Sunday, January 23, 2011

The King

Missed Elvis's birthday, few weeks ago. He would only be 76, if he was alive. Hard to believe.

To begin, let me say that Elvis is my Mom's favorite singer. Hell, he's everyone's Mom's favorite singer, isn't he? He is hardly mine.

Increasingly it seems I hear opinions of him that are uninformed (to be polite). It is hip to diminish his importance among those who believe themselves to be more knowledgeable than they really are, but maybe it's always been so. Beatles-bashing is in vogue, too, but then it's been in vogue among revisionists and the grossly ignorant (not the same set, though they are often appalling in very similar ways) for a long long time. If you don't understand how massively important Elvis was (and is), you should educate yourself (Lester Bangs here, Dave Marsh here, Rolling Sone here, Jann Wenner here, Ben Fong-Torres here, Greil Marcus here, John Lennon here, Paul McCartney here, Keith Richards here, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Jackie Wilson, and Al Green here, Pete Townshend here, Jimi Hendrix here (really, check this one out, even if you ignore the others—it's fucking amazing), Buddy Holly here—do I need to go on?).

Remember reading something Sam Phillips said about him—equating his sensibility with African-Americans of his time. He said that Elvis carried a weight with him, some of it derived from a feeling of inferiority conferred upon him by experience. That, along with his well-known tribulations, excesses, and self-caricaturization, gives his life a southern gothic quality. As a southerner, I feel more than a little sympathy for the boy from Tupelo. As one who loves rock and roll, I know him to be its one—and only—King.

Do not equate the old fat Vegas Elvis with who he really was. For five years or so, ending the 1950's, he was about the coolest motherfucker who ever lived. Like the Rolling Stone Record Guide said, everything in rock and roll can be traced to him. When he played the Sullivan show, legions of guys stopped in their tracks, and said: That's what I wanta do. John Lennon is quoted as saying: Before Elvis, there was nothing.

It's been said, many times, that Elvis gave rock and roll its attitude, and this is true. Succinctly, Lester Bangs said that he "kicked How Much Is That Doggie In The Window out the window and replaced it with, Let's fuck". But beyond that, do not doubt how good he was—none of it would've mattered, if he wasn't.

So if you're one of those hipster-types, with a malformed opinion of one of the most important musical personalities of the twentieth century, do some research—open you're mind. Listen. Learn. No need to be an asshole forever.

Three songs: A live version of Heartbreak Hotel from a Tommy Dorsey TV special; Jailhouse Rock, from the film; and maybe my favorite of his songs, Love Me.

1 comment:

  1. This is fabulente Nick, but I miss your post! Killing my daily routine.