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. . . 2003-01-12

Huey Freeman thinks profound thoughts ---king Elvis

"Hey, Copperhead, why you think they're so anxious to get us after each other."
- Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany

Twice a year, one bunch gestures jocularly at Elvis Presley and another bunch quotes Public Enemy. Most of them, that seems to be the only time they do quote Public Enemy.

A subset throws in that "shine my shoes and buy my records" calumny, which I knew was absurd even before doing any research: not because Elvis ever took a stand against segregation, but because Elvis was always polite and polite boys don't talk like that. (This rumor-monger deserves special recognition for going on to credit Willie Mae Thornton with authorship of "Hound Dog" and to call Nat King Cole a "subservient negro.")

Chuck D makes perfect sense. Still, I'm like most. Elvis is a hero to me. Not someone to admire or emulate. Just a real American hero the same way Heracles was a real Greek hero: a larger-than-life pig-ignant touched-by-divinity guided-by-conmen figure strung up snug and poisoned in a tangle of tragedy and low farce.

Elvis didn't kill near as many people as Heracles, but like I say: polite.

. . . 2003-01-13

Another denied but widely reported quote, attributed to Sam Phillips: "If I could find a white man who had a Negro sound and a Negro feel, I could make a million dollars." That's a softer breed of racism than the "shine my shoes" fantasy, and forks more pernicious paths: to a story of "pale imitation" and "taming," of ineffable theft (Prometheus stealing soul from the soulful) or downright plagiarism, or conversely a story of crude matter refined, or Aryan culture degraded.

Sam Phillips recorded blues and hillbilly alike; his bounds were geographical and financial rather than racial, and all you could really have deduced about the singer of Elvis Presley's first Sun records was that he was Southern and very eccentric. Presley's "Good Rockin' Tonight" sounds nothing at all like anything Wynonie Harris ever did, any more than his "Blue Moon of Kentucky" resembles anything Bill Monroe ever did. (Spike Jones, more like.) Harris is a grown-up who knows what he wants and knows how to get it; Presley rears and careens like a drunken colt. I defy anyone to listen to Arthur Crudup's recordings and derive Presley's bizarrely playful sincerity: Crudup delivers "So Glad You're Mine" knowing and sly; Presley sounds so glad he's living bipolar that what he changed his mind about must be suicide.

At RCA, his covers began to lift arrangements from the originals; still, I don't hear straight-out vocal mimicry till we reach the Oedipus at Colonus days of "Polk Salad Annie" and "Suspicious Minds," and by then Presley was cribbing mostly from Tom Jones.

But the "white guy singing like black guy" story is catchy, god help us all. I've even heard people accuse Presley of blatantly ripping off Otis Blackwell (whose own musical hero was Tex Ritter) -- Blackwell being a songwriter who was demoing his songs to Presley for Presley to sing.

The embrace-rebrand-and-secure routine has been enriching white individuals and stabilizing white racism a long while. Probably no need to go through the whole roll call; it extends at least as far back as James Fenimore Cooper and includes plenty of professional diluters: "King of Jazz" Paul Whiteman, for example, or Presley's leading contemporary rival, Pat Boone.

Presley didn't gentrify. He never played the Aeolian Hall or commissioned a concerto. If anything, he grew crasser with age. You could easily make the case that Presley was a less talented vocalist than Jackie Wilson, but to claim that he was smoother would be insane. Nor would he ever latch onto the minstrel show mannerisms of an exoticizer like Mick Jagger.

He's never been accepted by the White Negro clan, either, those stern adjudicators of hip like Nick "a Caucasian jerk is just a black guy corretto" Tosches, or Cassavetes geek Tom Charity (who attracted my attention by ending a Time Out movie review, "this boy Poitier is whiter than white"). Elvis simultaneously is too soft for them and tries too hard. On first listen, Lieber and Stoller found his "Hound Dog" "nervous," "frenetic," lacking a "real groove": "We just tended to think, who are these lame ofays moving in?" Only after meeting him were they won over by his fannish enthusiasm. (And it didn't take long after that for them to tire of his passivity.)

Here's a less widely reported quote. Its ambiguity isn't so catchy, and it's not flattering to anyone, including Phillips. "He reminded me of a black man in that way," says Phillips. "His insecurity."

