 minutes on your blog, just listening to all the Duran Duran songs and reading your post and watching the videos. And for some reason, I just didn't leave a comment. I guess that kind of shows you how much I like your blog...? I just show up for my own pleasure and leave. Ha!

    Anyway, regarding that post, my only real surprise was that I actually had NO idea DD was considered a boy band. By the time I knew who they were, they were already middle aged rockers, and I just assumed they had started out that way. I do love their music, especially the songs you posted. I am probably going to go back to that post in a few minutes and listen to them again.

    As for Elvis, I'm not really a fan. I could never get into his music no matter how hard I tried. I do remember reading a bio of his a decade ago. About how the record companies were just drooling for a cute white boy to sing, on point, the black music which had become so popular (but banned for most kids) at the time. He was the answer to their money-making prayers. I definitely want to pick up that book Kittie mentioned. I'm a sucker for a really good biography.

    I hope you're having a good week. I feel like we haven't spoken in ages.

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  4. yees Jen - given your age which is a wee bit younger than mine you might want to stick to Duran, lol. Although they are old now, right. We haven't your right; have been tied up with so much freelance work of late I feel I'm drowing at the laptop - but we must catch up. I wasn't really big into Elvis' stuff but I must say his charisma really came through in that second song.

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  5. Though he died 2 years before I was born, I loved listening to Elvis growing up (my parents had collections of music from his crooner days) and watching reruns of his old movies. I grew up in Memphis, so I spent my formative years watching marathons of his movies that our local stations ran on his birthday and morbidly on his death day....

    Funny thing, I've never actually been to Graceland--- there's something about growing up in a place where a "monument" exists, it seems to take the power and pull right out it. I have been to his little shotgun shack in Mississippi, though-- a truly humbling experience.

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  6. Hey David, love your blog and this post. I think without Elvis there wouldn't be half the decent music there is today, he paved the way for so much. It's just a shame it ended so sadly.

    Visiting Graceland is on my bucket list, along with the Johnny Cash Museum.

    It also pains me to know our equivalent is Cliff. Oh dear...

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  7. I love remembering Elvis as he was in his younger days. I remember watching him in all those movies he did. He was such a charmer and had a lot of charisma in addition to his musical talent. His later days were quite sad, though, and seeing his personal downward spiral in spite of the huge success of his career wasn't pleasant. Great post for "E," David.

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  8. I loved how they incorporated Elvis into "Forrest Gump" too. I was still pretty young when he died in 1977 (I was 12) and didn't appreciate his contribution to music till I was much older.

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  9. Did you know that my Uncle got to meet Elvis for the one and only time he was in Scotland??? Got some great images.

    Check out the post on my blog.

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  10. I knoe e.a.s - the shack may have been more powerful. Thanks for visiting RidetoFight - what can one say about Cliff? It must have been great to see Daisy

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  11. for real JoJo - me neither. Must check out that on your blog Scots Lass - I didn't realize he ever made it to the UK

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