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
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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