. . . 2003-01-16

"He's a goof! He's a mook!" - Canadian fan, 1957

"And he was a nice fellow, shy. His face was so pretty, so soft." - Fats Domino, 2002

Those who think rock is about the frenzied masturbatory rhythms of the teenage male prefer Little Richard; those who think it's about being an asshole redneck prefer Jerry Lee Lewis; those who think it's about white boys impersonating black men why the fuck should I care what they prefer, let 'em wait for Eric Clapton. Most experts of the time agree that the true King of Rock and Roll was Fats Domino, who maintained rhythm and groove alike with magisterial ease, who crossed race categories, who chicks dug, and who was (unlike some people I could mention, and although Billy Lewis sure tried) inimitable. (Elvis's "Blueberry Hill" is one of his weakest '50s recordings: stripped of hokum, he sounds shrunken, pale, pathetic, lost.)

The thing is -- this presumptuous and cumbersome thing is -- with all my denials and hedging, I do think there's a way Elvis Presley divides the world into before and after, a way in which he originates the "rock music" genre, and that in a way (and in the way) it connects to American racism. It's just not a straightforward way.

Elvis's own straightforwardness misleads us. As cultural critic Tuesday Weld says:

"... he didn't wear it on his sleeve. You didn't see that he was complicated. You saw great needs."

. . . 2003-01-18

Given the combined unreliability of reporters and high school testing, I don't know how much credence to lend reports of a 70 IQ (five points under that other American hero, Forrest Gump). But Elvis's sense of inferiority might not have been just a matter of economic class, and his clinginess, malleability, and shy boastfulness might have had more to do with intellectual trauma than financial.

. . . 2003-01-19

"Of commercial folk music, Presley is perhaps the most original singer since Jimmie Rodgers."
- jacket notes, Elvis's second LP, 1956

What makes something "folk culture" is the cultural distance assumed by the customer rather than the nature of the artist. The Lomaxes' field recordings cover a range of professional dedication from jump-ropers and reminiscing farmers through chant-leading prisoners and special-occasion bands to preachers and itinerant guitarists. Even among the lowest class of professional musicians, there's an ambiguous stretch from busker to beggar, epitomized for me by One-String Eddie Jones and Edward Hazelton: an overbearingly extroverted entertainer and a depressive mumbling introvert, equally insane, both documented in the same genre.

When record companies were forced to turn to the rabble for their artists, they naturally hung around the professional side of town -- vaudeville, bars, dance halls, and churches -- occasionally permitting a visit by a street singer or pick-up guitarist. No matter what their income or popularity, musicians who worked at being musicians are where commercial studios and Library of Congress sessions overlap.

That was natural because the record companies figured -- still figured, even after the process of turning "folk culture" into "pop culture" was well underway -- that recordings were of performances and that they should therefore be seeking out performers to record. Good artifacts in reproducible media are those that reproduce a good original artifact, right?

Sometimes, but not always.

What a recording captures is an event. Professional performances are just one way of generating recordable events.

For some reason, movie makers figured this out long before record makers did: the medium provides reproducibility; the performer doesn't have to provide anything but moments. Athletes, comics, models, cowboys, and other non-stage-actors can work brilliantly on screen, and, even before the giveth-and-taketh-away godsend of "the Method," film directors developed techniques to generate the appropriate magic: well-timed off-camera drama; improvisation with "business"; the celebrated advice, "I want your face to be a blank sheet of paper."

It's not surprising that Elvis Presley idolized Method stars like James Dean and Marlon Brando, or that Presley was the only film performer to ever deliver warm and persuasive naturalism from Clifford Odets's rigor-mortis lines.

. . . 2003-01-21

- motto of Memphis Recording Service

In a capitalist democracy, ethnography eventually nets you Sam Phillips: an entrepreneurial native informant.

Phillips didn't believe "in recording people that had already made records," and so he produced blues because, of what he heard, blues was what wasn't being produced enough. Is that altruism or greed? Yes.

Phillips did believe in accident, improvisation, in each moment's ripening of some mysterious life-force that even more mysteriously could be packed, transported, and sold. He believed in a soul that could survive mechanical reproduction. "And anything that didn't sound spontaneous really was no good."

Return to the primal scene: A truck driver who, a year earlier, shyly and mendaciously paid to hear his own voice singing two ballads, is called in as part of the everlasting quest for the not-yet-known. He does a poor job, but Phillips senses an accident waiting to happen and waits with it. The truck driver starts goofing on a song. Phillips records.

The song was originally by a black musician, but that level of appropriation was old in Stephen Foster's day and had never really gone out of style. (Take Louis Prima. Take as much as you want, so long as you remember to take your Louis Jordan first.)

