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Rock: The Presley Panic

28 May 2011

ROCK: THE PRESLEY PANIC

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A dying sun is casting long shadows over Langdon Farm road, where the two small girls in their candy-striped dresses are gaping reverently at the glossy photos the dude in the frayed T-shirt is hawking on the sidewalk.

They skip back to Mother, tug at her dress, plead until she smiles and pulls two crumpled dollar bills from her purse. Now back to the nice man who hands over two glorious, full-color pictures of Elvis Presley.

Behind Cincinnati Gardens, three more small girls dash down the road with streaming banners proclaiming “Elvis Presley Blvd.” Inside, a roaring soul group, The Sweet Inspirations, is warming up a crowd that is teeming with electricity. There are no empty seats.

The stage slides into blackness, as the band thunders the strains of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra (the “2001” theme), heralding a god not yet in his twilight. The theme crescendos, with a horrendously flat note from the bass member of the Stamps Quartet ... and a strobe-light of flashcubes pinions the white suit with sequinned red, white and blue American eagles.

He belts out “C. C. Rider,” amid shrieks from middle-aged women, round-eyed pre-teenyboppers, puzzled but dreamy smiles from male escorts. The four-inch wide white belt barely conceals a ripening paunch ... my calendar says 1973.

LAST NIGHT, the Presley Pelvis set in motion a real-life time machine. The crowd bit into the Fifties and swallowed them like a banana split left in the freezer for 20 years that someone thought to thaw out. The little-boy-in-the –sailor-suit smile was still there. So was the raw, devastating sex that withers hearts with a glance or gesture.

And so was the tremendous baritone voice that Presley rarely gets credit for, he so overshadows it with his extra-curricular trappings. The songs were generally gut-level Fifties, including “I Got A Woman,” (with an oddly placed “Amen” break), “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and so forth.

But Elvis has always basically been a Nashville Cat, and it showed with country tunes like “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and especially, one powerful Gospel tune with the Stamps Quartet and The Sweet Inspirations.

A phalanx of eight cops had its hands full of mass-steria. One furry blond ball launched herself repeatedly towards the stage, her too-low trajectory dumping her into only official arms. Later, another tried the same thing as a diversionary tactic. While three police pushed her back, a dozen more of the faithful made a mad rush ... but the Maginot Line held.

FOR THIS WRITER, the Fifties Revival began innocuously as a fun thing, and a good thing, because you have to look back to see where you’re going. But it didn’t stop; it has become a raving obsession, with one New York radio station programming nothing later than 1955 and reportedly grabbing more advertising dollars than any station in history.

Rock has roared blindly along a high mountain road until it has suddenly hit a chasm, and can’t find the bridge over it. Half the people on its train are doubling back to country music, to bluegrass, even to traditional folk and mountain music. The other half is hurtling headlong over the cliff into Heartbreak Hotel, and apparently doesn’t want to budge.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “camp” as “An affectation or appreciation of manners and tastes commonly thought to be outlandish, vulgar or banal.” Or also, “Banality or artificiality, when appreciated for its humor.” For me, that is Elvis Presley. No more, no less.

John Eliot, The Cincinnati Post, Thursday 28 June 1973.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJ4x4DJDhuw


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