by Robert Wilkinson
Yes, he of whom John Lennon said "Before Elvis, there was nothing" would have been 73 today if not for too many pills and peanut butter and banana sandwiches. He was the world's first true superstar, making moves on stage that outraged elders everywhere and excited the young all over the world. Though we mainly know him as a parody of 60s B-movie leering youthfulness rendered obsolete by the Beatles, he was truly electrifying on stage and changed our world forever, blowing the doors open for a whole new way of young hearts to express themselves.
His early movies, such as "Jailhouse Rock" and "King Creole," set a new standard even as they ushered out the film noir era, while his later movies made Hal Wallis and Colonel Tom Parker a lot of money and Elvis a parody of everything he had been before his military service. While he'll never be remembered for his acting, his music was another thing entirely.
He personified electricity, created near-riots everywhere he performed, and was the first white man to sing rhythm and blues so convincingly that everyone thought he was black. He broke down the barriers in what used to be called "race music" and yet was really a very humble and generous guy. His style kick started "rockabilly" and "rock and roll," since by putting Chuck Berry's music on radio, he set the foundations of everything we heard in the 60s and since.
I was 5 when he hit big and heard him on a transistor radio. Wow. He was truly electric, riding the wave of the huge stellium in Leo that ushered in the civil rights era, along with America's youth "rebellion" against the 50s paranoid authoritarian model. Given some in power still try to convince us today that we should still be paranoid and trust their authoritarian dictates, we can only wish another such "Sun King" would show up on the world stage to turn the rigid dictatorial model on its collective ear while unifying us all through music.
Before the music, a strange bit of trivia. The last few years he was alive, he studied Theosophical metaphysics extensively, including "The Secret Doctrine" and "The Voice of the Silence" (which he used to read from while on stage) by H.P. Blavatsky, as well as "The Tibetan Book of the Dead, " "Cosmic Consciousness" by Bucke, "New Mansions for New Men" by Dane Rudhyar, (more here) "The First and Last Freedom" by Krishnamurti, and "Flame in Chalice" by Nicolas Roerich, (more here) among many other venerable spiritual works. So I suppose it's safe to say he was not shallow or lacking in Spiritual aptitude, given his interest in the Masters of the Wisdom and the Spiritual Teachers of all ages.
And now, on with the shew! For your enjoyment, here are slices of music, history, and culture from 50 years ago:
Hound Dog done in 1956 on the Milton Berle show. Dig Bill Black's standup bass.
A 1956 TV performance of his first major national hit: Heartbreak Hotel
Here it's appropriate to give a major league shout out to Capricorn Scotty Moore, Elvis' first guitarist and Sun Records legend in his own right. If you want moore, you can also catch him on early Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis tracks. To quote Keith Richards, ""When I heard Heartbreak Hotel, I knew what I wanted to do in life. It was as plain as day. All I wanted to do in the world was to be able to play and sound like that. Everyone else wanted to be Elvis, I wanted to be Scotty." Thanks for the licks, Scotty. Tie-Dye sez hi.
From his first "double sided hit," a 1956 performance of Don't Be Cruel - Great version but a very bizarre jacket.
Another TV performance of Don't Be Cruel.
A great edited piece set to several very early performances, including clips from "The Louisiana Hayride," the venue in the early 50s where Elvis was first seen by thousands. One of his earlier hits, That's Allright Mama. Check out some of the moves that had never been done before by any performer anywhere any time. This was history being made.
From his 1968 "comeback" concert, a live performance of Blue Suede Shoes showing that Tom Parker could only keep Elvis a parody of himself for a while before the wildcat reappeared.
From Hawaii in 1973, here's Burnin' Love
From a different 1970 concert, here's In the Ghetto
From the movie, Jailhouse Rock
Here are a bunch from Yahoo music including an amazing early version of "Hound Dog" and some early hits performed in the late 60s and early 70s.
If you're into gospel, Elvis recorded hundreds. Here's a live version of How Great Thou Art featuring phenomenal harmonies by the Jordanaires. Another great live performance is O Happy Day, definitely worth a watch.
Thanks for showing up, Elvis. Though you lived a tragic life, you changed our world forever.
ps. - All thanks and major league gratitude to Sam Phillips of Sun Records for giving Elvis to the world before Tom Parker neutered him for 8 years.
pps. - If you ever want to see one of the funniest movies ever made, check out "Elvis meets Nixon," a true story of one of the weirdest encounters in history. I laughed harder the second time I saw it than the first. Hard to find, but utterly brilliant.
© Copyright 2008 Robert Wilkinson