STUPID STUFF PEOPLE SAY ABOUT ELVIS (Quote the Tenth)

“What’s essential (i.e. about Elvis’ music) could fit on a single CD or perhaps two.” (Source: Jim Fusilli, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 3, 2011)

From a review of “The Complete Elvis Presley Masters.”

This is a corrollary to the fifties’ theory proposed by Jackie Gleason–“He can’t last, I tell you flatly, he can’t last.”

Like Gleason himself, you probably thought that theory was long disproved!

No worries. The Wall Street Journal (an institution which knows a thing or two about keeping disproved theories alive, well and aimed directly at the heart of the American Experiment) is here to tell us that, in fact, he didn’t last!

Here’s my theory: Some wars never end.

And I love that “perhaps two.”

 

STUPID STUFF PEOPLE SAY ABOUT ELVIS (Quote the Ninth)

“One night, probably in late 1952, a teenaged white boy ‘came in there, didn’t have on any shoes, barefooted, and asked me if he could play my guitar. I didn’t want to let him, I don’t usually–I didn’t know him from Adam. I’d never seen him before. In fact, he was the only white somebody in the club. He made sure he won that one. He sang “You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog” and shook his hair–see, at the time I had my hair processed, and I’d shake it down in my face–he tore the house up. And tore the strings off my guitar so I couldn’t follow him.’ The boy turned out to have a name even more rare than Phineas Newborn–Elvis Presley.”

(Source: Stanley Booth, “Fascinating Changes” Rhythm Oil, 1991)

Booth is quoting Memphis musician Calvin Newborn (Phineas’ brother). Newborn, who is black, is responsible for the “Elvis as L’il Abner” imagery. Booth, who spent decades floating in the “whites-only” margins of the crit-illuminati (not quite cynical enough to be Nik Cohn and not nearly disciplined enough to be Nick Tocshes), supplied the bit about 1952.

I know everybody who reads this isn’t hip to Elvis-lore, but the dubious “he played Beale Street long before he was famous” story-line has always been around, fueled by quotes like this one. I’m sure Newborn meant no harm–and he does seem to have had some sort of friendly relationship with Presley–but there are at least two things in his recollection which are far more hallucinatory than the idea of Elvis Presley singing “Hound Dog” in 1952 (the song wasn’t written until 1953, Elvis did not perform it in public until 1956).

However far one has to reach into The Twilight Zone to conjure up the notion of Elvis ripping the strings off another man’s guitar in a cutting contest in a black night club on Beale Street in 1952 might be, it pales next to the image of Elvis (who really did shop for his ultra-hip clothes on Beale Street) doing all this in his bare feet.

Note that Booth–who prides himself on never having taken a wooden nickel from anybody (and who, in his one great “right-place-right-time-right-subject” moment, parlayed this self-delusion into a genuinely captivating account of the Rolling Stones at Altamont)–swallows every bit of it.

And if Newborn had finished off the imagery with E wearing some overalls with patches on the knees, you can bet he would have taken that as the gospel too.

 

STUPID STUFF PEOPLE SAY ABOUT ELVIS (Quote the Eighth)

34 “Hound Dog” Big Mama Thornton (1953) It may be elitist to claim this original version is superior to that by a certain Tennessee truck driver a few years later. But given the trucks of money the Tennessee kid drove off with, it may also be justice.

33 “Jailhouse Rock” Elvis Presley (1957) Leiber and Stoller thought they were kidding when they wrote this, after all, weren’t they always kidding? Fortunately the Tennessee truck driver didn’t get the joke and, for once, in his best moment in his best movie, branded onto celluloid all his incendiary magnetism.

(Source: Steve Erickson, “L.A.’s Top 100,” Da Capo Best Music Writing 2002, 2002.)

The lesson, as always, is that whenever Elvis did something that couldn’t quite be ignored, it wasn’t anything he intended. But I have to admire the calm concision with which Erickson equates “elitism”–by which, of course, he means either anti-elitist elitism, or anti-anti-elitism (I never can keep them straight)–with “justice,” in a context where no rational meaning that can be attached to either word makes the least bit of sense.

STUPID STUFF PEOPLE SAY ABOUT ELVIS (Quote the Sixth)

“Of course he really was a greaseball, which was why I didn’t like him–he reminded me of every rock who ever threatened to beat me up.” (Robert Christgau. Any Old Way You Choose It, 1973)

I realize that, even in a field as crowded as “profound misinterpretations of Elvis Presley’s character perpetrated by the crit-illuminati,” somebody has to take the cake. Still….Good God.

 

STUPID STUFF PEOPLE SAY ABOUT ELVIS (Quote the Fifth)

“And, further, when he went to Memphis in 1968 to record with a fine musical wrecking crew of accomplished studio musicians, he sounded, once again, as though he was actually interested in what he was singing. And, even better, on some of the early songs he recorded there, he performed with a touch of laryngitis–which not only curbed some of his post-gospel excesses (that heavy and throaty vibrato and sometimes shmaltzy sustain of certain pointlessly held notes) but which made him, if only briefly, into a near-pure, hoarse-souled blues singer of deep southern resonance.”

