It's the thirtieth anniversary of the passing of the King, and I remember that day in 1977 like it was yesterday.
I had just barely turned twelve and was quite immersed in the history and music of rock 'n' roll, and although I had listened to a lot of Elvis Presley I just didn't get what the big deal was. I'd seen the footage of his appearances on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW, suffered through a few of his (mostly) wretched flicks thanks to THE 4:30 MOVIE,
Elvis, about to molest a hand puppet in G.I. BLUES (1960).
heard the mothers of some of my friends describe how crazy and "naughty" he made them feel when they were teens, and witnessed the general public mention him with a reverence usually reserved for the Pope or some shit.
This across-the-board worship didn't sit well with me at all since I considered Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis to each be far superior in terms of both musical output and sheer showmanship — to say nothing of being balls-out crazy in the case of the latter two — and I scoffed at Elvis' Las Vegas career, a period described so eloquently in the film HEARTBREAK HOTEL (1988) as him "kissing the ass he used to kick," so I simply had no use for an icon that I felt was an overrated, bloated has-been in a Captain Marvel Jr. suit.
Think I'm kidding? Google Elvis Presley and Captain Marvel Jr. and see what you discover!
On the day Elvis died you would have thought the world had come to an end. The news was crammed with endless footage of beer-gutted, toothless trailer bunnies, their beehives practically touching the sky, bawling at the entrance to Graceland like they'd just seen their most beloved child shot through the head by a nude-from-the-waist-down Ronald McDonald with a bloody penis. Again, I just did not get it; this was the summer of 1977, the summer of STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, a golden era twenty years after the heyday of the now-deceased hillbilly whose famous sneer sometimes made him look like a stroke victim. His music was now obsolete, dethroned by disco and the anti-monarchy vitriol of the Sex Pistols and things could only get better, right?
Well, all of that just goes to show you how little I knew in my twelve-year-old arrogance; the STAR WARS series would eventually turn to utter horseshit, the Sex Pistols fizzled out after one album — two, if you count the soundtrack to THE GREAT ROCK 'N' ROLL SWINDLE — and disco, which started out annoyingly enough, would collapse under its own weight and played-out repetition (to say nothing of all that cocaine), and not long after that MTV would start the countdown to the death of not only rock 'n' roll, but pop music in general.
It wasn't until my college years that I reevaluated my opinion of Elvis and finally got why he was culturally important. For better or worse, the guy brought black music to the masses, had a look and a style that were totally unlike anything that white America was ready for at the time — or maybe it was ready and needed the boy from Tupelo to kick down the front door — could sing his ass off, irritated the shit out of parents everywhere while sending their innocent young daughters into fits of panty-drenching ecstasy, all of which is, as we now know, the very definition of what a rock star is supposed to do. Elvis Presley invented that shit. Let us review:
Sure, Chuck Berry was a born guitar-slinger who hauled underage white girls across state lines in order to violate the Mann Act.
Chuck Berry, about to duckwalk your little angel over to the Motel 6.
You're goddamned right Jerry Lee Lewis performed as if someone had hooked a high voltage power cable up his asshole just before he took a break to fuck his thirteen-year-old cousin/wife.
Is that the Mummy? Holy fuck! IT'S JERRY LEE LEWIS!!!
Yeah, Little Richard looked like the first contact ambassador from the Planet of the Flaming Hairdressers and shrieked like a Capuchin monkey on a fistful of Stud City animal stimulants.
And not one of them would have made it onto the popular airwaves if Elvis hadn't blazed a trail of "unwholesome, race music filth" before them, and for that I could haul his mouldering corpse from the cold, cold earth and kiss him full upon his maggot-drooling lips.
The King relaxes between takes on the set of the stag reel masterpiece HOUND DOG HUMP (1958).
And as I got older I also found out about just what a twisted freak Elvis was in real life; all the creepy shit about his mother and her bizarre nickname of "Satnin," how he supposedly wouldn't fuck Priscilla anymore after she'd given birth to Lisa-Marie because her lady parts were now associated with motherhood (thereby driving her into the arms of Elvis' karate instructor), the escalating madness brought on by unimaginable excesses and prescription drug addiction, the deep-fried peanut butter and bacon and banana sandwiches, and all sorts of bizarro good ol' boy shit that the tabloid media still mines and we still devour, and probably always will. Plus, don't forget the religious-cult-like proliferation of Elvis impersonators and their oddball ilk, some of whom are actually legally empowered to perform marriage ceremonies, perhaps the ultimate white trash/kitsch statement.
But the crowning moment of Elvis lunacy can only be the time when the King, allegedly doped-up out of his mind on one of Dr. Nick's pharmaceutical cocktails, barged into the White House, presented President Richard M. Nixon with a gun in a beautiful wooden collector's case, congratulated him on what a great job he was doing running the country and asked to be appointed as an honest to Christ agent of the D.E.A., an event which, thank god, got photgraphed for posterity.
I swear on my mother's eyes that I didn't cobble this together with Photoshop. Tricky Dick meets Captain Marvel Jr., for fuck's sake! I mean, you just can't make this kind of shit up.
So I salute you, Elvis Aron Presley. King of Rock 'n' Roll, karate black belt, master of every field of human endeavour — if you believe his movies, anyway — and total maniac. I will remember you this evening when I get home and spin the bootleg compilation ELVIS' GREATEST SHIT,
an incredible compendium of the King's all-time worst efforts, including "Song of the Shrimp," "There's No Room To Rhumba In A Sports Car," "Dominic the Impotent Bull," and his incredible rendition of "Old MacDonald Had A Farm," in which Elvis outlines how the animals on the farm had better stay in line or else he'll eat them in a variety of ways. I may also break out Turkish Elvis impersonator Emil Nargi's cover of "It's Now Or Never,"
but I'd really like to get my hands on this gem, perhaps the perfect album to play on this day of days:
Sadly, I don't have THE ELVIS PRESLEY SEANCE, so I may pop over to O'Connor's and down a couple of shots in Elvis' honor.
THE KING IS DEAD! LONG LIVE THE KING!!!