Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Meaning Of Elvis

My wife recently bought me a copy of the September/October issue of the Intelligent Life magazine published by The Economist. The reason for this was a big picture of Elvis on the front cover as well as an article inside titled "The King And I" by Ray Connolly.

The article looked promising enough, as Mr. Connolly actually got to go to Las Vegas in 1969 for the London Evening Standard and interview Elvis. Unfortunately I wasn't too impressed after finishing it.

You see, I've read many articles on the same theme through the years. I bet you've seen them too, paying tribute (rightly) to Elvis in the 50's, then pointing out the huge mistake that Elvis did heading for Hollywood ("Elvis, the great inventor, was turning into a plump pudding of banality"), and finally, after admitting that he had a couple of good years around 1968-1972, describing the decline ("He was a drugged-out carricature of himself").

But what about Ray Connolly's meeting with Elvis? Well, after seeing a couple of the shows in August, 1969 ("He didn't [... let us down...] But Elvis did race through several of his biggest hits as though bored with them, and the kung fu moves [...] were plain silly."), he finally got to meet Elvis ("And, in truth, what I got that night was more of an audience at court than an interview.")

In all fairness, reading about the meeting was interesting enough, with Mr. Connolly asking questions about the movie career, praising the Elvis Is Back album (that Elvis liked too) and Elvis talking about doing a world tour.

But Ray Connolly then goes on ventilating his disappointment over the fact that Elvis never did recorded another album like Elvis Is Back, that he never played more serious parts and that he never did a world tour. And then, near the end of the article, he writes something that clearly is a reconstruction that doesn't hold true (but makes for a good ending).

At one of his last concerts in 1977, filmed for TV, he even apologised before singing a song he’d first recorded at 20. His voice, he said, had been a lot higher then. It must have been a bleak moment of self-realisation. That lightness of touch he’d once enjoyed, the way he’d been able to soar and dip effortlessly, often bestowing on a song more mellifluousness or passion than it might have deserved, was gone.

Now, if there was one thing going for Elvis in 1977, it was his voice. Also, he'd used that line about his voice being a lot higher then, since he first started doing "Trying To Get To You" in 1974.

So, what is my conclusion of all this? Troy Y. over at The Mystery Train Elvis Blog pointed me in the direction of a blog penned by Sheila and a post called "I Refuse To Be Sad About Elvis Presley."

It is my personal opinion that focusing on regret when one focuses on Elvis is not the way to go [...]. If one focuses on regret, and the what-might-have-beens, then his entire career starts to look tragic. [...] But change the filter just slightly, move the prism a quarter-inch to the left, and the entire thing seems completely improbable, first of all, as well as totally triumphant, second of all. Who could survive making such a string of bad movies [...] and still come roaring back in 1968, as he did, not only relevant, but dangerous? That 1968 special is dangerous and it wouldn’t have been possible without Presley having been boxed up in a daunting movie contract for the entirety of the 60s.

Maybe if writers like Ray Connolly looked at Elvis in this light instead, their articles would hold much vore value. At least to fans like myself who's interested in more than the 50's and the '68 Comeback Special.


Anonymous said...

I can't agree with you more! Thanks for pointing that out. also get tired of people who sayd that elvis died in the army or died after the aloha special. but the 1974 concerts till late august where top notch, the march,april,june,july,august,december concerts where top notch and the las vegas, new years concert from 1976 where also top notch.. Elvis only got better by the years he might been looking more ill every year but his voice became strong.

thanks for this post i really enjoyed reading it


Thomas said...

Thank you Johnny, glad you liked my post! Be sure to check out The Mystery Train Elvis Blog, where Troy Y. wrote a great post after reading mine: