Thursday, August 16, 2007

Today’s the day

I like music. I like music almost as much as I like film. I used to love music way more than I do now, but that changed somewhere along the line.

But I can pinpoint the exact day that I first became interested in music beyond listening to theme tunes of kids' TV shows.

It was 16 August 1977, 30 years ago today. I'm sure you don't need to ask how it is that I can be so accurate with such a seemingly arbitrary moment in my life story. I'm sure you all know that when something happens that is as momentous as Elvis dying, it can have an influence on the mind of a 7-year-old boy.

It was on the radio, I seem to remember. I also seem to recall the doorstep of my house and telling my then-28-year-old mum that "her boyfriend" had died. (This was a mistake on my part, since "her boyfriend" was Alvin Stardust, but Elvis and Alvin sound the same to a music-ignorant 7-year-old, I guess.)

Then there was the realization that my dad, who had quite recently turned 30, had a bunch of Elvis records. Well, naturally, my younger brother and I had to listen to hear what all the fuss was about. There were singles, albums, and EPs for our aural pleasure, but mostly the early stuff. Indeed I don't recall there being any movie soundtracks in his collection, apart from an EP from the film King Creole. The only later records were perhaps the "Suspicious Minds" single and the hugely exciting Elvis NBC-TV Special album.

I remember my dad saying something weird one time when I was listening to that latter album: "No one sounds more like Elvis than Elvis does on that record." I didn't really get it at the time, but it's something that's become even truer through the past three decades. With all the pretenders to Elvis's crown, and despite all the shit that the man himself had been through with crappy films and bad management, when he got on that stage in 1968 to record what everyone expected to be a paltry showcase of a has-been, something magical happened. It's not for nothing that that performance has ever since been known as "The '68 Comeback Special".

Elvis was back, and he was sounding more like Elvis -- the real Elvis of the early days -- than he ever had before. And more like Elvis than anyone who had tried to usurp him in the meantime. He was The King, and suddenly a new generation of kids brought up on The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and the Vietnam war were getting a glimpse of his greatness.

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Blogger Milla said...

Ohhh it is such a great post! I can really imagine you as a 7-year old kid, with big open eyes, trying to figure out what was going on.

I was probably playing in the fields on that day; I can't remember.

16 August, 2007 10:38  
Blogger Red said...

Like Milla says. I was probably on the beach that day, swimming in the sea, eating cocomero, thinking that summer was almost over and we'd soon have to go back to school, bummer. Elvis's death didn't register at all.

16 August, 2007 10:43  
Blogger FOUR DINNERS said...

Too much into Bowie to appreciate Elvis until he was long gone. Not my kind of sound but the talent was so huge you have to listen. Not often I sing along to songs I don't even think I like! 'In The Ghetto' still leaves a lump in my eye....

16 August, 2007 11:00  
Blogger Glamourpuss said...

I remember that day, too, and my mother being upset about it. But there were no Elvis records in the house; instead I endured many an afternoon of Leonard Cohen - possibly the least accessible musician for a small girl.


16 August, 2007 11:33  
Blogger cappy said...

nope. even now i don't get the fascination with him.
i have promised not to mention the manner of his death anywhere too.

can i just ask. as with the beatles, if not him, someone else? did he/they really change music THAT much? maybe it's just me. if so, i'm sorry.

16 August, 2007 11:39  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Milla: Thanks pet. I'm sure I played some later, but I was seven and not allowed too far from the homestead!

Red: But you Italians like strange music...

4D: I think there was definitely a middle generation that perhaps wasn't interested -- those who were the right age to be heavily into punk in '76, for example.

16 August, 2007 11:58  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

G/puss: That's some heavy shit for a young 'un, Leonard Cohen. Funny!

Cappy: What you say is sort of true: "If not him, then somebody else." But the fact remains, it WAS him. The world had had millennia of people making music of some sort, and yet nobody had done what he did before. And if somebody else were to have done it later, then maybe it would not have been until 1957, or 1965, thereby having a very different impact on the future of music.

