Elvis Presley: universal Rock Icon.


Victor Pross

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Elvis Presley: universal Rock Icon.

THE KING IS DEAD. Elvis Presley died, at age 42, in 1977 in Memphis. It was an ignominious tumble, off a toilet and into a pool of vomit, but it heralded perhaps the most glorious resurrection in pop culture history.

Of all of popular culture’s enduring icons—James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, the Fab Four, John Wayne, whatever—see if you know as much about their personal proclivities as you most likely know about Elvis Presley. That he fancied deep fried peanut butter and mashed banana sandwiches. That he had a penchant for firing guns at television sets if the show displeased him. That he and his mother had a secret baby-talk language that included morsels like “iddy-tream” for ice cream and “belly wash” for Pepsi. The point is only that so immense is his fame that so many of us are aware of at least some of the things even if we’re not otherwise interested in him.

Not since the days of Charlie Chaplin has any entertainer realized such worldwide fame. As an American icon—a king—Elvis saw during his life time his empire extend around the globe, until it encompassed even the most remotest regions, the most deepest and darkest continents, the most exotic peoples. At the time of his death, Elvis was the second most frequently reproduced image in the world. The first was Mickey Mouse. A survey asked Americans whose face they thought should be added to the four presidents on Mount Rushmore. John F. Kennedy came first. Elvis was second. There’s also a classroom for the budding study of Academic Elvis.

During the 1950s, America’s postwar cluster of young people was a massive force waiting to be mobilized. Seldom does an entertainer galvanize the unstated yen of an age and serve as the harbinger of the decade to come—the 1960s—as did Elvis Presley. And it is no less a testament to Elvis’ power as pop icon that in death he had a No. 1 single (a techno remixed version of 1968’s “A Little Less Conversation”) that raised the Nation’s consciousness of its most celebrated star. With the release of the song, this 1950s rock god ascended above the image of the velvet wall hanging that threatened to tarnish his image, saving him from being a fleshy emblem to aging beehives and leisure suits of a bygone age. Still, no matter how many remixed songs are churned out, Elvis remains what he was: the very first rock star. He was the very first superstar of the baby boomer era.

In a 1950s America so squire, so uptight, so repressed and so easily shocked, it was virtually inevitable—necessary one might say—that someone such as Elvis Presley would rock the boat. Elvis didn’t “invent” rock and roll, but he gave it teenage legitimacy creating the generation gap. He changed the course of popular music forever.

The writing was on the wall that change was coming when Elvis appeared on the Milton Berle show in 1956. This former truck driver sported long sideburns and an oversized zoot suit singing Hound Dog---thrusting not his pelvis, but his groin! “You-ain’-tah (groin thrust) nuth-in but a hound dog (groin thrust) crying’ all the time.” Elvis at first rocked the number, but suddenly he broke it off for a slow-downed bluesy “take this and suck it” raunchy rendition. And this is being done on National television in 1956!

The schism between parents and teenagers is now on the way. Middle aged drones are now calling him “Elvis the Pelvis.” In reply to critics who think he’s obscene, he makes a remark that will fill the fans with glee: “They’re all frustrated old types, anyway. I’m just natural.”

In a popular iconographic fashion, Elvis’ life divides into three acts, roughly divided by decades: live and swivel-hipped in the 1950s, on screen in the 1960s, sporting a rhinestone jumpsuit in Vegas in the 1970s. His truck driver to superstar to drug casualty life path adheres to the cautionary myth of the American dream. His death is what gave his myth its shape, its arc and trajectory. By the end of his days, when Elvis had withdrawn into Graceland in a suicidal pharmaceutical funk, that life had become shapeless and purposeless. But death reinstated it to a proper form, gave it a texture to be molded into iconic myth, the biggest the world as ever known. The King is dead—long live the King.

