Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The King and I

Me and the Real American IdolFor the longest time, I held no opinion of Elvis Presley. By the time I was born in 1967, he was no longer the rockabilly lothario who set the world on fire. Instead he was the puffy star of countless feckless films, a living legend surrounded by sycophants and increasingly agog on barbiturates. When he died ten years later, I was far more into the Thin White Duke than some pasty has-been in a white satin jumpsuit. As a generation’s longing transformed into a near deity, I rolled my eyes and absorbed hours of a newfangled invention called MTV. As I grew older, my musical tastes matured and I embraced everything from Jethro Tull to Oingo Boingo to The Isley Brothers. But Elvis Presley? Naah, Billy Idol, maybe - but not Elvis.

That attitude lasted for thirty years or so and I learned to lead a full life withOUT the late Mr. Presley‘s influence, thank yew very much. But then I did it. I picked up a copy of Last Train to Memphis, Peter Guralnick’s justly acclaimed biography of Elvis’ early years. By the time I finished all 488 pages, I was so hooked on The King I rushed out and bought the second volume, a 661 page treatise on Presley’s spiral into madness. It’s all there, from Elvis’ high school days as a pimple-ridden outcast to his dizzying ascent to music royalty to his latter-day penchant for police flashlights as fashion accessory. Elvis was as insecure as he was talented. In the end he was addled by pills, enabled by his supplicants and the lifelong victim of a svengali in a pork-pie hat..

So please join me in toasting The King on what would have been his 72nd birthday. The pills, the groupies, the peanut butter, the karate, the ranch, the motorcycles, the gurus and the hangers-on … I can’t recommend it with any degree of certainty. But I now this: Had the world and ALL its sundry temptations been laid at my 21 year old feet, I would have gone batshit too. Though I probably would have skipped the jumpsuits.

No comments: