The author can’t help falling in love with Elvis Presley even though he died 36 years ago.
What can you say about a 42-year-old man who died more than three decades ago? That he was beautiful and brilliant; that he released you from prudery when he swivelled his hips; that when he talked, your restless mind found the ultimate stimulant; that when he sang your fluttering heart finally settled on a poor boy from Memphis.
Even 36 years after his death you still can’t help falling in love with the magic of Elvis and his Pelvis.
Remembering Elvis on his death anniversary, a million things come to mind; his perfectly chiselled face, the $4.3 billion he earned during his lifetime (and the $300 million he still makes), the over one billion records he sold, the 33 films he made, the 988 odd songs he recorded… So, when did it all begin?
Sixty years ago, on July 18, 1953, 18-year-old Elvis entered the Sun Records and recorded ‘My Happiness’; a low-key start to a hugely successful career. Elvis had to wait another year to be a part of something historic. On July 5, 1954, the truck driver from Memphis recorded ‘That’s all right’. From then, history was made at every pelvic jerk, every smouldering look, every lip curl.
But the Hillbilly Cat was more than just a beautiful head of hair. “Elvis was at once a tenor, a baritone and a bass; the most unusual voice I’ve ever heard,” said music critic Greg Sandow. Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records echoed a similar sentiment: “The voice is so melodious and, of course, by accident, this glorious voice and musical sensibility was combined with this beautiful, sexual man and his very unconscious — or unselfconscious — stage movements.”
The great man was also a master storyteller. Each Presley song revealed a fascinating tale. And there was the Elvis Presley special: the tragic-romance that combined heartbreak, jealousy, loneliness. There is incredible pathos and catharsis, all with a touch of swagger.
The bluesy ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ was inspired by a suicide note that read ‘I walk a lonely street’. The writers added a hotel at the end of the street, where broken-hearted lovers could ‘cry away the blues’. And so Heartbreak Hotel became a meeting point for the lonely and the lost. ‘Hey now, if your baby leaves you, and you got a tale to tell. Just take a walk down lonely street to heartbreak hotel.’
And then there were the hopeful sunny songs. The love ballad ‘I just can’t help believin… this time the girl is gonna stay for more than just a day’. The sensitive man is getting some guarantee of lasting validation. ‘The dream I dreamed was not denied me’.
The sexy and fun waters were also amply tested. The King reached the epitome of sexual expression with ‘Burning Love’. With the ohhs and the ahhs and the ‘temperatures rising’, this one did not rely on words to tell the hottest story ever told.
Some Elvis songs had social responsibility as the underlying theme. ‘In the ghetto’ is a commentary on the life and times of every boy born without means, who don’t get any breaks, are introduced to the world of petty crime and are finally shot down in their prime. ‘On a cold and grey Chicago morning a poor little baby child is born in the ghetto…’ A poignant tale told by the quintessential poor boy himself.
The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was also the king of emotional intensity. Existential angst was the staple of some Presley songs such as ‘Hound Dog’, ‘It’s a dog’s life’, ‘You are the devil in disguise’, ‘Trouble’, ‘Baby, I don’t care’. On the other extreme he was capable of giving wing to the gentlest of feelings. Songs like ‘Crying in the chapel,’ and ‘For the good times’, ‘And I love you so’ will melt your heart on the coldest days.
Over the years a lot has been said about Elvis: his afflictions, his addictions, his success, his downfall, his hair, his toilet seat. He’s been torn to shreds because the fans want to know everything about the man who gave them a glimpse of what life could be if you pulled out all the stops. And Elvis cooperated with the fervour of a child; he told us everything about Elvis Presley, the singer, the charmer, the artist through his work.
And today, we look back with wonder at the man who bared his heart so that he could touch ours. The unofficial Elvis fan page has a little inscription at the bottom of the page that says “Never fear …Elvis is watching you”. So, he died and became a guardian angel. So, he watches over me and you and all of us, but we can no longer watch him.
That’s what is wrong with the world today: the mad oil rush, the shrinking greens, and no Elvis.
Time to go back 60 years, right up to 1953, when the world was greener, there was enough oil for everyone, and there was Elvis! The starry-eyed 18-year-old was only just setting out on the journey to become the king of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The best was yet to come.