Thursday, August 16, 2007

Elvisolatry
LRC’s Gary North explains the good and bad in two instalments (part two)

I’m not a fan really nor is he. He explains that.
A lot of entertainers are referred to as America’s icon.

The question is: "Why Elvis?"

What made Elvis was an audience of teenagers, mainly girls, who had disposable income. This was the first teenage generation in history that did. The record industry in the 1930s was heavily supported by young adults, but Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman also appealed to older people who had money. Goodman’s famous concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938 was not a phenomenon of teenagers.
I like Benny Goodman’s music: now tame stuff for high-society dances but back then it was both hip and music for grown-ups.
The screaming teenage girls at Frank Sinatra’s performances from 1942 through 1944, during and after his time with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra, were a herald of things to come. But the war years were still tight economically. It took the full economic recovery of the early 1950s to put so much money into the pocketbooks of tens of millions of teenagers that they could finance their own subculture.
Which has its good points — for example, flattering, sexy fashions and the interest in fitness today so people my age no longer necessarily look, dress, act or feel old like they did 60 years ago — and bad points (‘Adolescence is only a marketing campaign!’ like the marvellous Frances McDormand said in Almost Famous).

What people this age need to be is young adults sharing in a culture bigger than their little selves and not living in an artificial, advertising-driven one meant largely to sell lots of unnecessary crap: a, like, make-believe subculture.

A good thing about a traditional society (which also has its bad points) was these people could follow their natural instincts as soon as they were physically mature and be young if inexperienced men and women — not obnoxious overgrown children — because it really does take a village: there were extended families and apprenticeships that made it work. (And not everybody who has the benefit of that turns out to be a good person; fallen human nature and all that.)
The Elvis Presley phenomenon began as a teenage girl phenomenon... Then he died, just in time, freezing him at age 42 in the memories of millions of his fans, who could look back and say to themselves, "I could have made him happy." The obvious is lost to them: if someone as stunningly gorgeous as Priscilla Presley, and as smart about money, couldn't make the man happy, then he wasn't going to be happy.

In terms of his career, Elvis’ death launched the next phase, which has been more profitable than what had preceded it. His fans never saw him grow old.
The nature of much of his appeal:
His crowds were exclusively female. His visible fans were girls who did not get asked on a date to see Elvis. Girls who get asked on dates are wise enough not to scream at the top of their lungs for a guy only slightly older than their dates. Guys who scream also applaud, when they scream at all. We never see film clips of girls applauding Elvis. Applause indicates appreciation for a musical performance. Screaming indicates unfulfillable female fantasies, the details of which I have never had the courage to consider.
‘I’ve come from Galway to Graceland to be with the King’ as Richard Thompson wrote. (Heard one of my favourites, Ian Matthews, sing it live.)

The man himself (who it’s said Southern fashion was born believing in God) once said, ‘I’m not the King. Jesus Christ is the King. I’m just a singer’.
He had good artistic taste, outside of his movies ($100 million gross), which he did not control and despised, and their songs, which he was forced to record: 100 million albums.
What little I’ve seen of the ’68 comeback show is a sign how cool he really was.
Elvis Presley was very good at what he did. His voice was better than his early songs indicated.
I’ve said he was tremendously talented but unschooled as a singer: imagine what a vocal powerhouse he would have been if somebody taught him better than to belch out the notes.
It is not good enough to have raw talent. You need access to an audience. The entrepreneur brings talent and market together for the sake of profit.

Sam Phillips told the story of how his friends warned him about Bill Monroe’s reaction. After all, Elvis had taken a fine bluegrass classic, written and performed by the man who literally invented bluegrass, and turned it into rock and roll. "Bill will eat you alive if he ever meets you." Phillips really did worry about this.

Some time later – I forget how long – he was backstage at Grand Ole Opry. There was Monroe, who played there for decades. Monroe came over to him. "Are you the man who released Elvis Presley’s version of my song?" Phillips had to admit that he was. "Well, I just want to thank you. I made more money in royalties from his version of that song than anything I ever wrote."

Lesson: royalties covereth a multitude of musical sins.
The good side of the Dutch uncle everybody loves to hate:
He is dismissed as a money-grubber. He was in fact a value-creator on a massive scale.

Parker ran Elvis’ career with a heavy hand, but he left a legacy that continues to generate huge amounts of money.
Pat Buchanan loves early rock. He was there:
It was a manifestation of the energy and exuberance of the generation that grew up under Ike, in the peacetime years of the Cold War. The melancholy simpering of Johnnie Ray and his ‘Little White Cloud that Cried’ that opened the decade was utterly unsuited to so robust an era.
Back to North:
The guys in 1956 were into Bill Haley, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino...
Same idea.

I forget who first said it but ‘there are only two kinds of music, good and bad’.

Bad films and Graceland garishness notwithstanding, may he, with the intercession of San Rocco today, rest in peace.

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