Long live the King


A month or so ago, Cypriot West End performer Mario Kombou, considered the world’s foremost Elvis impersonator was in Cyprus for a series of concerts. I couldn’t go but heard that he put on a great show me. Still, to me there can only be one Elvis.


When I was much young and innocent, and most of my friends were listening to Michael Jackson, I was busy amassing a collection of Elvis books, tapes and memorabilia. I was fascinated by the music and by the man himself. At the age of twelve, I wanted to grow my sideburns just like Elvis. Being only twelve, I found this somewhat impossible.


Elvis Presley’s music was an odd fusion of country music and blues, with dashes of gospel and of the plaintive sounds of bluegrass. Elvis apparently admired Mario Lanza too and in the 1960’s became a fan of both Dylan and the Beatles. But whatever his influences, Elvis was unique. Fifty years before Eminem, here was a white man singing black people’s music who became worshipped by the young and derided by the old.


It all started on the 8th of January 1935 in a little narrow house in Tupelo Mississippi- what they call a shotgun shack in America. Little Elvis Presley was one of two twins, but his brother Jessie was stillborn.


Mother Gladys doted on her only son. It is said that in 1946 Gladys took her son to a hardware store to buy him a gift. Elvis wanted a bicycle (or a rifle, depending on who you believe) but Gladys decided a guitar was cheaper and safer. It was on that guitar that Elvis worked out how to play the music of Bill Monroe and Arthur Crudup. Six years later a shy young Elvis walked into Sun Studios in Memphis Tennessee to record a song for his mother.


Sun’s owner Sam Phillips wasn’t convinced that Elvis, a truck driver at the time, had a future as a singer until the latter sang “That’s All Right Mama” in 1954. The rest, it seems, is history, Elvis was a singing sensation and he toured the nation over the next few years singing rock and roll songs written by the best songsmiths in the business. RCA records signed him up and Colonel Tom Parker, one of those honourary Southern Colonels with no military experience, convinced Elvis he needed a manager. Parker’s previous management job was with dancing chickens.


In 1958 Elvis went to the army and two years later came back a different man. The wild streak was gone. This Elvis wanted to settled down and make movies with little kids, fluffy puppies, and pretty girls frolicking in the surf. The movies were as sickeningly sweet and as candy floss and only half as substantial. Their whole purpose was to promote Elvis- See Elvis sing to a sick kid! See Elvis drive a racing car! See Elvis sing to a puppy! See Elvis frolic in the surf with pretty girls!   


Later Elvis got married, had a kid, tried to make a comeback, got divorced, took handfuls of painkillers, doubled in size and in 1977 died sitting on the toilet (unless he’s still alive). The King was dead. Elvis had permanently left the building. And, to paraphrase what he said in his recording of the famous song, after they edited out all the burps, he did it his way.


But we must remember him for all the joy and the wonderful music he gave us and not as the bloated shadow of his former self that he became- the first Elvis impersonator. Elvis helped make the world a far more interesting place, maybe even a better place. The little boy who was born this week in 1935, the young man who loved his mother and his Cadillacs, the musician who gave the world new songs and brought white and black together deserves being remembered. And what better way to remember him than listening to his music? Especially if you’re lonesome tonight.   

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