The River's Badge

Friday, July 14, 2017

Viva!


As a music sociologist, I try to understand popular music from before my time. For example, I now like Frank Sinatra. I'm a Big Band fan, which took no effort on my part, to be honest. I truly appreciate fifties roots music -- I love, love Jerry Lee Lewis; doo-wop is great; Buddy Holly was a man before his time; the whole Little Richard screamin' thing had a primal honesty. Carl Perkins doesn't get his due.

Elvis? I've really tried. To be honest, all of Elvis's popularity wasn't before my time. I remember "Return To Sender", which I, as a young child, misinterpreted as "Return To Cinda", which I thought was a derivation of the name "Cindy". My dad liked "Wooden Heart", but he was sentimental that way. Since my best friend, Cathy, and I, as obedient Catholic schoolgirls, attended only the Sunday matinees that our church bulletin labeled as "A" movies (although we really wanted to see the "B's"), we saw practically every stupid movie Elvis ever made, so I definitely remember this one (which wasn't bad, in the larger scheme of his expansive catalog):


Generally, however, when an Elvis song comes on my (Sirius) radio, my first thought is, "Is this a parody?" Elvis was one of the few artists who truly became parodies of themselves. I know the whole back story -- he was controlled by an opportunistic manager (who called himself a "colonel") who forced him to record dreck. And then, of course, there were the pills. However, I'm a big believer in controlling one's own destiny, and therefore, Elvis, to me, was complicit in the trashing of his own career.

This is the song that set me off tonight:


Sure, he's got "the look", but what's with the Bing Crosby buh-buh-buh's

At least "Return To Cinda" had something:



People say, well, if you knew him when -- but actually, that's not true. When was "when"? Hound Dog? "Blue Suede Shoes" was done better, and more honestly, by its writer, Carl Perkins.

Truly, we kids in the early sixties were just supposed to like Elvis. It was decreed. Elvis was "the guy", so we had to like him. No matter that Roy Orbison's voice soared like the heavens. Elvis was everywhere. He was on our movie screens. He was there, in black and white, on the twelve-inch TV in our bedroom. Elvis was a staple, like the wide-lined paper we were forced to write on, even though it was beige and ugly and scratchy.

I will, however, begrudgingly concede "Jailhouse Rock":


...even though it was "jailhouse" like 50's movies starring Sal Mineo were jailhouse. "Ooh, is he whipping out his comb? No! It's a switchblade! Look out!"

Maybe what bothers me about Elvis is that he was so fake. I've read that what he truly loved was gospel music. Then that's what he should have gone with.

The best Elvis songs were sung by others:





My older sisters loved Elvis. I would never denigrate their memories. But the Elvis I remember was fat and bloated, and yes, a parody. Sweaty. Elvis never sent a chill up my spine like the Beatles did. And he never once wrote a song. Elvis was the Steve Lawrence of popular music -- good for the old soft shoe and a straw-brimmed hat. 

I try -- really try -- to understand music that came before my time. Unfortunately, Elvis, to me, will always be a mixture of a sunglassed rogue pulling up on the beach in a white convertible, his eyes shaded by Ray-Bans, ready for a clambake; and a man squeezed inside a white spangled jumpsuit, performing half-conscious Karate moves.

The song by Elvis I always liked more than any other (no offense to Cinda) wasn't even a single. There's just something about:


He could sing, given a chance. But one makes their own chances in life. Elvis chose the money and the bennies. I think if he'd lived, he might have matured into his own man. There's no denying his talent.

I think I might have liked the man he would have become.





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