16 August, 2007 12:00  
Blogger mister anchovy said...

The phenomenon that is Elvis is a very curious one. I visited Graceland and Sun Studios in Memphis. What a fantastic experience. There is a whole industry still selling squillions of dollars worth of Elvis paraphenalia surrounding Graceland. I'm talking about malls full of Elvis crap. Naturally, we bought some. Musically, there was something very interesting happening in Memphis in the 50s. Sam Phillips had been recording black blues performers like Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm - and if you listen to that material, you'll here gutsy guitar distortion, and really, the dirty nasty roots of rock and roll. In fact some people call Rocket 88, credited to Jackie Brenston, as the first rock and roll song - recorded at Sun. In fact, it was Ike Turner's band. Mr. Brenston was the sax player and sang on the cut. I heard an interview once with James Cotton, in which he said that he and Turner penned the tune together. By the mid-50s, Phillips started to see an opportunity for presenting music by white performers, infused with dirty black licks and a hillbilly feel - to a larger white audience. Elvis was part of that, and he others like Charlie Feathers and especially Jerry Lee Lewis, were tearing up the place. By the time Phillips sold Elvis to Col. Parker, musically, it was all over now baby blue. He was already a parady of himself, but amazingly, more popular than ever. The question I have is this. What was he thinking when he started wearing those groovy jump-suits?
I kind of liked a couple of the cheeze-ball movies, and a few later cuts, like In the Ghetto and Suspicious Minds, but for the music that catapulted him to fame, I think you have to go back to the vision of Sam Phillips in his little studio in Memphis, carving out music history.

16 August, 2007 12:46  
Blogger Milla said...

You know, I don't think Elvis was ever that famous in Italy. Of course he IS famous, don't doubt that, but I don't ever remember listening to his songs on the radio or the TV, that's why perhaps Red and I don't remember anything about his death.

I only came to know about him because the RAI (the Italian state television) did a season of his films in the afternoon during the early 1980s. It was the '2 o'clock around the clock film' which of course I loved. Elvis was sooooo handsome when he was young. Sooooo handsome. And then peanut butter took over his life.

16 August, 2007 13:29  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Mr A: While you are absolutely right about the history of Sun, Sam Phillips etc, I would argue a little over the point that Elvis was already a parody of himself by the time of the sale of his contract to RCA (and Parker). I think some of his early cuts for RCA -- including Heartbreak Hotel, Don't Be Cruel, Paralyzed -- are almost as good as those Sun tracks, and certainly in the public conscience these are the songs that launched his career, despite the eponymous first RCA album containing many Sun sessions.

My view is that his career, musically, was over by about '58; so his classic tracks still include songs from the first four movies, which are actually good films in their own right: Love Me Tender, Loving You, Jailhouse Rock, and King Creole.

There followed a lean period -- those cheesy movies, which we all love really -- no doubt, but his career never really took off again until ten years later, in the minds of any other than "dyed-in-the-wool" fans.

None of which, of course, takes away from his huge importance on the history of music in those years 1954-58.

16 August, 2007 14:48  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Milla: I know what you mean. Italy seems to have been very Italy-centric in those days. And in many ways it still is: witness the San Remo festival, for example. Not that that's a bad thing by any stretch. I suppose back in the 50s, the language barrier was harder to overcome than it is now.

16 August, 2007 14:49  
Blogger Cynnie said...

I loved elvis..
not in the "omg ELLLLVIIIIS " way
but ...hard to put a finger on..
he was southern and poor like me ..
I just liked him

poor guy..

16 August, 2007 15:45  
Blogger Sewmouse said...

I was born in '56.

I've never understood the fascination with Elvis. Yes, a few of his songs were memorable, but more of them were - to my mind - not.

