I’m fascinated by the posts below this video of one of Elvis’ last public performances in Market Square, Indianapolis, June 26, 1977. He died 60 days later.
The gist of the comments is this: look at how broken down, drugged, fat, and incoherent he is. Then he sits down at the piano and is the greatest singer that ever lived. I love you Elvis! You died for me.
Full disclosure: I was always generally disgusted with Elvis because, given all of the remarkable gifts and opportunities he had, he bought into a cheap illusion of wealth and success and secluded himself in his mansion popping Dexamil, Dexedrine, Placidyl, Valium, Percodan, Seconal, Tuinal, Nembutal and Demerol, while watching teen-aged girls undress through a two-way mirror. He allowed himself to be completely controlled by a domineering agent, Col. Tom Parker.
Natalie Wood, who dated him for a time, said Elvis could sing but couldn’t do much else.
But blindly she knelt there
And she told him her dreams
And she thought that he answered
Or that’s how it seemed
Then they dragged her away,
It was handcuffs this time
She said, “my good man, are you out of your mind?”
Don’t you know that we’re married?
See I’m wearing his ring.
I come from Galway to Graceland
To be with the King.
I liked a few Elvis songs: “Suspicion”, “Suspicious Minds”. No one unchains a melody like Elvis– great voice, without a doubt. But I am first and foremost interested in great songs– great singers are dime a dozen. I am not kidding– you may think there are very few Elvis’s or Roy Orbison’s or Judy Collins’s , but there are far more than you think. The ones you know became famous because they found a great song and a great band and a great producer to project them into prominence. A lot of great singers never have that good fortune. The sad truth is, if you had a great voice and you auditioned tomorrow for some impresario, he would tell you that until you acquired a good band and good material, you will not be a success.
And today, of course, with Autotune, you don’t even have to be an accurate singer.
And my encounters with Elvis are filtered through the distasteful reverence of his fans. Thompson’s dissection of the subject in “Galway to Graceland” is fascinating. Firstly, the blind adoration: Elvis overwhelms her. But you can only be overwhelmed by a personality like Elvis if you really don’t have a strong personality of your own. He fills the hole. He is person-hood, dominance, brightness, and beauty. You allow yourself to be embraced by this amazing entity that absorbs you in making you part of his essence, his glory.
In short, you allow the media to convince you that you have an actual relationship with a celebrity. You refer to them by first name. You offer knowing asides to friends, implying that you have privileged inside information. “He never really loved Priscilla”.
Secondly, she is delusional. She really believes that she has a meaningful relationship with a television image, a recording, a sound. She really believes that the television image, the recording, the sound, has a relationship with her, other than to take her money. When Elvis asks, “are you lonely, tonight?” he means her.
I don’t think Dylan fans think that Bob is telling them that they are rolling stones, or a blue-eyed son, or Baby Blue. Bob is telling his fans about rolling stones and blue-eyed sons and Baby Blues. Leonard Cohen is conniving to take Manhattan, and if he’s your man, he’s going to be a beast. John Prine knows exactly what you are but you will never want to know that truth.
Thirdly, she is pathetic. She has surrendered her entire being to the delusion. She craves Elvis’ attention and projects it on herself when it is not forthcoming, and accepts it, and revels in it.
Do any of those adoring Elvis fans also adore the Beatles? Maybe not, but here’s and interesting piece of trivia: ‘According to an FBI report, Presley believed the Beatles had led young people astray “by their filthy unkempt appearances and suggestive music”’. The Guardian