FINISHING UP WITH “STUPID ABOUT ELVIS” AND MORE

Just want to let everyone here know I’ve finished my “Stupid about Elvis” series on the Medium forum Tell It Like It Was, which, by now, also has many other cool items to peruse for those who wish to become members and have unlimited access.

You can find parts 4 and 5 here and here

My summation, Why Elvis? is here.

For those who haven’t already, please clap, follow, and, especially read…or at least spend enough time in the story to make it look like you read it! Every little bit helps.

Me and E thank ya’ very much!

ARLO AND ELVIS (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #140)

Not including the many gospel shows I attended growing up or the one local indie rock gig I caught some years back, I’ve been to exactly three concerts in my life. The first was the Elvin Bishop Band when they played the Orlando-Seminole Jai Alai fronton in the summer of ’76 (I got in free, was almost kicked out, marijuana smoke everywhere and a disco ball that spun and glittered when they finally got to “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”–long story). The second was the post-Lionel Richie Commodores in 1985 (“Night Shift,” girls from work, a cute sister who backed out at the last minute–long story).

I enjoyed myself immensely at both concerts, but by far the best was the third, which was Arlo Guthrie at the local college (FSU) in 2006. Just me and a friend and a full auditorium….and Arlo mixing music and stories like nobody else (many mix music and stories, few are so skilled at stopping in the middle of one to pursue the other at moments that are both completely unpredictable and utterly logical).

But he didn’t do this one. Too bad. I’m sure every one of us (including the unreconstructed hippie who counted what had to be the greatest version of “Coming Into Los Angeles” ever committed to the air as “the one thing I needed to hear”) could have sung along:

THE SECURITY STATE….AT YOUR SERVICE! (Segue of the Day: 8/10/18)

Meddling in elections is nothing new (we’re the best at it, in fact, 81 known meddles since WWII, not counting what’s been done here at home–the Soviet Union is a distant second (36) and, having gone out of business, is falling further behind every year!)

THEN (1980):

After the (Iranian) revolution, Madani was rewarded for his courage by gaining important posts in the post-revolutionary government. Madani was named the new government’s first defense minister and then was appointed governor general of oil-rich and strategically vital Khuzistan province.

Madani’s chief rival in the presidential election was Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, an academic who had stayed with Ayatollah Khomeni during his long exile in Paris. But the U.S. government, looking for any sign of rationality in Tehran, favored Madani. Responding to the pro-Madani appeals of the Hashemi brothers [NOTE: Paul Manafort/Tony Podesta style power brokers and shady deal facilitators of the time], the CIA agreed to funnel a modest sum of covert aid to the admiral’s campaign. Madani had known the Hashemi brothers since childhood.

At lunch, Jamshid (Hashemi) said his brother handled $500,000 in campaign money for Madani, but “very little, too late, reached Iran.” At the polls, in the Islamic republic’s first presidential election, on January 25, 1980, Madani garnered only 17 percent of the vote, losing handily to Bani-Sadr. The CIA demanded an accounting of the money and concluded that only about $100,000 had reached Iran. To blunt CIA anger, Cyrus (Hasemi) returned $290,000.

Between bites of poached salmon at Grosvenor House, Jamshid claimed that Madani’s defeat did not end his brother’s wheeling and dealing with the U.S. government. Instead, Cyrus continued to trade on his contacts in Iran, offereing to help the Carter Adminstration settle the hostage crisis. To that end, and with the State Department’s blessing, Cyrus ferried messages to and from Europe, typically jetting to the Continent on the Concorde and staying at posh hotels.

But the Hashemi brothers’ dual sets of U.S. contacts–one the Carter Administration and the other the Republicans (i.e. Reagan-Bush Campaign)–began to cross in March 1980…..

(Robert Parry, Trick or Treason: The 1980 October Surprise Mystery, 1993)

NOW (2018):

Sharyl Atkisson becomes, so far as I know, the first person to go there, re: the necessary shape of the Security State’s “insurance policy”:

Assume, for the sake of argument, that powerful, connected people in the intelligence community and in politics worried that a wildcard Trump presidency, unlike another Clinton or Bush, might expose a decade-plus of questionable practices. Disrupt long-established money channels. Reveal secret machinations that could arguably land some people in prison.

What exactly might an “insurance policy” against Donald Trump look like?

She spells it out here.

The names change. The arrogant, self-serving nature of “intelligence” services does not.

Hey FBI. Hey CIA…I’ll take my chances on what comes after. Here’s to the day you’re gone:

MAYBE IT’S TIME TO START THINKING ABOUT ELVIS AGAIN….

I know some of you follow Greil Marcus’s Mailbag (which I can’t link–it’s available under “Ask Greil” if you follow the Marcus link under my blogroll). For those who don’t, here’s the text of a question from one of his readers and his response, regarding the new Docu-flick The King.