elvis.gif

Edited by Victor Pross
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I was never a fan but I have come to appreciate Elvis. During the early part of this career he was attacked by everyone except his fans. The first adult to say a kind word about him was Bing Crosby. Bing did it in an interview in the Saturday Evening Post. The interviewer spent much of the interview attacking Elvis and Bing went out of his was to praise. I think the interview led to an reapprasial by critics and others. Another person was Ed Sullivan when Ed went out of his way to say what a gentleman Elvis was on Ed's show. The Sullivan show was widely watched so Ed's approval was like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

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Chris,

To put one more good word in for Elvis along with Bing and ED, I want to clear up a common mistake about Elvis and his music: Elvis' use of black styles angered many Southern blacks who resented the success he won with his music that blacks originated but could not sell beyond the "race record" market of a segregated commercial world.

Black musicians usually say that Elvis "stole" everything from them, but what is ignored is Elvis' fusion of black music with White Country to create a genuinely new sound. "He was an integrator," said Little Richard. And it is not coincidence that rock n' roll emerged almost simultaneously with the civil rights movement, that both challenged the existing authority, and that both were forces for "integration."

The 'crime' of Elvis' music was that he proved that black and white music tendencies could co-exist--and the product was exciting. It was this accomplishment that gave him title as the King of rock n' roll.

Victor

Edited by Victor Pross
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Victor; You are right. On the question of stealing I once heard Little Richard complain that Pat Boone did at least one of his songs. It was a hit for Pat. Elvis I believe first appeared on Grand Old Opry.

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Because of this thread, I just came across a blast from the past and it warmed my heart.

During my impresario and producer days, I came across a blind pianist once, Marcia Flores, with an amazing story. Here is how I met her.

Brazil is a melting pot just like the USA is. This was intensified right after WWII. Many European people from both sides of the conflict immigrated to Brazil in order to escape the devastation. It is very easy to find formerly hostile families living within close proximity: Italians who had served with Mussolini, Jews who survived the concentration camps, former Nazis, members of the former French underground, Polish refugees, even former Japanese military, etc. In Brazil, the hostilities were put aside and life went on. The children in this wide disparity of families all go to school together and the people see each other at the soccer games, etc.

Many of the people who came over were psychologically impaired from their war experiences. Brazilians call them "neurotics from the war." I once met a man named Michel Kleinsinger who was one such person. What I am going to mention is not too flattering to him, but I was extremely pleased to see that he wrote a book, Nas Asas da Esperança (On the Wings of Hope) and I certainly wish him well and hope he finds some peace. I am sure his book is a good one because he had an important story to tell. His own survival is an inspiration of the human spirit reacting to extreme adversity. Michel's entire family had been wiped out in the concentration camps and he had escaped.

The mental scars were visible when I met him, though. His manner was brusque one minute and calm the next. He was constantly starting and stopping. Sometimes he would add a very heavy emotional charge to what he was saying.

For instance, he had developed emphysema from smoking cigarettes and I smoked back then. He hated it when I lighted up. Sometimes, out of the blue, even when I was not smoking, he would simply jump up and run from the room, hawking, pointing at me and yelling nervously in a very loud voice, "I have to spit! You see! You see! I didn't listen and now I have to spit! I have emphysema and I didn't listen! You see?!! Now you don't listen! Tomorrow you will spit!"

Michel had it in his mind that he was a composer. He could play a little violin from when he was a child and over the years he created melodies in his head. He desperately wanted to record a CD of his compositions, but he didn't have the skill to be a full-fledged composer. I think this dream had kept him alive during all the years of privation and danger and I think it had something to do with the expectations his mother had of him when he was small.

So he got the idea of taking his melodies to pianists, letting them improvise on what he sang or played on the violin, making some suggestions during the sessions, then recording this and passing it off as his own composition—as if he had written the whole thing. To get the idea of what this means, imagine a melody like "Mary Had a Little Lamb" played in the style of Chopin and extended for about 10-15 minutes. Michel provided the tune—his melodies were simple in the manner of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," but with a slight Jewish flavor (think about something like a simplified "Fiddler on the Roof") and the pianist provided practically all the rest.

