There are a few things that define life as we know it. Elvis. The Twist. Rock n’ Roll. Growing up in the shadow of Elvis, meant entire generations who defined their life, let alone hairstyle, on whole or in part, from Elvis. He was able to take the rhythm and blues of honky tonks and the “chitlin curcuit,” and bring them to the mainstream. With just the right blend of bad boy in black meets country boy smile, he made girls go weak in the knees, and guys want to look like him.
Like the songs go, he was shipped off to be a G.I. They cut his rebel hair off. Things changed. He became a one man machine with the Colonel at the controls. It didn’t end well for poor Elvis, who’d had dreams of doing better movies, and recording what he wanted to record. “Elia Kazan wanted Elvis to star in a film adaptation of Nelson Algren’s “Walk on the Wild Side” but the Colonel once again shot it down because one of the characters was a – gulp – lesbian.”
Instead, Elvis was reduced to a non stop treadmill with a pill to go up and a pill to go down. So sad to think that he was only in his forties when he died. Not really that old at all, yet, at the time, he’d seemed so old, beyond what he’d been. To think of how much more he had to live. Who knows what could have happened to him, had he survived drugs.
He leaves behind a family, that lost him way too early. Tragedy. We can look to his contributions, and see too that he leaves in his wake an entire generation, a generation after that, and a new generation, who grew up listening to him. Those who danced with their kids and taught them who he was, and those who still dance to him. He is part of our culture, woven into every pompadour and turned up collar. Even kids who don’t know who he is, owe him a bow. He broke boundaries no one had broken through before. It was a rebellious, desegregated, wild gyrating ball of fire that had teen age girls running after him as others burned his records for its “bad influence on teenagers.”
Yes, as is often the case with cultural icons, Elvis wasn’t so accepted in the Bible Belt then, as he is now. Reduced to a clownish costume in his jumpsuit days, Elvis was so much more. He brought Little Richard to white audiences, as kids got together from all races to go crazy and dance to wild new music.
Elvis had a longtime friendship with James Brown who, according to Bill Holdship “flew his private jet to the Graceland funeral. He was the only major celebrity/star (besides Ann Margret) to attend. He and Elvis were very, very close. ‘We were brothers.’ ‘Elvis taught white America how to get down.’ ‘There will never be another soul brother like that one.’ ‘The last time were were together, we sang spirtuals together. We sang ‘Old Black Barnabus.’ I believe we’ll see each other in heaven.’ All JB quotes.”
Yes, indeed. He did teach America how to get down. Maybe he and Brown are dancing somewhere. Or at least, they can see us dancing to them, still.
Tags: American Pie, Ann Margret, Big Mama Thornton, Bill Holdship, Blues, Chubby Checker, Colonel Tom Parker, Creem Magazine, Don McLean, Elia Kazan, Elvis Presley, Ike Turner, James Brown, John Lennon, Little Richard, Paul McCartney, Rock n' Roll, Stick McGhee, The Beatles, The Quarrymen, The Twist