One of the more controversial subjects in Elvisworld is Col. Tom Parker.
Was he a successful manager because of his client, or was his client successful because of the manager?
Parker once boasted that Elvis got 50% of Parker’s earnings. Parker clearly saw himself as the businessman and Elvis was just his product.
In the 50’s Parker didn’t like or understand Elvis’ music, but he understood the public’s reaction and he knew that nothing sells like sex and controversy.
Parker brought Elvis to the national stage riding a wave of frenzied fans and controversy then slowly turned Elvis into family entertainment.
The real question is, why Elvis didn’t stand up for his career more?
When Elvis did, the results were electric. If Parker had had his way, the 68 TV special would have been walk on, sing 20 Christmas songs then walk off – into oblivion.
Elvis sided with Steve Binder and the result was a foreshadowing of many things to come – not only Elvis’ career revitalization, but the Singer Presents Special was one of the first one person musical TV specials and it included production numbers with story lines – what would become music videos – and the amazing sit down black leather portions of the show is the first unplugged broadcast.
I think that as long as Parker appeare to be doing a good job, then Elvis didn’t want to question it. Partly lack of confidence/self esteem – but also a wish to avoid anything like business that requires long term attention and commitment to detail.
Elvis was a southern boy from the lowest economic niche known to white people at the time. Elvis came from the defeated and down and out – this is why he saw himself as no different and certainly no better than the black families in the same economic niche.
In his mind, Elvis was always that poor boy, rejected by society and only loved by his mother – the one constant in his early formative years. He never forgot his beginnings and, on occasion, took friends to Tupelo to show them and remind himself of how far he had come.
For Elvis to move from the southern country performing circuit to national television – he had to leave the familiar world of the south taking all the cultural baggage to culturally dominate the Northern audiences and more critically, the Northern dominated entertainment industry.
An industry that Parker had experience and connections in, as the former manager of Eddie Arnold.
The norther was too alien and hostile to Elvis, opening him up to being taken advantage of by Parker by Elvis’ consent.
Parker talked big, walked big and was big – Parker to Elvis was larger than life – he appeared to be a southern man, who had gone through the carny circuit, got a governor to name him a colonel – and air of authority he never earned.
On one level, Elvis knew Parker was a con artist – and why Gladys was against Parker, she never trusted him. Vernon’s personality of avoiding responsibility made him a prime sucker for Parker.
Parker played on Elvis’ dreams – enough money and power to make a difference to his mother’s material quality of life. Her intangible quality of life was made whole by Elvis himself. So, when he was most vulnerable to be taken away from her – first her fear of Elvis being hurt by girl fans or jealous boyfriends – a threat she could understand – to the army, the ultimate authority, she could no longer cope with the separation from her own purpose of life.
Elvis was a man, successful and now in service to his country, and, on a level, she felt he didn’t need her anymore. And she died.
But Elvis did still need her – he was stuck in grief and never got over her loss. Gladys was why he worked to achieve fame and fortune, he wanted to give his best girl the whole world and anything else he thought she deserved. With her death, Elvis’ purpose in life gone – care taking his mother in an extravagant way, he was adrift and even easy for Parker to control.
Elvis’ career was dynamic and vital while it was for his mom – and afterward, it was the hollow shell because the purpose – Gladys – was gone.
That way, it didn’t matter what he did, the reason was no longer. Parker made Elvis mainstream and his public image in the 60’s was the reverse of his 50’s image.
Elvis had to find a new purpose in life – in 1968, Lisa was born and Elvis was reborn. He took control of his career, and sided with people who were on the leading edge – Steve Binder, Stax Records.
Lisa was Elvis’ reason for living, but his artistic work became the purpose for itself – so we have that wonderful 1968 to 1973 pinnacle.
In 72-73, his marriage fell apart and in 86 his career was reborn and in 73, the Aloha special became the pinnacle of success – a worldwide live TV one man show broadcast – Elvis ushered in the new technology – and career wise, there was no where for him to go.
He’d done records, radio, concerts, TV, movies, he started humble and small, became world famous – and then after the 73 special that broadcast on the global scale – Elvis left the building and slowly checked out of life. It took just 4 short years for his life to pass and culturally, we’ve been trying to figure out what he really was to us, what he meant, what his real legacy was.
Like his artistic ability, Elvis’ legacy is legion. He’s the American dream, he’s a nightmare, he’s the career template for all around entertainers, he’s the alpha and omega