The song was then done by a truck driver who hoped someday to become a electrician, who had never performed music professionally, or even performed solo in public: an amateur with no experience and no ambition, who, Phillips thinks, would've otherwise wound up in a gospel quartet and never auditioned as a pop music singer.

What Phillips had created in his laboratory was nothing less than artificial life, or at least a formula for simulating lively music: enthusiastic cluelessness + opportunistic recording.

Folklorists and critics used idiot savant rhetoric about "direct expressions of the soul of a people" when talking about blues and hillbilly; the hard-working musicians they were speaking of wouldn't have looked at it that way. (Rufus Thomas may have been a goof, but he was no mook.) With Elvis, for the first time the cult of the amateur is led by the performer.

. . . 2003-01-23

"Going with the flow has driven some people insane."
- pop outsider Professor Anonynomous

"Is this the way I used to fall off this log?"
- rockin' weblogger Fred Metascene

For Phillips, his experiment's success initiated a new business model. Rather than having to compete with larger labels such as Chess for rights to the blues and R&B artists he'd been recording, he could sign potentially more lucrative (since they didn't have to deal with segregation) teenage crackers cheap and exclusive. They were eager to follow Elvis's trail, and Phillips was eager to help them.

On the world outside Memphis, the most immediate effect was rockabilly: a collection of easily copied mannerisms that spread fast as Jimmie Rodgers's yodel and shriveled afore the crops came in.

More lasting, being easier to sell, was a transvaluation in which success became a matter of "being real" and "keeping it real," setting sincerity and spontaneity against skill and groove. And I'm comfortable calling that a "rock" attitude, even though its effects haven't been confined to a single recording genre or even a single medium. (Andy Kaufman imitated Presley in more ways than the obvious one.)

As intended, it's generated records of otherwise unattainable moments which, god knows, I idolize. But they remain by design and essence isolated: every hit its own one-hit wonder. Amateurism is a lottery of grace whose winnings are taxed to fund the lottery program.

Irresponsibility is a heavy responsibility, man. You can keep the spark in a stodgy old-fashioned marriage to your art just by occasionally greeting the muse at the door in a little leather G-string. But how to maintain l'amour fou? And why to? Exposed to air, infatuation turns fatuous.

The symptoms aren't hard to find: half-assed tourism (i.e., "experimentation"), flame-outs, desperation unto suicide, or lassitude unto retirement -- or even unto professionalism. (Unless you're a complete fucking nutcase.)

. . . 2003-01-27

Hauled to the stars with enough rope to end three lifetimes, Presley trailblazed new methods of failure as he had new methods of success.

Although show biz had cast up amateur singers before, they had first achieved celebrity by other means. (Still plenty of Louis Prima over there, by the way.) Presley's Dean Martin fixation may seem unaccountable at first, but aside from the shared baritone and the movie acting, I think Dino supplied a model for anti-professional showmanship: a pretense of casual contempt for the artificiality of the situation, conveyed via goofed-on or forgotten lyrics and idiot patter.

In Elvis's adaptation, minus, of course, any genuine sense of security. Such insolent nonchalance was something a show-biz pro earned through a lifetime of hard work and hard heckling; it wasn't something to ape directly. Elvis Presley, like that later king Rupert Pupkin, applied himself to the aping as if it was the point of the work.

And, like Pupkin, he proved that the audience couldn't tell the difference. No wonder the Rat Pack despised him: his version of "cool," like his version of "Hound Dog," was "frenetic," "nervous," "lame," and very successful.

Quite a few rockers since have taken that stance toward public appearance, albeit with different influences (ranging from the Goons to Burl Ives) or with more open hostility (Johnny Thunders, now there was a showman!). Elvis was a studio creation, though, and it's on the studio that his influence really clung.

Lieber and Stoller again:

"The thing that really surprised us was we were used to working in the studio where we had to get four sides in three hours, and here were these guys who came in and, on studio time, they would take a break, they would have peanut butter sandwiches and orange pop and joke around -- we would sing other people's songs, do a gospel number just to loosen up, there was no clock. Frequently we'd have what we thought was a take, and he would say, 'No, let me do it again,' and he would just keep doing it. As long as he felt like doing it.... In many ways he was a perfectionist, and he could be very insecure, but in other ways he was very relaxed in the studio -- a strange combination."
It may have seemed strange in 1957, but it would get awfully familiar. The rats had taken over the lab.

Though he didn't live long enough for a full-out Dr. Jeckyll, Buddy Holly was tinkering with home recording even before the decade ended. Eminent later examples include the "what do you wanna do?" "I don't know; what do you wanna do?" songwriting of the Beatles post-1965*, Bruce Springsteen (who explicitly cited Elvis to justify his own extravagant quest for the absolutely perfect accident), and the post-punk Clash. Even basic training at a hit factory as strictly run as Motown couldn't guarantee immunity: witness the horrific ends visited on the very different spontaneities of self-expressing Marvin Gaye and dancing machine Michael Jackson. All forgetting that their favorite records were bashed out quick, first-to-fourth take, everyone in a room together....

Presley's attempts at re-enacting the fortunate chance began at Sun; he even dramatized the process in his first self-parody. There were more to come.

First the "real," drawn from the unprofessional. Then the professional simulation of the real. On the Memphis album, he managed the most remarkable artifact of his career: a self-portrait (in covers) of a hollow mask; the emperor stripping down to his clothes. After Memphis, the real had its revenge. Simulation became parody; parody became upstaged by the reality of its imperfections; reality constricted to frustration, embarrassment, and fear.

In his final signature numbers, there was no more reaching for ease or grace or goof. Instead, he bellowed against the closing of the light like a barfly Mario Lanza. A last ditch effort to prove he did have talent, this adulation could be justified....

What a mess.

* No coincidence that Elvis Presley's best LP and John Lennon's best LP are both spiritual autobiographies of (in Lester Bangs's phrase) "gauche and wretched majesty." No coincidence, for that matter, that rockers Bangs and Meltzer found it impossible to stretch the semi-documentary form of the blurt to book length. Or, probably, that I find it so difficult to wrangle any prose-shape longer than might fit comfortably into a conversation.

. . . 2003-01-28

Elvis and his friends

John Carpenter's best rock-and-roll movie wasn't Elvis but Christine:

A weirdo loser becomes cool, but immediately progresses to such monstrously destructive super-coolness that his non-weirdo non-loser friends have to kill him.

Why didn't he do the smart thing and stop when he was cool?

Duh! Because he's a weirdo loser!

. . . 2003-02-05

"Elvis was due the respect he had. No animosity. No sour grapes. Elvis was the man. The thing was that we didn't get what we deserved."
- Isaac Hayes

In a racist culture, any source of power will be redirected (as much as possible) to reinforcing racism; in corporate capitalism, any source of power will be redirected (as much as possible) to enrich corporate capitalists. That's not so much an indictment of the power source as a matter of where we live.

I know you knew that already, but it makes me feel safer to start from somewhere known. The Elvis-and-racism (which is to say rock-and-racism) relationship is complicated.

Given the peculiarly binary nature of American racism, for redirectors complexity may be the point: a fasces of tightly-bound contradictory half-truths is stronger than one logical consistency. From my extremely (I'd say "comically," but the joke's too familiar to be funny) limited vantage point, here's an attempt to break it down.

  1. Rewards

    In the USA, race and class are mutually stabilizing systems.

    Through the twentieth century, it became easier to reach our nation's belay anchors of upward mobility: professional atheletics, show business, and organized crime. But the wage gap persists as the wages go up, and the income of one star's lifetime rarely reaches dynastic levels. No black gangster's son has grown up to become President before being shot.

    Racism changes the amplitude of the trajectory, not its shape. That's been as true of the post-WWII pop factory genres as it was of jazz or gospel.

    Rock's open amateurism merely added insult to insult.

  2. Influences

    Talk about cultural theft, whether boastful or accusatory, flatters the supposed thief and mocks the supposed victim. What's marketed as imitation is a cheap plastic mask: Someone wants to express something and, rather than go against their own stereotyped grain, they reach for another's stereotype to express it. And should the stereotyped have access to the marketplace, stereotypes are also the easiest thing for them to sell.

    A century ago, musicians, comics, cartoonists, and writers applied blackface to express simple-minded sentimentality, an inexhaustible craving for leisure, and malapropisms galore. (For a few happy decades, as Harper's Monthly gag pages and Edison ethnic recordings attest, artists and wits also had the option of going Irish.) The jazzbos at my college affected a weird kind of dignified petulance that I guess was the rich kid version of Miles Davis. Nowadays the in-demand roles are sullen thugs and motor-mouthed scam artists. I'm inclined to see these as transformations in the cultural marketplace rather than in The Souls of Black Folk.

