I like Elvis Presley. I remember when he died. I remember hearing about it on the car radio when we were driving in Neenah, taking Mom to a Sweet Adelines practice. I was seven years old, but by Mom’s reaction, and Dad’s too for that matter, I knew it was a big deal. It was a sad end to an incredible story, one I wouldn’t know much about until I came to his story again later in my life. I was young enough to only know him as Vegas Elvis, jumpsuits and capes. Fat Elvis. A seven year old wouldn’t know there was so much more.
I went to the new Elvis movie on Friday night. Driving over there, I quietly wished it would be a full theater with guys dressed as Elvis. Well, I got a pretty empty theater, probably 2 dozen people, but indeed, one of them was dressed as Elvis, and he sat right in front of me. The bummer of that was he was kind of annoying. He kept turning around to talk to me. I was like, hey, Chatty Elvis, I am trying to watch this movie here. It wasn’t that bad, I just don’t care for chit chat during a movie, even if it is Elvis.
The movie was pretty good, and that Austin Butler really became Elvis. Like his voice, his movements, all of it. He just was so good as Elvis. The story is really sad when you get to the heart of it. That man had so much talent, so much of the thing that makes a man a star. But the wrong people and so many drugs just crippled him. He was 42 when he died. That is so very young. There are lots of famous people who fall into the drugs and chaos of stardom and die young. Flames that burn so bright often flicker out fast. What a waste, you know?
I had a conversation recently about Elvis Presley and his relevance today. He’s been dead for 45 years. Longer than he lived. People still idolize him. His original fanbase is elderly if they are still around at all. But his influence is still very palpable. His music still gets played, and people will debate if young Elvis or older Elvis music is better. The answer is all of it is better. Just like any artist, he evolved, and had his life not ended as tragically and sad as it did, it would have been interesting to see how he would have navigated Disco, 80s pop, and beyond. We will never know, but he is still there, people still cover his music, and fans still flock to Memphis to see Graceland.
I have a few people in my life who shrug him off. I think they only think of the man that died of an overdose, alone and his career washed up. But I tell them all the time, look at his catalog of music. Start at the early stuff. Compare it to other music that was out at the time. He was a trailblazer, and his influence was huge. The Beatles loved him. His influence on artists that followed was huge. He also had a big love of Gospel music, which is a huge surprise to a lot of people, well, because of the whole raw sexuality thing he had going on early in his career. Another thing he did was cover other’s music. If he heard a song he liked by another artist, he would ask to sing it, and most artists loved it.
The new movie really showcases what a giant d-bag Colonel Tom Parker was. What a self-centered prick he was. He never had Elvis’ better interests at heart, only what Elvis could do for him. I was so angry, really, because although I knew a lot it, to have it put right out there like that just made me hurt for Elvis. People rode him, used him, and he lost his wife, child and life because of all of it. The Colonel was at the heart of it. He was dream crusher, a soul sucking scumbag. Tom Hanks played him in the movie, and I hated Tom Hanks for nearly 3 hours because of it. I got a little wrapped up in it, even with Chatty Elvis bugging me throughout the movie.
But at the end of it all, I got in my car, turned on the Elvis channel on my satellite radio, and sang along the whole way home. The movie was good. I hope it brings some new people to Elvis. His legacy should be one of a man with tremendous talent. He was more than jumpsuits and rhinestones, more than Las Vegas and the Jungle Room. His addictions killed him, but his music is forever. The idea that you can still find so many Elvis impersonators should show what a big deal he was and still is, because Chatty Elvis in front of me was about 30 years old. Elvis had been dead 15 years by the time this kid was born. The story is sad, but the music is glorious. If you like Elvis, go see that movie. Be amazed by the young man playing him, and be prepared to break up with Tom Hanks for a couple of hours.