A FAN’S NOTES
Elvis, Elvis, Elvis: An American Trilogy
Elvis rose three times last night in our town. By my count Lazarus and Jesus add up to just two risings combined. I’m writing about the King this Easter Sunday; a 50s hip swiveling greaser Elvis, a black leather clad ’68 comeback special Elvis and a still slim, early 70s, white jumpsuit Vegas Elvis.
Our magical day began appropriately enough. At breakfast I graced our house with grilled peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches. Heart stopping goodness, my chest was a-heavin’. The consensus was that the combination of flavours, the sweet and the salt, was actually pretty tasty. Elvis sandwiches are safe to attempt at home. Honest.
The auditorium located on the Univerity of Alberta campus appeared full. My mother’s seniors’ residence aside, I’ve never seen so many canes and walkers in one place so standing room only was out of the question. There was a sense too that a goodly portion of the audience had made the pilgrimage from beyond the city limit signs. Outside the doors smoking fans mingled, comparing notes on the various Elvis impersonators, excuse me, Elvis tribute artists, they’d seen previously. A genuine Vegas gig carried more cachet than a local casino. This is the reality of existing Elvis fandom as the King himself shat his mortal coil in 1977.
Theatre has always been a key element of traditional rock ‘n’ roll. Tribute shows are like staring at a mirror’s reflection of a row of arches. There is the live music naturally. There is the faux performer in the spotlight portraying another performer, reproducing the original theatrics of said performer who essentially projected an unreal stage persona of himself to begin with. Imagine a scene in a biopic of Elvis showing the actor playing Elvis acting as Vince Everett - Elvis’s character in Jailhouse Rock. We chose our seats carefully, hoping that middle-distance might help maintain at least the visual layer of the illusion. Alas, each of the three performers, just as we were all getting ready to suspend our disbelief, would step out of character, breaking the fourth wall with some trite Elvis factoid.
The care of time blunts the impact of everything eventually. Even the ‘filth and the fury’ of the Sex Pistols’ debut just 13 years after the hysteria of Beatlemania seems somehow quaint. What was the fuss about? Elvis, along with Chuck Berry, blew the post-war Eisenhower era wide open (ironically each man was mistaken for his contemporary polar opposite sight unseen, Elvis black and Chuck white). The Sun singles still delight and amaze. The studio echo alone fractured Earth’s tectonic plates. Elvis Presley, his first RCA release (1956), a masterpiece, is arguably responsible for the long time dominance of the pre-digital age standard LP format; the cover of the Clash’s London Calling remains the ultimate punk homage. From this point on the Elvis canon becomes a matter of taste tempered or inflated by degrees of worship. His homecoming album, 1969’s From Elvis In Memphis is essential. Two subsequent live albums, both worth a listen, On Stage and Elvis In Person, comprise the musical gospel of most of his costumed apers.
This was the Elvis the obese diabetics cheered last night. The sweaty, glittery admirer of Nixon in white with the hyper-kinetic karate moves and the Rat Pack stage shtick, not the striking blonde savant who sang Mystery Train and Baby, Let’s Play House. The Elvis industry fostered by his estate has unfortunately transformed their only asset into a pop culture punch line through increasingly dodgy and ersatz marketing. That's not all right, mama. It’s somewhat surprising that cheese trays weren’t available at the refreshment stands last night.