Elvis was the first and last entertainer that genre music fans could agree to because Elvis sang all genres.
There is just something magical about listening to his voice wringing every emotional nuance possible from every song he believed in. Heck, even his phoned in performances leave most performers in the dust, given that Elvis rose above the bad material that would have sunk any other performer.
Before Elvis, the music world was divided and after Elvis, it globalized and divided again along new genre lines.
Elvis’s immediate appeal was the sexual freedom, but his long term appeal was in his equality view of humanity – Elvis, having risen from the lowest socio-economic level to the highest, knew more than anyone that we are all where we came from – but it’s the quality of how we treat each other.
Elvis was an equal opportunity man – he paid as much attention to the plain fans as the pretty ones, because he knew that his success was owed to each of them.
He treated everyone with courtesy and respect and as an equal – that was and still is a rare quality and ability – and it’s that that allows Elvis to be a champion of universal human rights, a testament to human achievement.
And his end – well – what else could have happened to a man who believed in doing hard work and your best work – when all the movie studios and the record label wanted was product to churn out while the Elvis fad was still hot.
Since we are all only as good as the last thing we did – and it takes 7 good things to reverse one bad thing – Elvis was never understood by the label and studios who went for the cheap and easy money – and didn’t manage Elvis in a sustainable way.
I think that if they had continued making Elvis movies – alternating the Viva Las Vegas clones with Flaming Star and Wild in the Countries – that Elvis would have developed a movie based fan following as a serious actor – and making the musical Elvis vehicles wouldn’t have run out of steam and public favour.
Because Elvis only wanted to be taken seriously as an entertainer and the fans took him seriously – but the record label and Hollywood only saw Elvis as an inexhaustible source of money for their real projects.
Instead of allowing Elvis to grow with his audience, keeping him as a sanitized and slightly castrated version of his 50’s persona is how Hollywood killed the goose who laid golden eggs.
Flaming Star took a serious look at racial tensions between settlers and aboriginals caught in a zero sum game of settlers taking all the land; with Elvis’ Pacer caught in the third way – hybridization between the two camps – half settler and half native; of both worlds but belonging to neither – and in the end, with the two sides not able to reconcile, Pacer had no life to live in the world – and so Elvis dies in a second movie – but learning from Love Me Tender – he rides off under the closing credits to die off screen.
Wild in the Country a family drama of a sensitive boy raised by a sainted and deceased mother and left to the untender mercies of an alcoholic father, a bootlegging opportunistic uncle and a inner turmoil of trying to sort out how he wants to be – sensitive Glen with the good stand-by girl, the wild Glen with the temptress gril or grown up Glen with a future, college and writing, and mature relationships outside of the scope of his experience.
Both these movies said something about the world and how it treats people who don’t conform to easy or expected stereotypes. Something Elvis was very familiar with – and that understanding of the Elvisverse, when played in the early movies that were a kind of version of Elvis’ own story and facing the challenges to society that Elvis stood for – the movies were wonderful.
If they had alternated these more meaningful movies with the Blue Hawaiis and Viva Las Vegas – Elvis would have probably enjoying making the movies and the movie music – and not tried to find comfort and solace in spending and eating binges and finally drugs to escape the disappointment of knowing what he was capable of doing, of meaning, of changing in the world – to settle for phoned in movie performances in movies about the appearance of but not the substance of what Elvis was about as an artist.
It’s no wonder to me that Elvis died young – a year younger than I am right now – but that he lasted to 40 at all.