I saw The King in NYC yesterday, really enjoyed it—you had the funniest line when you mentioned “crackpot religions” in LA in the late ’60s.
Only thing I got a little turned off to was criticism of Elvis for not marching with Martin Luther King like Brando and Heston did. Why no mention that by performing material on national TV in 1956 by black artists he opened doors for them like no one before? Plus that many people—James Brown, Ivory Joe Hunter, as well as Ali—truly loved him and made no secret of it.
I don’t know—what do you think—is it me?

I think it’s a hard question, less about the March on Washington than any number of civil rights protests in Memphis, and while Van Jones is a blowhard, with, here, none of Chuck D.’s dignity or thoughtfulness, he makes a serious argument. It hit home for me years before, when I looked at the Ernest Withers photo of King’s funeral procession in Memphis passing the State Theater, where the marquee has Elvis’s latest movie, Stay Away Joe—which in context, the context Withers built, means, “Elvis, stay away.” And he could have been there, in his home town, the same place where he sometimes recited the end of King’s March on Washington speech. “If I Can Dream” is about that speech and about the assassination—no, Elvis didn’t write it, but he sings it as if he’s tearing it out of his heart, unsure, tripping and stumbling, desperate to say what he means, to get it across, ignoring melody and rhythm, more like someone jumping on stage to give a speech than being paid to sing a song—but that doesn’t make up for anything. The kinship that James Brown, B. B. King, Eddie Murphy, Muhammad Ali, and Chuck Berry might have felt for Elvis, or his role as some kind of racial ambassador, doesn’t either. Sure, the Colonel would have kidnapped him and held him in Fort Knox to keep him from appearing in public in any kind of civil rights march, but hey, if you’ve seen an Elvis movie, you know he could find a way out.

This leads back to some themes I’ve hit on here before, but this feels like a good time to re-visit them.

I’ll take that attempt at pure musical criticism first:

“ignoring melody and rhythm.”

Here’s a question. If you’re relying on the counterfactual, which fact are you trying to hide?

That Elvis was using melody and rhythm in ways you don’t understand? Or merely in ways that would undermine the larger point you are about to make?

(To revisit my take on “If I Can Dream” you can go here.)

Second:

“But that doesn’t make up for anything.”

The examples Marcus gives of what Elvis did that didn’t “make up for anything” are designed to let us know that Elvis couldn’t have done anything that made up for not participating in at least one Civil Rights march, the way (as the questioner reminds us) even Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston did.

For Elvis, more than forty years after his death, the goalposts are still moving.

For everyone else, they remain the same.

Just a reminder on how this works:

Bob Dylan converted to Fundamentalist Christianity (and has never quite renounced it, preferring to dance around the question).

Forgiven.

Neil Young and Prince loudly and proudly endorsed Ronald Reagan (whom Marcus and many other Libs consider a fascist).

Forgiven.

John Lydon and David Lynch (two of Marcus’ great heroes) have said kind things about Donald Trump. (NOTE: Elvis is still called to account for who he might have voted for, had he lived to see the day.)

Forgiven.

Ray Charles (no Elvis fan) was a life-long rock-ribbed Republican who sang for Reagan and George W. Bush. And you should have seen the contortions the obituarists at all the Good Liberal periodicals put themselves through when Ray had the bad taste to force-multiply the association by dying the same week as the Gipper.

Forgiven.

Elvis Costello once got drunk and called Ray Charles a “blind, ignorant nigger.”

Totally forgiven…even by Ray Charles!

Dozens, if not hundreds, of liberal African-American icons never quite managed to march with or for MLK or the Civil Rights Movement. Too many to list, really.

All totally forgiven.

And, oh yeah, that photographer, Ernest Withers?

FBI informant.

Totally forgiven.

Elvis Presley, never marched with or for MLK.

Nothing could ever make up for that!

Got it?

Now who was it again that asked the real question in the year he already knew we would never walk away from?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwqbuus8QPU

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ELVIS…

Well, all kinds of things, really, but Neal Umphred has some very specific deeper thoughts about my Stupid Stuff People Say About Elvis category (and has done some further digging on at least one of the offenders–well worth reading for that bit alone). He’s also graciously pointed folks back here for, as they say, “the rest of the story” so we’re in full one-hand-washes-the-other mode!

I’ve always thought the underestimated Elvis Neal and I have both gone on about at length was rooted in the misunderstood Elvis and that the misunderstanding was largely willful ignorance. So, as a small bonus, I present a reminder of Elvis’ most misunderstood side–the Pentecostal Christian part which every believer knows is the largest part (with the additional note that the rise-to-the-mountaintop in the final chorus is the first full flowering of Elvis’ mature ballad style, not to mention his mature arranging style, both of which, perhaps not coincidentally, have also remained deeply, and willfully, misunderstood):

 

B: Memphis, TN, 1936; D: Memphis, TN, 2017….BEGINNING TO END (Red West, R.I.P.)

Perhaps the most recognizable (and toughest) of the Memphis Mafia, Red West was also one of the few who had appreciable musical talent, talent that came out in “If Every Day Was Like Christmas,” “Separate Ways,” “If You Talk in Your Sleep,” among others.

Near the boss’s end, he got fired and co-wrote a scandalous book which I haven’t read (one of these days, one of these days). The boss didn’t live long enough for reconciliation. Some said the book was the last punch to an already weakened heart–that it was having Red’s name on it that really hurt.