Enter Marcia Flores. She was a blind keyboard player who had a phenomenal talent for memorizing songs (she had about 6,000 in her head when I knew her, although her present release says only 3,000) and a very touching sensibility, but she had no classical training. Her technique was a bit ragged for playing things like Chopin. Her mother accompanied here everywhere. I have no idea how she met Michel, but once he understood that she had the improvisation chops to do what he wanted with his tunes, and that her classical technique was not perfect but she was a quick learner, and that she was poor, he started dribbling money to her mother to bring her around for "rehearsals." Marcia usually played an electronic keyboard, but in this case she played on Michel's piano.

As she was blind, Michel's attacks of yelling constantly startled her. He also liked to correct her while she was playing not only with sudden outbursts, but by throwing something light at her like a shoe, or tapping her hard on the back. And he was nonstop. It was tiring and even upsetting to watch him. The few times I saw this, I felt like yelling at him to sit down and shut up, but I kept my peace. Still, that troubled me a lot. Michel's level of neurosis was contagious. Her mother put up with it because of all the promises of fame and fortune he made to Marcia.

I met Michel because I did a lot of free-lance jobs back then writing out melodies for music publishers and making arrangements for records. Michel wanted me to write out a composition of his (which ended up being a royal mess for a number of reasons, but that is another story). When I saw how he was torturing this young girl, I decided to become friendly with her and see where her head was at. Then I learned that her heart was in pop music, not classical music at all. Michel had forbidden her to do her normal gigs, like shows, dance balls, etc., and made her promise to stop playing pop music on pain of withdrawing the opportunities he was promising. She was poor and since her source of income was prohibited, the little money coming in from him became critical. She and her mother became financially dependent on him.

The very first thing I did was convince her to go back to making an income from her playing and had her call her former contacts and book some gigs. I took her down to a recording company (Som Livre of TV Globo) and had her play for the A&R guy, who was so enchanted that he offered her a recording contract. With these incentives, she abandoned Michel.

He eventually found another pianist who played his game and he released his CD, but it floundered, as it should have. To be fair, Michel's tunes were very pretty, but he was a tune-smith, not a classical composer. Had he pursued songwriting instead of his strange neurotic fixation of pretending he was a genius classical composer, I think he would have written some successful songs that would endure.

Unfortunately the A&R guy at Som Livre was replaced in a corporate politics shakeup before Marcia's record could be made. He then went into dubbing motion pictures and owning a recording studio, so he left the record company world altogether. As Marcia was his project, it got canceled by his enemies. I thought she was talented so I started producing her, getting her promo material together, photos, bio, etc., finding her gigs and offering her around to other record companies. As I was becoming a good friend of the family, her mother told me her story. In fact, I wrote about this around a year ago (I have edited it a little so I won't have to explain anything later). How all this ties in with Elvis is self-explanatory.

I had the privilege of seeing a real life Concerto of Deliverance in Brazil—with the music of Elvis Presley of all people. I produced a keyboard artist for a while named Marcia Flores. She is blind and deaf in one ear and she has about 6000 songs in her head (when I last saw her years ago).

When she was born, she did not react as babies are supposed to react, so the doctors had to hit her with rubber belts to get her to "wake up." This went on for a while. Her mother told me the stories and they were heartbreaking.

Nothing could get the baby to actively respond to stimuli—to want to start growing and engaging her mind, so to speak—until one day a song by Elvis Presley was playing in the background. Then Marcia started responding positively. It took a while and several sessions for the doctors and her mother to understand what was causing the positive reaction. At one time they thought it might be the music, but they weren't sure. They started feeding Marcia a steady diet of songs but she did not respond to everything. She did respond strongly to Elvis Presley, though. So they started playing more and more Elvis Presley music around her and as time went on, she started developing as a baby in a normal manner, especially with his music running.