    For mid-century folklorists, African-Americans were the home-bought-and-bred equivalent of Yeats's peasants and Tolstoy's serfs. Or they could have been, if it weren't for urban life and mass culture muddying their pure spirituality with pernicious opportunity**.

    Before rock-and-roll was about the mixing of race music and pop music, it was about the mixing of folk music (blues and hillbilly) and urban music (jump and R&B). Sam Phillips adored the fervent integrity of Howlin' Wolf. But unlike the Lomaxes he trusted its ability to survive exposure to outside influences and popular success. For later rockers (most blatantly in the UK), Sun and Chess records supported both a folklorist notion of the primitive as a sacred fount of soul, rhythm, and wisdom and an urban notion of the primitive as an uncontrollable display of sex, aggression, and drug use. Which is hard to beat for teenage appeal.

    Appealing or not, primitivism was a mistake Elvis Presley never made. He came from the same class as Sun's blues singers, and, unlike some of Phillips's other white protégés, he persistently and politely pointed out which aspects of his shtick colored people had been doing for years, making no show of mystification or even humility.

  3. Audiences

    Some rock performers and some rock critics may believe that enthusiastic emulation of their notion of blackness counts as successful mimicry, but anyone with a lick of sense can hear their failure and futility. (And what an obnoxious goal, anyway: "Messrs. Beck & Clapton, Exclusive Purveyors of Soul to Enoch Powell's England.")

    An odd result of this disjunction between intent and expression was that while one large group of American racists decried rock as miscegenation, another large (and eventually much larger) group of American racists latched onto it as their preferred music. Didn't take long for the Stars-and-Bars to start waving even among the performers -- I once heard a little rockabilly number about "I hate blues but I like to rock, I'm a country boy." As a country boy myself, I can testify that "Disco sucks" had more to do with racism than with homophobia. A later example is the reactionary Clash fan documented in Rude Boy: bashing the Pakis; down wiff the reggae.

    So they're assholes. The less dismissable problem if you like rock (which I do) is that willful ignorance seems a legitimate tactic of the game. OK, since my doctrinaire edges wore off, most of my pleasure in most recordings has come from the more oblique and professional sources of happy accident: the accidents of the particular performance, the accidents of historical, sociological, psychological, or pathological forces.... (In fact I'm already regretting having made the primal studio scene of this little critical fable Sam Phillips with Elvis Presley instead of Quincy Jones with Lesley Gore.) But if we seek spontaneous generation in the primal soup of cluelessness, then upping the cluelessness should be a winning formula. Every once in a while you get a first generation rip-off inept enough to do the job -- the Embarrassment's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" was primo right out the gate -- but the distortions of the first covers of Richard Berry's "Louie Louie" can't begin to compare to the grungy high-contrast charm of the n-th generation reproductions, and the Rolling Stones doing an inept rip-off of a Chess artist was infinitely weaker than a garage band doing an inept rip-off of the Rolling Stones.

    In my even-more-callow-than-now years, undignified amateurism seemed a whites-only club. You don't call the Anti-Defamation League to find a Shylock for your community theater, and you didn't call Berry Gordy for out-of-control primitivism. African-American musicians put in their shuck-and-jive time*** in the '40s and early '50s, when they recorded the blues and jump that nursed rock-and-roll. Arthur Lee may have been as real as L.A. rockers get, but Jimi Hendrix was blatantly slumming. Thanks to the segregationist instincts of DJs and critics, it wasn't till I got real ancient that I started hearing the glorious garage funk produced in James Brown's fecund wake.

    As a young punk, it even took me a while to warm towards George Clinton and Bootsy Collins. It was manifestly true that there was no reason to listen to Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd or Frank Zappa with Parliament-Funkadelic around, but I never wanted to listen to those other guys anyway. And though Mother Funkenstein may have thought her boy was certifiable, anyone who could keep complex charts percolating for fifteen minutes was clinically sane by my lax standards.

Hip-hop, on the other hand, as a young punk I sucked up immediately.

In hip-hop, not only the vocals but the lyrics themselves strive toward spontaneity (real or faked). And sampling is the extreme expression of Sun's worship of the captured-and-then-bred soul-ripe moment: a way to turn recordings of even the most professional musicians into such moments, each taint of lively accident tracked, snatched, and replicated.... If one wanted to get crassly theoretical, one could say that rock was the larval stage of hip-hop.

So hip-hop doesn't need an Elvis. Just like everyone else, it's already had all the Elvis it needed.

