The Image is one thing and a Human Being is another

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.

12 thoughts on “The Image is one thing and a Human Being is another

  1. Pingback: With Broken Hearts, Walk a Mile in My Shoes | Random Ntrygg

  2. I am with Random on this because I do not regard being a victim and having choice as incompatible. Otherwise we would have to condemn every woman that found herself in a destructive or violent relationship . Elvis was flawed but he was also a major talent who would have benefited from being nurtured. There was not a total absence of nurture in the career of Elvis and in brief periods Sam Phillips, Leiber and Stoller and Steve Binder all provided excellent support. Their periods of influence, though, were brief. Elvis was not the only victim in American music but the existence of others and the weaknesses in his character do not excuse people like Thomas Parker and Freddie Bienstock. We also have to remember his personal weaknesses were magnified by his exposure to exceptional fame. Remember the novel ‘Frankenstein’ by Shelley. She intended that we should understand and feel sorry for the Creature, not condemn.

    • Actually, a lot of women should be condemned for staying in a destructive relationships, as do men, by the way. Women are not the only victims of destructive relationships or domestic violence. And this is exactly my point; how long does one repeat the same mistake and still want to be excused? Isn’t that Einstein’s definition of insanity?
      Obviously Elvis had a horrible manager, but he was also a free human being who could make many choices. He was not all black nor all white. But had many weaknesses.

      • Some women should be condemned for staying in destructive relationships but not every woman should be condemned because everybody has different reasons for their behaviour. You are absolutely right. Nobody is black or white. I did actually refer to the weaknesses of Elvis. But the absence of black and white in human nature should make us more sympathetic to what people do with their lives not less. I am also not so convinced about your faith in free will. This is a convenient concept that helps human beings plan their lives. Sam Morris, though, author of The Moral Landscape is a neuroscientist who argues quite forcefully that there is no scientific basis for believing in free will. Whilst we are on the subject of science, Einstein, as bright as he is, does not qualify as an expert on psychiatry.

        • Two points. I don’t have complete faith in free will. Morris’s work resonates with me. We do have some will, and some choices though. Again, not black or white.
          In regards to Einstein, who IMHO didn’t qualify for “bright” but more for genius, I love the following quote: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
          Albert Einstein

          And one does not have to have a degree in psychiatry to make a relevant brilliant statement. You write very well, and you touch on many subjects. Should I assume that you have a degree or am an expert in each of the areas you comment on?

          • Glad you like the quote by Einstein but it now appears he was slightly misquoted. Einstein is entitled to say what he likes but it does not mean I have to always accept his thoughts on any subject as evidence of an eternal truth. I also had my tongue in my cheek a little when I said bright. My last attempt at humour, I reckon. Am interested in what Random thinks about the debate.

        • I think that the condemnation needs to be put on the person who makes it a misery

          no matter who it is

          people can only abuse us to the degree that we let them

          and it’s when they abuse us more than we allow

          that the real problem is

  3. Inasmuch as I am a hugh Elvis fan, I do not have your charitable take on his life. The way you write about him makes him sound like a victim without ANY choice. Was he reduced by the studios to becoming a less than mediocare entertainer? Of course. Did he have a choice? Of course.
    Elvis could have reinvented himself, but he compromised.

    • I don’t think it’s charitable – it’s just with understanding of his life.

      Most people can only think what they would do in their understanding of other people’s life circumstances. But you can’t really know what it was like for another person, unless, as the song goes – you walk a mile in their shoes.

        • Any judgement is a best understanding, and is subject to change when you consider new information or information in a new way.

          I think that as much as we like the image of Elvis as the rebel; he wanted approval and he wanted to be part of the establishment.

          I think that that’s a big part of why he doesn’t get talked about as an artist, because when viewed with an anti-establishment eye, Elvis was a sell out because he didn’t maintain control of his work output.

          But I think that’s forgetting that Elvis became famous in an era where those weren’t the norms to self produce for credit, and have a hand in selection to record to what goes on the album.

          Elvis could sing and he learned to produce, but he left the packaging and distribution and marketing to RCA and then the studios – because Elvis compartmentalized his life – and Parker took advantage of that – he assumed the business aspect, leaving Elvis the music and the movies and his personal life to manage.

          A better manager would have considered the future and what made Elvis happy and kept him make good work – Parker seemed to never realize what staying power Elvis had – but only as long as he could be authentically Elvis.

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