What is curious is that Elvis's production is highly uneven, but for Marcia, as she grew up, she digested everything about him—she absolutely delighted in his worse schlock from his movies and, of course, thrilled to his ground-breaking early rock, gospel singing and later beautiful renditions of standards. Marcia knew all of his movies by heart. She "watched" all of them countless times despite being blind. It was charming to see her get wound up about some long-forgotten actor or actress from those movies because they later said something bad about Elvis . She would get almost religious about it. She despised Colonel Tom Parker. She learned practically everything there was to know about Elvis.

It was an amazing thing to talk to Marcia and then ask her to play a song. You simply couldn't trip her up. I was unable to come up with a single song that had received reasonable exposure that she could not play by heart. When I presented her with a song from a new album or from an obscure artist, only one hearing was needed to have it memorized. Marcia could do a neat little thing with a drum machine, too.

When it came to Elvis, she had the whole repertoire down pat years before I met her, when she was still a kid. Every fact she told me about Elvis, dates, names of little-known people in his life, his beliefs at such-and-such times, the songs on albums, etc., were always correct when I looked them up.

She now has a small name in Brazil but she is not a superstar (instrumentalists have a hard time in Brazil, you have to sing to go to the top there). She was (and probably still is) extremely well-known around the Elvis fan clubs in Brazil and she stayed booked solid at dances when I last saw her.

I have never heard of anything similar to this anywhere else. I had to see it with my own eyes and live with it to believe it. But there it is. Elvis literally "delivered" Marcia Flores from some kind of inborn indifference to life.

My history with her stopped after a while because at that time I was descending into my own private hell of alcoholism. Rather than subject her to that, I drifted away from her like I did so many people back then.

On an impulse, I just looked up Marcia Flores on Google and found her:

Marcia Flores

What a mixture of emotions! It is quite heart-warming to know that she has made her record (a few, in fact) and she is well. I feel like something in my past has been vindicated. This was a loose end in my soul that had stayed dangling in my subconscious. Later I might get in touch with Marcia and Ivete (her mother) for old time's sake.

I'll bet that Elvis would have never guessed he was that important to a person, literally saving her life from birth just by existing.

Michael

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~ Cripes, MIKE!

~ I'm "All Shook Up" :turned:

~ Ever thought of writing some 'memoirs'?

LLAP

J:D

PS: "Elvis?" She definitely had good taste in singing voices, the 'songs' nwst. That she could merely audially tell who was 'The KING' says it all.

PPS: VIC: Your comment about the simultaneity of rock-n-roll with the civil-rights movements being non-coincidence...thought-provoking; thought it was the 'later' acid-rock which was more associated there, but... Never thought (or caught anyone's refs) about that. Not sure if it's really solid linking, but...hmmm.

Edited by John Dailey
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Robert; That picture is biggest seller at the National Archives. More than the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. A movie was made about the meeting of Elvis and Nixon which I don't remember the title of but it was very, very funny. The Secret Service had a cow because Elvis wanted to give Nixon some pistols. The only thing Elvis wanted was a DEA badge.

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John,

I wouldn’t say that there was a direct link, but there was something happening in the culture where the rumbles and trembles of post-war change were taking place—that really exploded in the 1960s. Bob Dylan’s 1963 tune “These times are a-changing” could very well have been sung in 1953. :turned:

-Victor

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Vic:

~ Re Dylan's song you reffed, true; but, such was true (and the song could have been written and sung) since way back in...uh...how far can we go here? The beginning of recorded history?

LLAP

J:D

John, I mean in terms of popular music and the teenage world…oh, damn….good point, dude. Hmmm.

-Victor

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Regarding Michael’s antidote, I have a very similar story…but not exactly. :cool:

I was not of Elvis' generation. That is, when I first heard of him at the wee age of seven, my older brothers where digging Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and bands like that. Unlike many people who are “molded” by their music environment in teen hood, my choices began at age seven—earlier. It didn’t matter if the music I enjoyed was of my generation or not, and Elvis Presley clearly wasn’t. (This also includes my equal love for Johnny Cash).