(Allen Lowe “Ten Things You Probably Don’t Know About Mississippi Blues Musicians” Oxford American Issue 75: 13th Annual Southern Music Issue, 2011)

In case you missed the key nugget in there–and I can understand how the eyes might glaze–Elvis produced the greatest vocal recordings of the twentieth century because he was lucky enough to get laryngitis at the beginning of the sessions.

Here’s a nice experiment: Sit down with any of the numerous editions of Elvis’ late-sixties Memphis sessions (say the Legacy Edition of From Elvis In Memphis). Then close your eyes and try to guess which vocals were performed with and without “laryngitis.”

Should you need a little mantra to keep you sane during this process, here’s one that works for me: “For ye have the maroons with you always.”

Rinse and repeat as necessary.

Elvis Presley “After Loving You” (studio)

 

STUPID STUFF PEOPLE SAY ABOUT ELVIS (Quote the Fourth)

“Is it a sausage? It is certainly smooth and damp looking, but who ever heard of a 172-lb sausage 6 ft. tall? Is it a Walt Disney goldfish? It has the same sort of big, soft, beautiful eyes and long, curly lashes, but who ever heard of a goldfish with sideburns? Is it a corpse? The face just hangs there, limp and white with its little drop-seat mouth, rather like Lord Byron in the wax museum. But suddenly the figure comes to life. The lips part, the eyes half close, the clutched guitar begins to undulate back and forth in an uncomfortably suggestive manner. And wham! The mid-section of the body jolts forward to bump and grind and beat out a low-down rhythm that takes its pace from boogie and hillbilly, rock ’n’ roll and something known only to Elvis and his Pelvis. As the belly dance gets wilder, a peculiar sound emerges. A rusty foghorn? A voice? Or merely a noise produced, like the voice of a cricket, by the violent stridulation of the legs? Words occasionally can be made out, like raisins in cornmeal mush. ‘Goan…git…luhhv…’ And then all at once everything stops, and a big tender trembly half smile, half sneer smears slowly across the Cinemascope screen. The message that millions of U.S. teen-age girls love to receive has just been delivered.”

(Time magazine review of Love Me Tender, 1956. Reprinted in Elvis: The Biography, Jerry Hopkins, 1971 and Anti-Rock: The Opposition to Rock and Roll, Linda Martin and Kerry Segrave, 1988)

And there are those who, even now, think Pravda lacked subtlety.

STUPID STUFF PEOPLE SAY ABOUT ELVIS (Quote the Third)

“I never went to a single Presley movie and I never, not even once, not even for “Hound Dog,” bought a single Presley record. Even then I knew Julie London had a better voice.”

(Roger Ebert. Source: Review of Easy Come, Easy Go, 1967)

I’ll put my vinyl-diving credentials up against Roger Ebert’s any day. And speaking as one of the world’s more devoted Julie London fans, I can’t really add anything to this. If I started, I’d have to rearrange all the previously accepted boundaries of surrealism in order to actually arrive at a conclusion.

It doesn’t seem worth the effort somehow.

 

STUPID STUFF PEOPLE SAY ABOUT ELVIS (Quote the Second)

“..a talented hick who was destroyed by success: what else is new?” (Martin Amis. Source: The War on Cliche. Published 2002)

Okay. Martin Amis is a thin man with heavy burdens. He’s sort of the Hank Williams, Jr. of the literary world. Clear case of “genius father, son-not-without-talent-if-only-the-general-meatiness-of-his-head-didn’t-keep-getting-in-the-way syndrome.”

It can’t be easy.

Still, perusing this, I inevitably find myself communing with the spirit of the Continental Op: counting how many lies could be found in nine words of advertising and reaching four “with promise of more” before he’s interrupted.

Ignoring the general hilarity of discovering this little gem reprinted in a volume called The War On Cliche, (I find stupidity that has convinced itself of its own striking originality to be sort of touching actually) let’s just stick to posing some of the more obvious questions:

To prove a “hick” was ever “destroyed by success” wouldn’t you have to prove self-same hick–not some other hick, but that very one–would not have been destroyed by the absence of success?

And if you’ve posited something as proven when it can’t be, is it quite kosher to follow on by asking “what else is new?”

On the other hand, if you have access to alternative dimensions where parallel fates can be studied for comparison and contrast–and thus, the aforementioned “proof”–should you be wasting valuable time on the fate of hicks, actual or theoretical, successful or otherwise?

I mean, shouldn’t you be concerned with more important things like….I don’t know….the existence of God maybe, or the possible ends of human suffering?

(I’ll stop now, But here’s a link to Amis’ entire essay–actually a book review–in case you think I’m being unduly harsh or quoting him out of context or anything.)

 

STUPID STUFF PEOPLE SAY ABOUT ELVIS (Quote the First)

“But the King will outlive his immortality also.”

(Lee Siegel.Time Magazine, Aug. 7, 2002).

Uh…Can God make a rock so heavy even He can’t lift it?

If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it really make a sound?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

If a bear craps in the woods…

Heck, I give up.

I knew I never had the stuff to work at Time. With a gun to my head and electrodes strapped to my testicles, I might have been able to fake the rest of it…but that “also” would be forever out in front, dangling just beyond my feeble comprehension.