With Neal’s encouragement, I’ve updated/revised my “Stupid Stuff People Say About Elvis” posts and integrated them into a new series on Tell It Like It Was.
Even those who have read the original posts here will find some new text and, I hope, new insights. It turns into another story when you put them all together.
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A while back (two months? three? the memory hazes), Neal Umphred, world class record collecting expert, proprietor of several fine blogs of his own (you can access his invaluable Elvis: A Touch of Gold through my highly selective blogroll at the right, or find his others with a Google search of his name) and frequent commenter on this one, approached me about joining him and novelist Lew Shiner in a venture on the on-line forum Medium where we would write about the music of 1955-1975 with a special emphasis on the 60’s.
I knew the pace would probably kill me…but it wasn’t a chance I could pass up.
As he mentions, we will be kicking things off (very shortly) with a year-by-year look at the #1 records from 1960 through 1969. There will be another intro and then a teaser. Then on to 1960 (which I believe will behind a paywall…I’ll post more when the time comes but my own experience is that Medium charges 5$ a month for unlimited access. I plan to post a column a week, in addition to various joint venture Neal is dreaming up for us!)
This is a business model that pays its writers. How much depends on how many readers/subscribers we attract. Nobody knows better than me how tight time and money are in our Modern Paradise, but please consider bookmarking us and, if at all possible, subscribing. It’s still a somewhat fluid process, so I’ll be providing updates as I know more.
And just a final shout-out to Neal who has done all the heavy lifting on this project and is now officially the hardest working man on the internet. Here’s to you brother. Everything I really needed to know, I learned from Rock and Roll, even if our five o’clock world is more likely to be experienced in the a.m.:
Shortly thereafter, Neal Umphred and I had a brief but interesting exchange on the definition of “flower children,” which amounted to his associating the term with its original meaning in the sixties, when it had a generally positive connotation of early hippies pursuing admirable dreams of peace, love and harmony.
I, on the other hand, grew up in the seventies, by which time “flower child” was mostly associated with impossible, easily exploited naivete…if not something worse (for which I refer you to Pattie Boyd’s autobiography, where she recounts the less-than-idyllic experiences she had with George Harrison in Haight-Asbury).
Ever since, that split has mostly remained in place, with mileage varying depending on which vibe your experience has channeled you to prefer.
Neal was right that my reference was a bit careless and too easily misunderstood, though. It was actually a specific reference to something I had just read on Nancy Sinatra’s twitter feed that day (where she linked favorably to one of the Never Trump neocons–it doesn’t matter which one) which was representative of dozens of other twitter links I’ve seen in the past year between Hollywood liberals (all of whom, like Nancy, now profess flower children ideals even if they don’t live by them and even if, like Nancy, they once represented the antithesis of the concept, a fact Neal also pointed out). I mostly didn’t make the reference specific in the post because I like Nancy, both as a persona and as an artist, and we all tend to make allowances for those we like, even if they start channeling Max Boot** and company.
Not a Flower Child!
The exchange was interesting mainly because it forced me to think on the use of terms that morph into different usage over time for one person while retaining their original usage for those who first encountered such terms in their original, unblemished state.
Which brings up the question of authenticity.
I’m not sure how “authentic” my favorite Ode to a Flower Child is. It’s a master class in disciplined Popcraft, provided by people who probably regarded hippiedom (and its music) with, at best, a bemused smile.
The singer was no ways cool, though that was a serious misunderstanding on the part of the tastemakers, whether in print or on the street, because he was one of Rock and Roll America’s greatest singers…and purest self-made products.
The writer, Kenny Young, became a big-time environmentalist, which was interesting because his mastery of craft–what gave him the bones to be big-time anything–was capitalism at its finest.
The band was the Wrecking Crew.
So it was like that.
I’m sure the Grateful Dead, or somebody, must have recorded a more authentic, real life Ode to a Flower Child. And someone must have delivered a more straightforward lyric than one that begins by questioning everything the Flower Child stands for before giving way to her charms before starting to act like her dad again!
But that’s what makes it poignant. Its placement–both in time (1970) and cosmic space (between the sixties’ definition of a flower child and the interpretation that would become standard in the cynical decades to come)–between two world views that could never hope to be reconciled and which, in their subsequent pursuit of dominance, could only become mutually and hopelessly corrupted.
This is one record that does what music does better than anything else…let’s you feel one with a moment in time that won’t come again…
…still wish I’d never looked up the lyric, though, and been forced to hear the scrupulous craft of “cut off your Indian braids” where the pure poetry of “come off your Indian ways” used to be.
But at least the dread lyric sheet couldn’t take “get off your eight-ball blues” away….not that I would have let it!
[NOTE: **I don’t know if it was Boot who Nancy linked that day and I’m too lazy to look it up. I know it was someone of his ilk. I use him as a euphemism for “war-mongering neocon”–i.e., someone no Hollywood liberal would go anywhere near except in the throes of Trump Hatred–because, in a hyper-competitive field, he is my pick for the most shamelessly vile. Previously relegated to think tank publications and the like, either the Post or the Times just hired him. Does it matter which?]
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):