Sunday, 27 May 2012

A sermon from the converted


Please don your Imagination Caps with the dial set to 'medium effort' – all set?, well, here goes anyway;

Its now 2047, Earth time. A quick look around and we see; well, not that much has changed. Sure, there aren't any mailboxes on the street (Which is, at a guess a suburb of an American town) and the cars are driving themselves – but its not exactly Star Wars, is it?. I mean, its a bit like when I grew up; we were (if certain comics and slightly over-eager science teachers were to be believed) all going to have personal jet-packs and robot butlers (with the usual predictable 'kill-the-humans' treachery inherent in ALL robots – again, certain comics there)...
Lets go to the local bars; well, a few people appear to be smoking – but that's just vapour/vapor from their Pep-Pep sticks, and while the teenagers look hilarious (no news there) and the dogs are wearing sneakers – its much the same. The beer seems a bit bland, and alcohol was banned some time back anyway – but there seems to be an interest in live music; there's a Poster-Ad on the bar mirror – in between the weather animations (more static storms in San Frangeles) and the politicians denying thought-transfer was actually sexual relations theres an Amy Winehouse tribute act on here Saturday night/ite...

Caps off!; O.K. Here's the slap-line (I'm far too nice to punch you); Forget all the future-vision sub-Back to the Future malarkey I just hoiked on you good folks, focus if you will/can/care on the following; Thirty-Five years from now, across a Vast Atlantic, what are the chances ANYONE would pay good money to see and hear a tribute act to Amy Winehouse?. Or any Pop/Rock/genre of choice singer?. Aside from the fact that many (self included) think the late Ms.Winehouse was both staggeringly talented and named my point remains; just imagine how HUGE a star would need to be to be widely imitated over a third of a century after their death...

Caps back on (Please.) (See?; I told you I was nice); dials set to... well, anyway;
Its now 195... its the Western World in general this time, and apart from the ragged dreams of the survivors the War is over; in war-weary great Britain they are just starting to recover; both from the flying bombs and the loss of the capital 'G'. Pathe's Cockerel crow and chirpy narration wasn't enough to mask the fact that 'our' Empire had gone and rationing wasn't the only sign of deprivation. The newsreels lack of colour was a mirror to grey reality; the fashions were dictated by need and the music was the balm to the ears of the generation that gave us the land fit for heroes. Only – what heroes exactly?. Teenagers – themselves a recent phenomenon, with their buying power and exuberance weren't going to buy Tommy Dorsey records and pay to see Max Miller. (I'll leave you to Wiki any unknowns – trust me, it's addictive) and, with all respect, Bill Haley and his Comets, Lonnie Donegan et-al though now unheralded heralds of social change of unimagined scale – well, they just were not Elvis A.Presley.

Images now of Elvis fall inevitably into two kinds; Pretty Elvis and FatVegasJumpsuitElvis. Now, I'm aware that most people with any actual interest in Elvis Presley aren't exactly averse to bias;WORSHIP, LOVE and ADORE and thats probably as far as they will ever take it. Me, I get off at that stop and wait for the next bus; yes, Elvis was an incredibly handsome kid and yes, later photos show him desperately paddling water. (If you don't see the simile, I can recommend some sites that have Bunnies...) (And if it should have been 'metaphor', excuse the 'simile'...).

It all gets a bit colourful when Elvis arrived; even across all that water his arrival burst on our dreary and rainy little island like a Kodachrome rainbow; the first anxious parents knew of their offspring's impending debasement was the noise coming from the phonograph. Fashionable clothing and dance-halls full of excitable young people who were finding their identities and aspirations were surely further signs of the end. It must have been an overwhelming shock for the War generation to see the next actually enjoying the fruits of the freedom they themselves had fought so hard for, but were now too socially cemented to fully enjoy – apart from a 'Dad's in the potting shed ' sort of way peculiar to the English. From my comfortable viewpoint Thirty- Five years on from 1977, my views are, of course rather changed. Back in August of that year the Nine-year old me was helping Uncle Len at his Club, the Witley Men's Working Club in our leafy Surrey village. I hauled in the bundle of newspapers and went to get the scissors to cut the string. It was a job I loved; I got to hang around a proper pub AND get paid to do so!. Then I saw the headlines. I cried so much I had to go home early. Elvis – the King Elvis – THE Elvis, the ACTUAL Elvis was dead and gone...

