Picking up on Grant’s thought….
Was mulling over, this morning, my sideswipe-quick comment-contribution to Grant’s “heretic confession” post of Sunday, in which I declared, “I have no use for Elvis.” I liked the brevity of that statement, but it does obviously open the door to further examination (i.e., “Are you crazy?!”)….so, just a couple of further thoughts this morning to extend out the notion a little bit.
What got me thinking about the statement was recalling how many artists I’ve interviewed over the years who mentioned having seen Presley’s famous early appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and saying that it was a catalyzing moment for them, a point at which they knew they wanted to play music when they grew up. Which is most certainly a valid point, for what it is – and that would simply be further proof of Presley’s undeniable influence on American pop music.
Where I step off the bus, though, is with the inference that somehow an artist should necessarily appeal to me simply because he/she was influential to other artists I appreciate. It’s true, for instance, that several artists whose music I hold dear have noted Presley’s early impact on them (one of them was Alejandro Escovedo, and I think another was Dave Alvin; would take some digging to find the quotes of others, but suffice to say I specifically recall it being one of those details that has just tended to come up in repeated interviews over the years). But my connection to the music of Escovedo, for example, doesn’t mean it necessarily follows that I will be similarly enamored with the artists who influenced him.
Escovedo’s sort of an ideal case in point here, actually, because his influences are pretty wide-ranging, and in fact include quite a few artists who never held much sway for me (from T. Rex to Malo to the Stones). Rather, it’s the way he amalgamizes all of these influences (along with those of ones I do connect with, from Gram Parsons to Doug Sahm to the Velvet Underground) that makes the magic; he emerges with a sound which, for all its disparate elements, is very much his own, and which has long had me under its spell.
All of which is simply to argue: Don’t worry so much about the “influences” stuff. I think I occasionally spent too much time (and money) in my formative years tracing down the records that some of my favorite artists (and/or critics who championed them) cited as being central to their development, only to find that I just couldn’t connect with the stuff in the same way. While it can still be interesting – and any such sojourn has value from an educational standpoint – you can’t necessarily expect to be moved by the same sounds that motivated your heroes. It’s just one of those mathematical associative/transitive-type properties that doesn’t follow into art.
And so, I have no use for Elvis. And that’s OK, with me at least.