Elvis turns 75 — In some people’s imaginations

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized


              Friday, January 8, marks what would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday. I’m not sure we’d really want to see The King at 75; he looked bad enough at 42. UK TV has been showing documentaries all week, though some had been done years ago. Some of the footage is truly sad, seeing a bloated, terribly out of shape man going through the motions, yet the audience seems to not care. At least to his credit, the voice is still pretty much there, even if the rest of him wasn’t. 

               It was almost in his destiny to die young, for that way the legend remains further intact. Of Elvis’s contemporaries, if you’re counting true pioneers of Rock & Roll, then only Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard remain on the planet. If you want to add Pat Boone to that list, well OK, but we’ll have less to talk about. Berry and Domino have passed the age of 80, hard to believe that any rock stars could accomplish that. The life style, for one, takes a lot out of anybody. Berry still performs, but he’s been cutting corners for the last 30+ years, having his audiences sing the songs while he acts as sort of a backup guitarist. We thought we’d lost Fats in Hurricane Katrina, but thankfully he was only out of touch for a couple of days.

                  So let’s speculate what it would have been like if Elvis were still around, especially since all the “Elvis isn’t really dead” theorists seem to have given up on that one, finally. Let’s say that around 1975, when he was 40, someone in his circle spoke seriously to him about his problems, and he actually listened. For starters, he would have given up touring for a year or so, and gone into major physical therapy. to both lose the weight, and to give up his pill addictions. He would have had to actually go outside during the day! He would have also needed to ditch Colonel Parker, who on occasion could be seen only a few hours before show time, frantically trying to revive him from a total stupor so no one missed a payday. 

                   If all the above had been done, the end result would have been a happier, longer-lived Elvis, but most likely a much more boring one. His material in the 70s kept getting further and further away from Rock & Roll as the years went by, so he’d have had to make some album where it was just him and a small three-piece band. Maybe if he’d been around long enough, producer Rick Rubin, who did minor miracles with Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond this past decade, could have gotten something out of him. Otherwise, musically Elvis was heading into Wayne Newton territory, and though he liked the big production around him, he, like any other rock star after him, wanted to remain contemporary as long as possible. Perhaps sensing that he was no longer hip could well have contributed to his lackadaisical attitude toward his art and his body.  

                    Among the Elvis specials shown on BBC this week was the full version of the 1968 “Comeback” special, where he mostly just sang and played guitar. I’m amazed that nearly Elvis’s entire life span has passed since that show originally aired, and I was only seeing it for the first time. It holds up well for the most part. Elvis was 33 at the time, had done 29 mediocre-to-bad movies (One story goes that when Elvis was reading a script for one of his films, his first comment was “Didn’t I already do this movie in Hawaii? Or was it Miami?”), and really just wanted to make the music that he’d enjoyed doing some 13 years before. He did it in a comfortable format, sitting in a circle with most of the Memphis musicians that were there from the beginning, playing most of those original songs in the pared down arrangement, and seeming to have the most fun he’d had in at least a decade. He also showed that he could play the guitar, that it wasn’t just a prop which by the 70s was pretty well discarded. The show reflected well where he had been, though there were the hints of where he was headed in the newer songs he sang.

                   Ultimately, his fans are better off that Elvis left us when he did. John Lennon, who himself left the world three years after Elvis, and two years younger, once commented back in the 60s “Elvis died when he went into the Army.” While that’s harsh in its near truth, at least by Elvis dying young, the music he created in the 1950s that changed the culture survives better with only 20 years of inferior material to follow it as opposed to 25 or 30, or god help us 40. “Hound Dog” will always get more airplay than his version of “My Way,” and that’s the way it should be.






One Response to “Elvis turns 75 — In some people’s imaginations”

  1. Marie Says:


    One of the funniest bumper stickers I have ever seen was on a car in Santa Cruz I saw in the 90’s.. It was sort of small and had a picture/drawing of Elvis and it simply said, “I’m dead’. It was done perfectly, addressing the “Elvis isn’t really dead” theorists.

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