I always said only two people knew and they probably only half-knew.

I guess they can worry about working all that out now.

As some of you know, I have contacts on the other side so I wasn’t surprised when a certain familiar voice showed up in my head and asked for a late night dedication.

“What?” I said. “‘Unfaithful Servant?'”

I wasn’t thinking it had to be one of Red’s, or even one of his.

“Naw man,” the boss said. “Up here, it’s all about forgiveness…You do alright. Just play what you feel.”

“You mean the same one I’m gonna play next month, when I re-post for the big 40th?”

“Oh yeah. That’ll get it.”

Fair enough.

So I have it on good authority.

However things were, they’re okay tonight.

Fair enough.

 

WHAT WOULD ELVIS DO?

I think “What would Elvis do?” has become a handy substitute for “What would Jesus do?” the difference being Jesus (or at least his followers) left a well-defined set of instructions to guide our speculation, while Elvis was as obscure as any person can be who achieves enough fame to make wondering what they would do occur to anyone in the first place.

Over at Greil Marcus’ website, he just received the inevitable question “Would Elvis have voted for Trump?”

Marcus took it for granted that the question referred to Elvis Presley (perhaps Elvis Costello is not, per Steven Van Zandt, the “real” Elvis after all) and answered at length. You can read his answer under the May 29, 2017 mailbag at his site (link available on my blogroll at the right–sorry, I can’t link to individual questions inside the mailbag itself).

In summary, it’s the usual mishmash: The Elvis who died in 1977 “probably… would have” voted for Trump, but if he had lived another forty years he might have turned into a good person, unlike the millions who actually voted for Trump because he represents the kind of evil country they want to live in. I’ll just point out that Marcus does not address the key demographic of the 2016 election, the several million people–many of them concentrated in the industrial swing states which crumbled the Blue Wall and decided the election–who voted for Trump after voting for Obama twice.

Did they suddenly change their minds about which kind of country they wanted to live in? Did Obama simply fail to deliver the evil country they thought he had promised? Or was Trump seen as more likely than Hillary Clinton to maintain the country they wanted to live in when they voted for Obama?

I encourage you to read Marcus’ response, but, in short, he doesn’t say.

What I really want to do though is answer the question.

Would Elvis have voted for Trump?

I wonder why we only wonder who Elvis would have voted for? Does anybody (well, any white boy critic or wannabe) ask themselves whether Ray Charles or James Brown–both much further to the right on the public record than Elvis ever was–would have voted for Trump? If they don’t, why not? I’m sure it’s not because they don’t think Mr. Charles or Mr. Brown lacked moral or intellectual agency. I mean, that would be sorta racist wouldn’t it?

Comes to that, why don’t we wonder who the more-or-less still living “Johnny Rotten” would have voted for if he were an American? Is it because all the cool people might not like the answer? (Just an aside: Marcus was recently asked about this one as well and basically gave Lydon a pass–and not because Trump is as an inevitable part of Lydon’s legacy as he is a rejection of the real Elvis’.)

I don’t have the least clue who the real Elvis–who at least tacitly endorsed both Adlai Stevenson and George Wallace whilst he was living–would have voted for.

Neither do you. Neither does anyone.

I know what he did when it mattered. When it mattered he sang “If I Can Dream” into the teeth of the anti-Enlightenment forces, Left and Right, that were dismantling the Dream he had done as much as any man to make real. And he put more pure anger into it than anyone has ever conveyed on a record that reached the Top 40. (Listen again, with headphones and your eyes closed if you can. You’ll hear it, right there from the heart of ’68.) When it mattered, he did things like this.

There were reasons why James Brown, who, like many an ornery American liable to vote for Obama one time and Trump the next, preferred dying on his feet to living on his knees, wept over Elvis’ coffin. Seeing around the corner, where the Dream would shatter, and the post-Carter political class–yes, all of them–would crawl from the wreckage, was no doubt foremost among them.

TIS THE SEASON (Segue of the Day: 12/16/16)

Recent Christmas seasons, my “shopping” consists of a trip to the local antique mall, where I can usually find what I need for the one or two people I still exchange actual gifts with. This little spree is usually accompanied by sitting down for lunch somewhere, a few errands, riding around in the car, the kind of activities that expose you to Christmas music.

I’m not saying I never hear anything good, but even if I do, it’s an awful lot of the same old same old. Which made coming into contact with the Christmas Elvis–the later incarnation, not the “Blue Christmas” one–was a jolt to the system as I browsed the book stall, looking for what I was going to get myself (the rest was already bought).

It was even more of a jolt to realize that the whole album was playing. I picked it up near the end, so I heard these three in a row, the last as I was checking out (when your pockets are short, it takes even less time to shop for yourself than for the few remaining others).

And I wondered, yet again, who could range so broadly across so much American space with so much off-handed ease–on three songs for a kinda-sorta throwaway Christmas album no less?

You know the answer to that.

Nobody. That’s who.

Wake up Putt….