Elvis is still everywhere

Originally posted on another blog on Aug. 16, 2010.  Reposting it here on what would have been Elvis’s 76th birthday.

PresleyPromo1954PhotoOnlyToday is the 33rd anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. He was 42 then, so that means he would have been 75 today — the same age as the Dalai Lama and Woody Allen. That’s hard to imagine.

Still, I think it’s fair to say that Elvis changed the world.

Yeah, it’s easy to goof on Fat Elvis, with his sequinned jumpsuits and voracious appetite, but I’m not talking about Fat Elvis.

I’m talking about Skinny Elvis, the good-looking kid from Tupelo who walked into Sun Records in Memphis and basically invented rock’n’roll.

Of course, some people say Elvis didn’t invent anything, that he basically took rhythm and blues and made it safe for White America, but that isn’t quite right.

Somewhere in Peter Guralnick’s 2 volume biography of Elvis (if you haven’t, read it), he points out that Elvis was a sponge when it came to music. Elvis listened to everything — R&B, bluegrass, country, gospel — and processed it, synthesized it. He took all these musical strands and wove them into something else, something new.

Sure, odds are someone else would have done that if Elvis hadn’t, but Elvis did, so let’s give him credit.

He was sexy and dangerous, too, and that’s something teenagers hadn’t really seen before, at least not in one package. Girls wanted him, and boys wanted to be him. You wouldn’t have had The Beatles if you hadn’t have had Elvis.

John Lennon (I think) said Elvis died when he went into the Army, and I agree. Elvis’ music was never as raw as before he was drafted.

In the 1960s, he made a string of dumb movies and went Vegas, and in the ’70s, well, we all know about Elvis in the ’70s, but by then, he’d already changed the world by changing the music.

I think those early records — “That’s All Right,” “Mystery Train,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky” — earned him a lifetime pass and more than made up for later songs like “Rock-a-Hula, Baby” and “The Wonder of You.”

“Blue Moon of Kentucky,” after all, was a bluegrass tune — in waltz time, at that — until Elvis got hold of it and turned into a rocker in 4/4 time.

I’d argue that is something close to genius.

25 thoughts on “Elvis is still everywhere

  1. I agree 100% — Elvis was the instigator of a whole new style of music, and we’re fortunate for his contribution. I got to see him in concert (during his paunchy days, unfortunately), and I’ve gotta say, it was fabulous (if you closed your eyes!!)

  2. I still remember how excited my Mom was about going to an Elvis concert in the early 70’s. I’ve always enjoyed his music, perhaps Mom’s influence in that area. Great post!

  3. I’ve never gotten into Elvis. I had my Beatles period, like most people, and Bob Dylan is my hero. I’ve managed to get into the Rolling Stones’ catalogue. I’ve never managed to go as far back as Elvis. Perhaps it’s time to search for a youtube playlist…

    1. People don’t believe me when I say this or think I’m just yanking their chains, but I’m not a big Dylan fan. I know, I know. I’ve come to understand I’m alone on this one. Don’t hate me.

      1. “Don’t hate me.”

        In this situation that’s quite a request! But I’ll do my best.

        In the meantime, I hope you’ll consider watching Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home.

  4. I’m always working on my list of people I would invite to my Ultimate Dinner Party. Reading this, I think Elvis, the Dalai Lama, and Woody Allen would be a great combination. Alternatively, it’s the setup for a great joke: Elvis, the DL, and Woody Allen walk into a bar. . .

    My dad always told the story about how Elvis music was completely verboten in their home, until somehow my grandmother heard Elvis singing a gospel tune and then she became a huge fan.

      1. I don’t know, I thought she liked us but here I am making pigs in a blanket for her just so I can get in to the party. Buy some weenies and head over, I’ve got a white jacket you can use. I’ll keep her busy talking about the bill while you talk to Elvis.

      2. Oh, Todd — it wouldn’t be a dinner party without you. The invitation’s in the mail.

  5. Elvis, the Dalai Lama and Woody Allen walk into a bar.

    Woody Allen says, “I feel like I’ve been here before.”

    The Dalai Lama say, “I KNOW I’ve been here before.”

    Elvis says, “I will be here again. And again.”


  6. I’m late to the punch here but enjoying getting to know your blog. Elvis was a famous dead guy until I went to Graceland when I was 16. I then became the official Elvis Fan Club of Gen X in Pittsburgh. Amazing performer.

    1. Glad you like the blog, educlaytion! You might want to read Peter Guralnick’s books. (I didn’t Google that, so I probably spelled it wrong.) He really shows you what Elvis the person was like. Volume 1 ends around the time his mother died. Volume 2 is the sad decline.

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