...But, of course, he wasn't, not gone at least. Even today, after all that time and change – really, it's a different world than the one of the mid-seventies – even now, Elvis is imitated, implied and parodied on a scale of his own. Why?; seriously, why?; I think I can answer my own question here – whilst inviting you to ask the same one. The voice would be a start, except for the fact that evolution means face; think aside here with me... take a moment. We FACE each other, we ask criminals and other transgressors to FACE their deeds, victims of abuse to FACE the past. In Japan losing FACE is supposedly the very end, yet are we so different 'here'? (And, in your case, 'there'...)
So, Elvis had a memorable face... depending on where you stand (Which decides almost everything in many areas of life) he was Beautiful, Handsome – or a Darn Good Lookin' kid. Not a forgettable face, by any standards. Next, the voice?, well, I'd say his place in POPular culture, in those media-hungry daze the (Yes, daze) youngsters wanted some colour to look at and some ear candy – the media of the time needed some color to show and some ear candy to beam out through all the rapidly increasing outlets becoming available. Drive-in, Theater, Family room (TV in the BEDroom?, only if you WERE Elvis...) Radio, Record Store, all needed output to take the readily-offered Dollars clutched in the hands of the teenagers. Elvis' builders were baby-sitting, washing cars and delivering a lot of papers. Coming along at just precisely the perfect time, the exact moment that the teenage phenomenon erupted... well, I paint too many pictures, so you reach for your own brush here.

Oh, yes, the voice was liquid velvet. Wasn't that obvious?.

As a change of tack, a quick look at the later life of Elvis Aaron/Aron/Whichisitanyway Presley. You all know Graceland, he bought the 1938 structure apparently for his Mum, did the place out in varying schemes depending on taste and that of the lady in his life at the time. I've never been, but Internet trawls and the like suggest a surprisingly modest (for a Super-Star) mansion in its own grounds, now opposed (Across Elvis Presley Boulevard, no less) by various auto museums, theme-park motels and, impressively, Elvis' two jet planes. One of these is a 'standard' executive jet of the type that has want-to-be business tycoons dreaming, but the other, named for Elvis' daughter Lisa-Marie is a Convair 880 passenger liner (96 passengers, for size reference) that The King had converted into Elvis-Force One (As I call it) complete with private office. The tail-fin features a golden lightning-bolt cipher with the initials 'T' 'C' and 'B', Elvis' personal motto; Takin' Care of Business in a Flash. You start to see why people called/call Presley The King.

Now, taste is subjective. In the early years, which interest me little, Elvis was a baggy-suited hip kid who dressed sharp in the style of the age, though, of course rather more outfits than the usual lad his age could aspire to. Army draft over*, the still-young Presley was to find that the first wave of success had ebbed (Although he still sold records, the screaming girls were moving on, becoming mothers and the usual) (The thing about teenagers is, the clock ticks; teenagers aren't a strange race as the media and writers love to portray them; 'they' are 'us'. Its obvious, but the we of the 'us' (Even I'm getting lost here) were teenagers (44 at time of writing. Thanks for asking.)too). Enter; the Mersey Connection(Don't Google; its an expression, not a band) and the Beatles. The first wave of Brit-Pop (Another wave, getting seasick yet?) and Elvis' lolly was starting to melt. Luckily, Colonel Parker stopped being unlucky for Elvis and decided to make him a Movie Star. Old Mr.Fifty Percent (Its NEVER more than ten, unless you are a reality show victim) hit the bullseye with this one, Elvis starring in a stream of movies distinct from the ones he had made in the fifties, mainly by formulaic plots (He's a mechanic, who likes to sing at odd moments, there's a race and a girl, He's in the Army in Germany, he likes to sing, there's the Aryan race, and a girl – Twenty Quid in used readies and I'll stop.) Elvis had left the stage for the screen, effectively ending his career as a live artist... for the time being.

*Before we get to the Leather-and-Stool bit, a quick back-step; Colonel Parker is worth a Wiki for the morbidly fascinated among you; in short, a Dutch Draft-dodger who spent the war in Hawaii. In long, Andreas Cornelis van Kujik of Breda, Holland, born 1909, entered the United States (illegally) two times who served in an Anti-Aircraft unit at the superbly-named Fort Shafter in the early thirties. Shafter, erm Parker (Sorry.) (I'm not) then joined the carnival circuit, his entre' to showbusiness - avoided WWII and used the privilege of not being shot or blown up to go into management. Eddy Arnold, a Country singer specifically. A brace of honorary Colonelcy's from the Governors of Louisiana and Tennessee and our asterix moment is complete.

The thing with comebacks is you can't. You can never go back, not in the real sense of the term – and that, of course is the problem with history, especially the nostalgia variety; you just cannot go or be there, leaving just ourselves looking into our own psychology. A hall of mirrors warped by perception, assumption and plain lies. Most of the people around Elvis, especially at the end weren't the people you'd want hanging around – feeding off – any cash-rich friend or relative you cared about. But! - we are still only at 1968, when the leather-suited King reclaimed his throne (Well, stool) for the now-legendary '68 TV Comeback Special. Ratings were higher than the Apollo program and many of the fans were from the new generation, adding to the swelling ranks of the faithful, many of whom had continued to buy Elvis records and see his movies, even if they weren't screaming into faints and kissing his photos at bedtime. How many middle-aged people are blissfully unaware that during their conception at least 50% of the participants were fantasising their partner was Elvis?. Wasn't there a baby-boom circa the mid-sixties?. Oh-oh... if I'M forty-fou... lets move on. Ahem.

