Elvis and One Hit Wonders

There is a an apparent curse for actors who play Jesus Christ, it is a career ending role and the actors who play Jesus tend to fade into obscurity.

In music, the curse for up-n-comers is to be compared to Elvis Presley. I think it’s less the pressure to perform – and by perform, I means sales performance – that causes the newcomer to fade or burn out as a one hit wonder – and more that the comparison points out the un-authenticity of the newcomer to Elvis.

When the comparison is made, it is generally in terms of record sales and girl fan response, rather than any artistic or cultural impact comparison. The comparison is a shallow one of appearance, the easy part – big sales are not difficult to achieve with the right marketing and girl fans gone berserk is equally easy to achieve, with the right hype. It’s the entire basis of the industry churning out Teen Idols.

Elvis, was an idol of teens, but he was never a Teen Idol.

Teen Idols are sanitized, packaged and sold to teens. They are largely feminine boys who are not sexually threatening and who evoke romantic fantasies of cuddling, hand hold and kissing. The lyrics of the songs they sing are respectful love letters to their swooning fans, they are the musical teen comparable to Harlequin Romances.

In the 1950’s, Pat Boone was the leader of the teen idol pack – he sang songs originated by black artists with a softer, smoother musical arrangement and coy lyrics – Hot Diggity Dog Diggigty, Boom, what you do to me, when we’re falling in love – is about romantic sexual attraction and places sexual arousal far off into the future, a post marriage future.

Elvis, sang all kinds of music, raw and primal, Baby baby I wanna play house with you, is more than just sexual arousal, it’s a plea to get it on; unvarnished and understood, right here and right now, outside of and well before marriage – let’s play at house by doing the sexual things people who share a house do.

Teen Idols are about romantic yearning for a distant future and Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry were all sexually dangerous and doing it right now. And teens idolized them for that authentic urgency, the celebration of the passion of youth, easily stirred and manipulated.

Both Teen Idols and idols of teens sell records and the music industry is a business and is quick to capitalize on whatever sells. Teen Idols have a short shelf life because at some point, their fans grow up and romantic fantasies are not sustaining or satisfying.

This is the crux of why Elvis is still the king, he was the public’s first lover when he stepped onto the TV screens on the Dorsey Brothers Show and he opened his throat and sang and he moved..moved to the beat, and shook and hollered and waved his hand and Elvis fucked us, hard fast and left us panting and wanting more. We are always the most passionate about our first fuck.

The politicians and the priests in the 1950’s were right to be threatened by Elvis, because Elvis wasn’t a sanitized Teen Idol, despite the unearthly beauty he possessed – the face of an angel atop a bawdy burlesque sinner. Elvis the Pelvis, dry humping the audience and arousing in everyone, sexual desire or immoral outrage, made no difference, he fucked us all.

But in that desire for more, we stopped  discerning between the authentic rockers, who largely burned out quickly, and the sanitized teen idols who croon about romantic stirrings rather than inspiring any loin stirring.

Little Richard left rock n roll for religion and is tormented in his own sexuality, an obvious gay man, unable to accept himself and be comfortable in his own skin; Chuck Berry, arrested for taking minors across state lines, targeted because he was black, and despite all the amazing music he wrote, his only number 1 hit, My Ding a Ling, an ode to masturbation in the early 70’s and a personal disgrace of being charged in the 1980’s with filming women in the bathroom of a restaurant he owned. Jerry Lee Lewis’ fall from grace was in Europe the scandal of marrying a teenager who was distantly related, but more that he was married and off the market for fan fantasies in the US.

So, for the music industry, Teen Idols are better because they sell as well, don’t have career limiting scandals or personal implosions, and, when they reach their “sell before” date, are easily replaced with a younger, cuter and more manageable version.

In current terms, the Hanson Brothers gave way to the Jonas Brothers who were eclipses by Zac Efron and in turn by Justin Beiber.

Just as in the past, The Beatles, who started out as sanitized packaged Teen Idols, but who stepped up and became authentic idols of teens, were replaced by The Monkees, The Bay City Rollers – who continue to serve as the basic boy band template with one goofy/funny, one sweet/shy, one smart and one vaguely sexually dangerous, but all young men you’d be comfortable to bring home to the parents or allow to take your daughter on a car date until 11pm.

The Beatles were boys from the bad side of a blue collar town, tarted up to be nice boys – while the Rolling Stones were upper class boys dressed down to appear as lower class bad asses- until The Beatles put aside the identical costumes and changed musical direction away from imitating Buddy Holly and the Crickets and trying to be Elvis.

It’s the lack of authenticity that makes Teen Idols compared to Elvis be short lived careers – possibility because the Teen Idol starts to believe the press and cannot deliver, lacking the talent or the authentic draw or because they know that they lack the authenticity, so branch out, try to be more than just another Teen Idol and their fans do not follow them, and find another Teen Idol who will deliver what the fans want – the romantic fantasy.

More commonly, Teen Idols, like Child Actors, grow up and just aren’t as cute, and having built a career on being cute, simply never developed or had the talent to sustain a meaningful or authentic career. Adult audiences, especially people who are actually having sex, are less interested in the packaged sanitized romance fantasy that Teen Idols are selling and move onto the real thing.

Which is why Elvis, who pwned us in 1956, was the king for 21 career years and continued to be, 33 years after his death.

Until the Teen Idols of the 50’s, who cleaned up and calmed down black recordings to make them safe and pearly white for white audiences; Elvis sang black music black, more than that, he didn’t distinguish between black and white music, he didn’t even distinguish between sacred and secular music – Elvis took a song and wrung every emotional notes and sexual promise all delivered with a hellfire and salvation fervor, and his voice and body were one and the same instrumentally.

In Elvis, everything was fused together and sex ignited that hot fusion, and he was properly marketed as the Atomic Powered Singer. Elvis’ performances were at once creation and ah, ah ha, I’m, I’m gonna, arggg, armagget-it-on.

it’s not just about racking up fans and scoring hits, it’s about authenticity, and there’s precious little of that in entertainment. Which is why Elvis is still the king.