I grew up with the "OMG ELLLLL-VISSS" goupies around me, and didn't understand them anymore than I did the "OMG PAULLLLLL" groupies of the 60's or the "OMG DAYYYY_VYYYYY" fans of the 70's.

To me the King will always be Chuck Berry.

16 August, 2007 17:29  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Cynnie: And we can all relate to coming up from nothing. It's the classics rags to riches, isn't it?

Sewmouse: Welcome. I think the problem is, when one's oeuvre is as massive as Elvis's (and that is true of very few recording artists), inevitably the scales of good:bad start tipping in the wrong direction. Personally I can't buy into Chuck as the King. I always felt he was a great writer unable to create something interesting musically.

16 August, 2007 18:47  
Blogger Pie said...

When I was a youngster I completely ignored anything Elvis related. Didn't even give it the time to form an opinion of my own, such is youth. I'm definitely more open to listening to his stuff now, wish I had allowed myself to a few years ago.

16 August, 2007 18:53  
Blogger Martha Elaine Belden said...

ahh... the fall of the king. i was born four years later, so of course don't remember him alive.

but i do remember loving some of his cheesy movies when i was kid. like jailhouse rock. mmm... loved that flick when i was young.

16 August, 2007 19:39  
Blogger furiousBall said...

The 68 Comeback Special is quite possibly the coolest anyone has ever looked ever.

16 August, 2007 20:53  
Blogger Avid Andy said...

Being from Memphis, I was always surrounded by the king. Dead Elvis week brings up fond memories of going to the candle light vigil at Graceland to freak-watch.

16 August, 2007 22:28  
Blogger mister anchovy said...

Har, I figured somebody would take me to task on my 'parody of himself' comment....and I'm not going to press my point....but 'Love me Tender'???

16 August, 2007 23:05  
Blogger Karen said...

To commemorate the 30th anniversary, Reece's Peanut Butter cups has put out Peanut Butter and Banana PB Cups. My aunt brought me up a bunch from California when she came up this past weekend.

One word: MMMmmmmmm.

16 August, 2007 23:45  
Blogger Karen said...

Growing up, one of my all time favourite albums was Elvis Live in Hawaii. Sure he wasn't the handsome roguish devil he was back in the 50s and 60s but it WAS the era of the bejewelled jumpers with capes. It also included the best ever version (by anyone) of My Way. It always gave me the shivers.

16 August, 2007 23:48  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ahhh, the day Elvis died. We had just moved to Virginia from Minneapolis. I was being tease by southerners on how I said out. Pu-leez. It was a hard summer. As my mom was a big disco fan and my dad was a big bands fan, Elvis wasn't a household name for me. That sounds almost unAmerican of me.

17 August, 2007 05:24  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Pie: That's normal, I reckon. I grew out of Elvis by the time I was about 11 but came to appreciate him again during my 20s.

Martha: There's nothing cheesy about Jailhouse Rock, girlfriend! That's a classic of 50s cinema.

F/ball: If not that (and you're probably right), then certainly the best TV concert ever.

17 August, 2007 10:01  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Avid: Yeah, it can't be argued that a lot of freaks love the King. What can ya do...?

Mr A: I wouldn't argue that he didn't become a parody of himself; only that it didn't happen until a bit later than '56. Love Me Tender, while not a great film, is at least a fairly standard pseudo Western fare of the time, rather than the kitschiness of the '60s films. If you mean the song... Well, that was never one of my faves. Too cheesy by half!

17 August, 2007 10:04  
Blogger * (asterisk) said...

Karen: Oh yum, they sound goooood. The Aloha From Hawaii album is another classic, though not really in the same league as the '68 Special. Still, good choice.

RefPo: How do you say out? (And why did you keep saying it? Burglar problems?) It's surely un-American not to have Elvis in the house. Now where's the contact details for HUAC...?

17 August, 2007 10:07  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I quit saying it like a Canadian early on, it just took a while.

17 August, 2007 16:02  

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