Monday, August 14, 2006

deep in my heart there's a trembling question..

Apart from my father, the first man I really loved was Elvis Presley. I would have been about 8. I guess I was about 25 years too late for the Elvis Presley revolution, but it got me anyway. I was one of those children that went to the library and borrowed all the Elvis books I could find and then kept reborrowing them until in a way they became mine, even when I finally had to return them.

My first memory of Elvis Presley was of a huge black and white Jailhouse Rock poster in Author Cousin's bedroom. Before author cousin was actually an author he was just an obsessed Elvis fan too. I wasn't allowed to go anywhere near Author Cousin's bedroom so it was only by peeking through his open room door that I got my first glimpse. Maybe it was the forbidden aspect of it all that got me. Maybe I was just captivated by how striking Elvis was - that young, thin, hopeful performer. I don't know. But it got me, somehow that moment got me.

There are so many things I like about Elvis. I have read many a biography and I never, ever get tired of his life story. I would love to go do a tour or some kind and go visit his old haunts and places he grew up. To me there was something so amazing and interesting about the poverty he overcame to be famous but also the desperation to be better that he maintained throughout his career. He was always such a contrast to everything around him at the time, he was a contradiction unto even himself. He was a joke but sincere. A rich hillbilly. Generous with gifts and yet sometimes mean when it came to how he treated those around him. A womaniser and yet so loving and admiring towards those female role models in his life (mother, grandmother). Himself: a role model and a drug addict. A sex symbol and a sloth. I guess with Elvis the dictomy always exists. A good example is this: He died his hair black religiously, but actually he was closer to blonde. Even Elvis is a myth. He always wanted something more. He always wanted to rise above but kept getting swallowed back down. If you haven't read any Elvis literature go read Last Train to Memphis and the sequel Careless Love. They are both amazing reads for anyone who is a fan of music history - not just Elvis.

When I was younger Elvis was an obsession. I was a fanatic, but as I got older I appreciated the myth and the cultural significance of Elvis as a key player in musical America of the 50s, 60s and 70s. I am not one of those fans that is offended by Elvis the joke - but I can look beyond it. Having said that, I love that part of Elvis mythology. I love the fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches jokes. I love the sequins jumpsuit. I love the sweaty sideburns and the craptastic movies. I am fascinated by Elvis impersonators and crappy TV movies about his life. I find him hilarious. Nixon and FBI Elvis (!! - I'm also fascinated by Watergate). His death and surrounding hoopla. The religious lengths to which people will go to preserve his memory (impersonations, movies, posters, quotes ete). The utterly kitsch aspect of practically everything associated with him now. The post-Elvis representations of Elvis and references to Elvis in pop culture (Nick Cave - In the Ghetto, Movies like Mystery Train etc etc). I am a pop culture fanatic and America the beautiful is where popular culture really reached new heights. For me there is no bigger icon to popular culture than Elvis presley. There of course is also the sincerity to which people adore him. The historical aspect of his contribution to music. The fascinating life story alongside the myth. You can't call yourself a pop cuture fanatic until you've totally immersed yourself in Elvis. That's my view anyway. It's impossible to really encompass everything about him in any one representation of him though, the myth has gone beyond simply Elvis and into the pop cult stratosphere.

But he's more than the joke. He has created some amazing music - in many ways blurred the lines between white and black music and challenged the notion that only black musicians came from poverty. He truly has one of the most unique voices in American music. Beyond the ridiculous image there is something so touching and sincere. Elvis music has made me both laugh and cry because it has soul. Not all of it has soul - no. Actually alot of it is fluff but when you find the gems they are golden, really. Go search - it's not all Hound Dog.

I read a comment about Elvis once where it was said that Elvis might have been a joke but only until you heard him sing and then you realised that it was sincere and real. Everything else - all that other Elvis palaver - melts away. I think that's a fair comment actually. Years ago there used to be a community radio show on Sunday afternoons here that was soley dedicated to Elvis Presley songs - it went for two hours. Not many artists can sustain a weekly programme dedicated soley to their music, but Elvis can. I'm not talking about the music in the dumb hollywood movies he was pushed into by Col. Parker. I mean the real music - the raw blues, the gospel and his later music. For me, my favourite songs have either been his gospel songs (If I Can Dream) or his very, very early hits (Heartbreak Hotel, That's Alright Momma) where you can hear the deep resounding pull of the double bass.

And so to you Mr Presley, one of my most favourite songs of yours: Mystery Train - where dear readers if you close your eyes and still don't feel like you're on a train then I don't even wanna know ya.

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(honorable mentions: If I Can Dream, Heartbreak Hotel, Memories, In the Ghetto, Always on My Mind, Promised Land, That's Alright, Blue Moon, Burning Love, Edge of Reality, Viva Las Vegas, Such a Night, Don't be Cruel, Suspicious Minds