Lurching on we are sucked into the heady swirl of Neon and Desert that is Vegas. If I heard this correctly, Vegas Elvis was, at least in part, a gambling debt Parker owed to the Mob – who were (aparently) amazed to be offered The King for debts that, although massive, were nothing to the revenue Elvis generated. Speculation over the lack of global tours suggests Parker was afraid of being refused re-entry to the USA, which might explain his refusal of $10,000,000 for a Saudi Arabian show, but Vegas it was – with a succession of bookings that saw Elvis exposed to a live audience; re-taking the Crown by doing what, after all, he did best of all.

Theres no way of avoiding this; jumpsuit Elvis is with us. Now, there's a good reason TV ads (At least two currently playing on British TV), movies (Notably 3,000 Miles to Graceland – a personal favourite) and pub entertainment involves men (and at least one woman) in rhinestone encrusted jumpsuits, capes, quiff wigs and those shades. If you are in entertainment, image is everything – but in Vegas, its EVERYTHING (Thats a thirty-foot high EVERYTHING in flashing letters with showgirls underneath doing high-kicks), and boy, did Elvis get this. Liberace must have been fuming. Personally speaking, 'my' Elvis (We all have our own, don't we?) is wearing the Aloha from Hawaii or the Bicentennial Eagle – or even the now poignant Mexican Sundial (Yes, theres a website – a 'Jumpsuit Index' no less) without cape. My wife and I are fortunate enough to have friends, ones we value dearly; Michelle and Chris are two of these and Chris is – wait for it – an Elvis Tribute Act. O.K., I asked for it – apart from the faithful I'm courting ridicule, but Chris isn't a n over-lubricated taxi-driver 'having a go' at Suspicious Minds on Karaoke Night (Winner gets a bag of Peanuts and a Lambrini for the wife), but a serious performer who takes his act seriously. As an illustration, he sank a fortune on one of his costumes, a Bicentennial Eagle Jumpsuit, complete with belt – from the US firm run by the people that made the original. The opinion of a friend is rarely biased, but if you ever fancy it, theres a fun night to be had anywhere Chris Field plays (Mainly South of England as far as I'm aware). I can't tell his voice from Elvis', and although I've seen people that looked more like Elvis facially, he's got the moves and the mannerisms – the overall effect is spellbinding, as much as it is possible its an Elvis show. I apologise if that sounded like advertising, but I'm not losing any sleep; it is of course my opinion and not fact that Chris is the real thing. (It's a fact, trust me.)

'The courtiers killed the King.' So spoke John Lennon, on hearing of Elvis' death. The details vary according to the source, but, however much some fans cling to a fantasy, Elvis was human. Humans make mistakes – and they take drugs under certain circumstances. Some of you may recoil at the suggestion, but many people routinely use drugs; from the caffeine in coffee or soft drinks (I'm not having Aloc-Acoc sue me...) ecstasy, cocaine or real killers such as paracetamol (Do the research.) The late Bill Hicks summed it up – albeit posthumously due to nicotine – on TV recently; whether drugs are 'good' or 'bad' often depends whether they are taxable or not. I won't dwell too heavily on this, its upsetting and depressing, but despite the frantic efforts of his father Vernon, Elvis got into drugs in an alarmingly fashion, with no one doctor controlling prescription or limiting dosage. Various members of his entourage, no doubt eager for a new car (A frequent gift) would have drugs prescribed for them, to mask the truth and seal a man's fate. Even the real truth about Colonel Parker, a man who exploited the then-naive Presley to the bitter end is just one of the horrors of this period. While others, dressed in mourning, attended the funeral out of (varying) feelings of loyalty, respect or even genuine loving grief, Parker, clad in casual wear coaxed a signature from the shell-shocked Vernon Presley – just one more rip-off deal, another paycheck. That's all Elvis Presley the man was worth to the 'colonel'.

That's no way to leave it. No, to hell with it; I'll be damned if I did – Elvis lives on; I haven't spotted him in the local Pizza-Hut (He was delivering Chinese take-out for the Lotus Garden – what a cover!) or seen him come third in an Elvis Lookalike contest, but I have his music in my car and, scratched bit of CD aside, his voice often rings out in the leafy Sussex countryside. Its not usually Graceland, but, just sometimes, when no-one sees it, I drive into the Jungle Room. The driver's seat now a Tiki-couch I take a drink from the corner bar and take in the lush greenery of the carpet and tune in to the atmosphere of the place. Like always there's a small crowd, the usual faces, but EP is there, laughing and joking, never really off-stage, but as close as life lets him. As he turns to greet me the lights change and I drive on, turning off from Elvis Presley Boulevard – but some roads you never really leave behind.

Thank you very much.

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