by Caroline Klibanoff
Today marks the anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. It’s been 33 years since he died rather famously, the stuff of legend, at age 42. I have met people that have never listened to Elvis. This astonishes me, though perhaps it shouldn’t; his music can seem dated today, his story told and re-told so many times it’s now less like a legend of rock ‘n’ roll than a tired old movie plot rehashed again and again. It becomes one of those snoozefest tales your dad tells you while he’s driving somewhere and you’re literally subject to his will and his memory, trapped as you are in the front passenger seat by a seatbelt and the car’s velocity. But more than that, I have met people that have listened to Elvis and still never really heard him, never truly given his music that concerted listening it deserves. They admit his story and his influence, but for them his music moves no bones, stirs no heart. I get it. I feel the same about, say, Frank Sinatra. And it’s not that it is somehow wrong to have a deep love for rock ‘n’ roll music, or even the blues, without giving Elvis records a second listen; it’s just something you might want to consider, is all. He has a remarkable talent for saying beautifully simple things in an incredibly truthful way. I didn’t get it until I saw footage of Elvis live, namely his seminal 1973 performance in Hawaii. See below:
To visit Sun Studio today is to hear an earful about Cash and little about the rest of the group — perhaps the staff figures the next stop on your Memphis road trip is Graceland, and I guess it’s justified for them to think that, because if Graceland isn’t your next stop it should be.
Cheesy? Take one look at the numerous Elvis impersonators visiting the site, the elaborate memorials placed by eager fans, or the chintzy shag green carpet in the house and you’ll have your answer. Cheesy doesn’t even begin to cover it.
But Graceland remains one of the most moving places I have ever visited in my life. The tour lets you get underneath the Elvis myth. And then there’s his grave. Amid hordes of fans come to pay their respects, having just gained a new appreciation for The King’s music and life from the house-turned-museum, it’s more than a bit uncomfortable to suddenly be confronted with his gravestone, with the cold, hard fact that this humbly-rooted tour de force is laid in the ground right before your feet, excuse my bluntness, dead as a doornail. That, to me, says a lot. You want immortality? Do something as great as Elvis Presley, whose legacy is so powerful you literally forget he’s no longer alive when you listen to his music and read about his life.
After all, his influence seems inescapable: my favorite Elvis song, “True Love Travels on a Gravel Road,” was “Golddigger” long before Kanye West was even conceived as an idea in his parent’s minds, and “Stuck On You” made famous the blues-rock riff you can hear in every blues-rock song since. The opening line of “Viva Las Vegas,” along with the skittering beat, is perfect for anyone jonesing for escape: “Bright lights city gonna set my soul on fire.” His phrasing and intonation is flawless on “Don’t be Cruel.” “Burnin’ Love?” Tell me you don’t want to listen to this every morning when you wake up. And even the classic “Hound Dog” is worth a revisit, given its handclaps and rapid-fire drum break.