My obsession with Elvis (and I do admit to being addicted) began when my grandfather brought out one of those thick 78 vinyl jobs (remember those?). It was a cut of ‘Hound dog’ and the flip side was ‘Don’t be cruel’---and BAM! When the needle hit the black wax, I was transfixed! I was pulled into another universe. In 1950's teen slang: 'Elvis was a real gone cat, real flippy. He was the most, dad.' I don’t know if it was the voice or the beat, but I was thrilled and chilled beyond belief. There I was, a seven year old, listening to that record over and over and over again. I drove my family insane. What can I say, the music struck a chord.

I remember my family assembling around the television for “Elvis’s 1973 Aloha from Hawaii” worldwide concert. For me, a very young boy, it was an evening of supreme joy. I sat next to my beloved grandpop. The show was underway and I sat up in devout anticipation and then there was Elvis, striding on stage before a vast coliseum and he started to belt out the first song of the night, “See See Rider.” My enchantment with him was complete. This might have been my first case of childhood hero worship.

In later years, as a teen, my passion for Elvis reached epidemic proportions. As a result, my “Elvis consciousness” was raised by further programs and records. I also took to reading almost everything I could get my hands on that dealt with Elvis as a man and artist.

Then came August 16, 1977. Still a kid, I was watching television when the program was interrupted by a special bulletin. I couldn’t imagine what was going on when I saw a picture of Elvis on the screen. Then I heard it…”Elvis Presley, the King of rock and roll, is dead at the age of 42.” I got up from my seat, shocked and bewildered, and I stumbled to my room and buried my face in my pillow listening to Elvis' last album. The songs were very sad, and they marked the occasion—all from ‘Blue eyes crying in the Rain’ to ‘The Last Farewell.’

-Victor

Edited by Victor Pross
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Victor; Excellent post! One has to stand in awe of Elvis's reclaiming of his career. He made some dumb mistakes but he could get on with the fray. He had huge appetites which he indulged. But in the words of a song he covered "He did it his way".

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My obsession with Elvis (and I do admit to being addicted) began when my grandfather brought out one of those thick 78 vinyl jobs (remember those?). It was a cut of ‘Hound dog’ and the flip side was ‘Don’t be cruel’

Victor,

You mean this?

HoundDog78.jpg

I Googled it and the photo come from here: here, but this link will probably break once it is sold.

One of my earliest memories of music on records was a 45 rpm of the same record (same observation about link).

HoundDog45.jpg

We also had "Blue Suede Shoes" (with "Tutti Frutti" on the B side, photo from here).

Elvis_presley_blue_suede_shoes.jpg

We played those records to death. Jeez... this is really taking me down Memory Lane to Cobweb Corner...

I used to work for a record company so I find how records go from one system to another around the time they were released fascinating. I got this curiosity from CD's. With the invention of the CD, many floundering record companies made a comeback selling old tracks in the new media. I watched this process up close in Brazil and even made some money at it.

Michael

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Michael,

Thanks for posting those photos. They are the most, daddy-o! They really do bring back memories for me. That photo of the 78 looks exactly like the one I had. Memory flash: I recall being that seven-year-old kid watching my name (RCA VICTOR) spin around and around and around listening to these records over and over and over. :turned:

-Victor

Edited by Victor Pross
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Another person was Ed Sullivan when Ed went out of his way to say what a gentleman Elvis was on Ed's show. The Sullivan show was widely watched so Ed's approval was like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

Chris, I thought you would be interested in seeing this. It's the footage of what you speak of above. Elvis first sings Peace in the Valley (I love his version, as an atheist, too!) and then Ed comes out to greet Elvis and thank him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSZgMXAxBos

Edited by Victor Pross
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Mike:

~ You really know how to hit the 'nostalgia' buttons in some of us. How'd you get so conversant in American 'popular culture' with all the time you spent in real-life living in Brazil? Don't tell me Elvis was a pop-fave down there too!

~ Can't wait for your 'Blue Suede Shoes' photos, daddio. You're getting so 'sweet', you're practically re-'cool.'

~ I'm all shook up, now, man.

LLAP

J:D

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