I’ve come to think about Elvis in a very new way – and I don’t think Elvis thought of himself as a rebel – he just wanted to belong, his dreams were middle class aspirations and a million light years from his sharecropper beginings.
His goals were to secure a home for his family, to take care of his parents. To eventually meet a special girl and have a family – he hoped to have children so his own offspring wouldn’t be an only child as he was.
When asked about his music, Elvis knew music didn’t turn teens into delinquents, but that rock n roll was safety value, a safe means to express emotions and to blow off pent up steam, sexual desire…
But he was a rebel because what was different about him – being colorblind and seeing only people – was amazingly radical and it continues to be at a time when yes, there’s a black man in the white house and some people are still refusing to accept that this is the case and why they obsess about the birth certificate.
Racism and other unreasonable and baseless hatred/fear knows no logic or boundary.
People who say that Elvis stole black music are ignoring the hillbilly/country contribution to rock n roll; not to mention the southern gospel delivery. Elvis sang blues as country and country as blues and delivered both with a gospel fervor rarely seen outside of tent revivals. His 50’s concerts were easily comparable to the emotional release of a revival camp, screaming in tongues, writhing and losing yourself in the emotional moment.
Rock n roll was largely a phenomenon for white audiences and allowed some black artists to cross over to these audiences; but Jazz, freeform, was the musical revolution for black artists and black audiences – it meant the rules didn’t apply and it allowed some white hipsters to cross over to black audiences.
But Jazz never became the mainstream powerhouse of rock n roll and pop music and perhaps, that’s at the core of the claims of Elvis stealing their music, it wasn’t the music, it was the cultural thunder that diverted to Elvis.
Elvis merged white and black into something new – and largely played to white audiences.
Perhaps it’s more a sense that any black artists who wanted to do rock n roll, had to play to white audiences, where they didn’t have the freedoms of Jazz and black audiences….
Elvis’ management, not being sure this rock n roll fad would last but seeing that Elvis could generate revenues that just couldn’t be ignored – Elvis was toned down and sanitized. Distracted from music with the movies, re-invented by the Army and then turned into a matinee idol and sanitized so as to never give offense to any possible portion of the potential audience.
“I wanna play house with you” giving way to “Sentimental Me.”
Rock n roll pioneers gave way to packaged pretty boys, non-sexually threatening and effeminate – a practice that continues today.
But talent has a way of expressing itself and when Elvis took command, such as in the 68 TV special and recording “If I Can Dream” and “In the Ghetto” were 2 songs that Parker didn’t want Elvis to do, because they were :”message” songs – and Parker knew that celebrity was best served by never taking a social stand and risking alienation of segments of the audience.
But Elvis did the songs anyway, because the message was something he believed in, he understood equality and overcoming economic and social barriers.
He had done it, despite the establishment’s efforts to tame and constrain him, Elvis had broken through social, economic and cultural barriers and changed everything.