Elvis Presley and True Love
It was a pretty Elvisey weekend in my house. My partner has this great painting of Elvis shedding a single tear on a velvety backdrop that has been overlooking our kitchen for several months; just this weekend he got around to creating a frame for it. The frame was quite an undertaking: all built, decorated, and painted by hand. What I thought would be an embarrassing eyesore is, thanks to my honey’s natural artistic abilities and perfectionist tendencies, now our home’s centrepiece. (Good thing the landlords are replacing the floor next week because they wouldn’t be so happy about the spilled gold paint…and that’s all I’ll give away about what he made.)
I decided to give my honey one of his Christmas presents early to commemorate the proper housing of the King in our house: the Elvis holiday three-CD set, which he surprisingly didn’t have in his collection. So we ended up with a pretty Elvis weekend. My partner is, obviously, a huge fan. He spent his childhood performing along with his parents’ collection of Elvis records, collected memorabilia, and remembers the day Elvis died with great clarity, even though he was only ten.
It doesn’t stop there. We’ve hired a rockabilly band for our wedding, and we’re heading to Graceland on our honeymoon, so Elvis is suddenly influencing my life in ways I never thought would happen.
You see, I was never much of an Elvis fan. I grew up with Beatles-era parents, who, despite the short span of years between Elvis’s and the Beatles’ popularity, really epitomized the rapidity with which pop culture is discarded and viewed as old-fashioned by teenagers. (Case in point: my brother, four years younger than me, still laughs at my ten-year-old obsession with Richard Marx and Rick Astley. By the time he was ten, they had been replaced by Vanilla Ice.) Anyway, my parents were not, and still aren’t, fans of early rock, associating music of the mid-50s with the conservatism that their generation so desperately sought to subvert only ten years later. As I grew up, Elvis was the subject of mild ridicule and over-the-top imitation, his face only familiar to me through postage stamps and nostalgic montages of 1950s imagery. I had a vague sense of his cultural impact, but his songs all sounded the same to me and weren’t nearly as cool as those by NKOTB.
It wasn’t until I was a TA for my supervisor’s undergrad class on popular music that I recognized what a powerful effect Elvis had. My prof spent an entire lecture going over the differences between Arthur Crudup’s and Elvis’s versions of “That’s Alright Mama,” focusing on those beautiful scoops (especially on the second syllables of ‘Mama’), choked hiccups, and frequent timbre changes. Anyone who can manipulate their voice like that and house so much pent-up energy in their vocal performance alone deserves the kind of attention Elvis has received. So, I started listening more and began to promote him to my still reticent parents.
When I went on to teach my own classes in popular music, I shied away from doing too much with Elvis; I still didn’t feel I was enough of a fan to properly teach him (for some reason, this hasn’t kept me away from reggae [ugh, ugh] or rap, which, after doing a lot of research, I have come to really enjoy). So I brought a guest Elvis expert in to do it.
But the avoidance couldn’t last once I found my sweetheart. He is among the better Elvis imitators that I’ve heard(although he’s seriously competing with Billy Cowsill, who is still number one in my mind). I often make poor attempts at singing the songs just to get him to laugh at me and show me the “correct” way. He read the entirety of Peter Guralnick’s Careless Love while we dated, telling me details and reading me quotes out loud. As a homecoming gift when he last came back from a fieldwork trip to Japan, I bought him a bookcase to hold his entire collection of Elvis books (just kidding, but he does have a lot, including a fantastic one from Thailand).
So I’m still no Elvis expert, but I’m slowly becoming one. He watches over me when I cook, he serenades me while I decorate the Christmas tree, and he is a way for me to get closer to the man I love. I never would have guessed, but I guess I’m not surprised.