A few words about the great man, on what would have been his 75th year on the planet.

 

Elvis lime green persona of cool

 

Elvis In The Face Of Austerity or Some Thoughts On What Would Have Been His 75th Year.

To be honest it’s reassuring that Elvis never made it this far. I mean, can you imagine this former hipster responsible for more wet knickers then any other performer in history now shuffling along in his cosy slippers at 75?

He may have become a swelled-up lumbering sweaty and embarrassing wreck in his last years on this Earth but you can’t take it away from the man – he was the last great showman of his kind: a biblical sized giant of the old MGM sword and sandal epic movie type of guy.

How could a man who lived to such excess as he did, a man who wore the most ostentatiously bejewelled outfits and sported diamond encrusted watches as big as hubcaps; a man who thought nothing of giving away Cadillac’s and houses to passing acquaintances on a generous whim; a man who would aim his .44 magnum at his TV and squeeze of a shot or two in protest at something being shown that didn’t meet with his approval; how could this man have a place in today’s globalise meltdown of a society where austerity is the new black.

A world in which nothing is allowed a chance to breathe or develop, where Elvis would be stuck in some kind of reality show nightmare today.

No we don’t deserve him, he’s better off as a memory, better off away from all the rumours and mud slinging which plagues his legacy.

A ghoulish money making enterprise never fails to stoop to a new low in the representation of his image.

Only the other day I came across a supplement in a Sunday broadsheet in which a cast of Elvis confidants, impersonators, fans and individuals responsible for marketing his back catalogue were all interviewed for the timely 75th year celebrations.

What depressed me was the marketing guy, every year they bring out a product, an Elvis best of or something. And every year they set a particular image, say the leather clad Elvis of 68 or the Aloha special jumpsuit Elvis of 72. The image is decided on by focus groups; focus groups who decide what look is appetising for the consumer. Just in case you wondered it’s been decided that the good old Rock’n’Roll Elvis of the mid 50’s was more palatable for 2010.

Just a touch of cynicism in that method, don’t you think? I mean would you pass by a best of Elvis CD if it happened to have him bedecked in some faux pas fashion statement that causes derision.

What chance did a kid from the impoverished backwaters of the Mississippi and Tennessee stand?

Poverty and tragedy seemed to always be a part of Elvis life.

The death of his still born twin Jessie would haunt him forever, as was common a home birth didn’t allow much room for error and of course not having a doctor on hand certainly didn’t help.

Elvis would always put his faith into the men in white coats from that point on, rather too readily for his own good.

This two-room shack existence and his father’s brief imprisonment added to the checklist of back-story for any tortured star.

For further proof if needed of the deep psychosis evident in our brooding star try listening to Scott Walker’s stirring epoch to Jessie on his last album The Drift. It gives true meaning to the words challenging music.

With no formal music training, Elvis found his education emanating from the radio and in the gospel of the Assembly of God church.

His exceptional talent and voice soon drew attention, Sun Records sessions, state success and the hips swaying performances of his pure sexual unbridled concerts soon drew both all the welcome and unwelcome attention a boy needs.

Entering stage right the villain to some extent of the piece, Colonel Parker. Firstly he wasn’t a colonel and secondly he wasn’t even a Parker, but as it turned out was in fact a Dutch immigrant better known as Andreas Cornelis Van Kuijk. The Dutchman’s initial experience in the entertainment business started in the fairgrounds with his dancing chickens and cheap tricks at the hot dog stand escapades that somehow gave him a foot in the door of representing country performers. He soon wormed his way in with the up and coming rockabilly, country, blues rock’n’roller Elvis, this partnership would last until our icons death.

A sliding scale of percentages started from 30% and eventually jumped to 50% by the time Elvis embarked on his Vegas years, a cut almost unheard of both at that time and today.

Though it must be pointed out that no one really knew just how long a career in the new fangled teen market could last, a get what you can while you can frenzy ensued.

Unfortunately as there was no way of knowing how things would pan out, no previous phenomenon like it had ever really existed in the way that Elvis would erupt, I mean the teen market didn’t start to get going until the mid 50’s before then most music was purchased by the parents. It was pretty impossible to know how far you could take a brylcreemed sexed up film star looks guitar playing hick from the Deep South?

This goes some way into explaining why Parker would sign up Elvis to such long-term commitments, which today seem ridiculous. For starters the 29 movies in eight years deal beggars belief, seeing as he had to release an album or EP for each one. Most of these films could be easily forgotten and accomplish little or even compete with say The Beatles ‘Help’.

But at least our man always had that voice, a voice sun kissed by the Gods themselves, anointed by a higher being from up high.

Possibly the finest voice to ever sing rock’n’roll for starters if not the greatest white voice to sing gospel for sure. In fact his first records when played on the radio were thought to be from some new black artist.

Our man could be humble with it though, once whilst being referred to as the king Elvis declined the moniker pointing to Fats Domino, who happened to be present, and declared ‘he’s the king of rock’n’roll’.

Yes our man certainly knew where his roots had come from and who he had tried to evoke, a deep sense of respect and homage to black music was ingrained throughout his music.

Unfortunately racist slurs followed Elvis around, as much through misconception along with a quote he never said actually made.

I’m diversifying here but he’s said to have dropped the class line about the The Beatles – “Why the fuck would I want to meet those Limey faggots”, a smug insipid McCartney with his face fallen to the floor in disbelief would have been priceless on being told what his hero really thought of them.

When Elvis died he was found to have an over-sized colon large enough to strangle an elephant. A damaged liver of a man twice his age and signs of degenerative arthritis, which would explain his dependence on the painkiller Demerol a supposedly safer option to morphine and less addictive – HA!

He also had a glaucoma and high blood pressure, all brought to the boil through a punishing schedule laid on for him, which in some part was due to the extensive losses that the Colonel was making on the casino tables, in hock to the tune of millions, it’s believed he forced Elvis to work an ever more grueling number of performances.

In 1973 alone he performed 168 concerts, which would only increase to the extent where a slurring and fatigued Elvis was virtually pushed out on to the stage no matter in what state he was in.

Elvis suffered from the result of not being able to stand confrontation, which allowed the Colonel to get away with murder.

The sheer eye watering possibilities and amount of creative opportunities missed seems staggering. Also it seems strange that he only ever played the US, apart from a Canadian tour, another result of his manager’s unwillingness to lose a grip of his star. It was thought that if Elvis ever toured outside the boarders of his own country that the Colonel might not be able to re-enter the US due to his dubious citizenship status.

‘In The Ghetto’ and ‘Suspicious Minds’ go some way to showing glimmers of what could have been, Elvis always wished to be more creative and sing some songs he believed in for a change but was scuppered at every turn.

I for one couldn’t bare to witness an Elvis surviving his bathroom floor death only to continue to grow old and become a has-been.

Maybe the shock would have shaken him enough to stop the drugs, maybe he would have lost the weight and taken on a new healthy regime.

The Colonel didn’t pass away until the 90’s and it’s a safe bet that he’d have still been hanging onto his golden ticket.

A lounge core Elvis in his forties playing to a continually dwindling audience, all but forgotten and ridiculed by the youth, his privacy ebbed away to new levels of insensitivity.

Sometimes as the old cliché goes it’s better to die young then fade out, though we unfortunately had to see his slow destruction for a while before the final keel over.

Forget all the bullshit and just stick to the music, even if you think you know it only too well it’s always worth another investigation. The only fit and proper way to remember the man in this what would have been his 75th year is to put on those old 45’s once again.

Dominic Valvona

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