* Most touchingly exhibited by the Confederate soldiers who died for the right to dream of someday becoming landed (and populated) aristocracy. And in return, "There was no distinction shown between slave owners and non-slave owners provided the latter class were upright honorable people..."
** Inexplicably (to me, anyway; please contact me with explanations if you got 'em), contemporary Hollywood persists in assigning "exotics" (including accented descendents of the African diaspora) a direct link to mystic forces. Why not go all out and remake The Santa Clause with Bernie Mac as a tourist mounted by Baron Samedi...?
*** Though it's best not to overstate the case. Faced with the unflappable authority of Louis Jordan, recalling what's offensive about "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" is like trying to picture Bugs Bunny as a real rabbit.

. . . 2003-02-07

"Ouaii? ... O! Re! Come il King!"
"Che? ... Ah, si, si! Come i Kinks!"

- Florentine conversation, 1989

Less theoretically, the mention of hip-hop summons forth a name capable of jerking the choke-chain on any lengthy bullshit Elvis rap: James Brown.

James Brown! the very words are like a bell!

In the 1950s, Brown covered as wide a stylistic range as Presley with more authority; his Wynonie Harris and Roy Brown derivations gave jump the best vocals it ever got. Then in the 1960s, when Presley was just screwing around, Brown invented a whole new style. Then in the 1970s, when Presley was just screwing around, Brown invented a whole new style again. Brown was producer and writer, singer and performer, America's Beethoven and Nijinski combined. And, unlike any of those guys, he shared a movie credit with the Queen, Lesley Gore: Ski Party, whose dialog supplied what I hope to be my own last words before succumbing to hypothermia: "Why, you're not the ski patrol! You're James Brown and the Famous Flames!"

So why aren't we celebrating James Brown twice a year (birthday and parole date), and why isn't he getting two-volume fifteen-pound biographies, and why aren't tourists swamping the name of the place Augusta GA, and why don't blowhards like Greil Marcus and me blow harder his way?

My blowhard instinct tells me to return to the initial thesis: James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, professional dancer, professional musician, whereas Elvis Presley's version of "TCB" was more like a four-year-old visiting daddy's construction site -- "What's this lever do?", and so on.

Amateurism don't cover all the bases, though. Frank Sinatra was both professional and criminally obnoxious, and you didn't see him dragged off to prison in his late 50s.

Nah, I'm afraid the answer's plain racism.

Of course, if I decide to drop concerns of narrative and media attention and think in terms of actual achievement, I have to admit that I don't listen to Brown all that often or Presley all that often. As far as career accomplishment goes, and it's pretty far in these cases, I haven't attended Presley nearly as much over as extended a period as Smokey Robinson, or the Ramones, or Louis Jordan (another natural born movie star), or Van Morrison, or Thelonious Monk, or, for that matter, since period extension doesn't matter that much if you can put the greatest hits on repeat, Nellie Lutcher, or the Shangri-Las, or Slim and Slam, or Gene Pitney, or, give 'im credit, Rufus Thomas.

Take away even the supportive statistics-slanting narrative of a reasonably sized career, and I find that mostly my shell-like ear is dedicated to scooping up popular music's brine shrimp and sea monkeys. Like Sam Phillips must've realized somehow deep inside, the moment doesn't require that narrative: the sales crew is who wants the narrative.

Maybe that's why us old-timey hip-hop fans have been let down, over and over, when we thought the star who could sustain had finally appeared out of the east or the west, re-establishing that nice secure rock-and-roll career path so the musicians who gave us pleasure wouldn't have to be scrounging around at pension time. Who we got as a grand old master all these years later, post Flash and Run and Roxanne and Markie and Marley and L. L. and Scott and the JBs and Kool G. and Polo? Dr. Dre, huh? Fuck. Dr. Dre, that's it?

Elvis means something to me, but the meaning only requires occasional pinches to wake it up. So Elvis must mean something outside of just listening to music proper.

That would make him a figurehead. A person who's a symbol. In this case, a hillbilly cat screwed up by too much money.

Is that politics? Kind of.

That's the thing with kings, right? They're politics, they're apolitical; person, symbol; your enemy, and not even in the same game. You don't get to pick them, and it doesn't matter much what you think of them. They change things when they show up. They're what you're stuck with till they die. (And if you're a good patriotic American, you won't be all that quick to replace them.)

And amongst the royalty? Forgetting Smokey and Mr. Jordan and so on, who were just working hard, doing their thing? Compared to icy pricks like Sinatra and Bing Crosby? Yeah, Elvis is my king.

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2003 Ray Davis.