Sunday, December 30, 2012

Here I am, come meet a lonely, lonely man

Peter Guralnick's Careless Love, the second volume in his two-volume biography of Elvis, weaves together many stories and themes in an effort to both chronicle Elvis's career from his army service to his death and to explain what led to his death at such a young age. It is impossible to touch on every facet of the 661-page book without just summarizing the story, so I'm choosing to use the song "Lonely Man," which was part of the soundtrack to the 1961 movie, Wild in the Country, to highlight some of the main themes Guralnick emphasized in his chronicle of the second half of Elvis's life.

It's a lonely man who wanders all around...

Elvis returned home from Germany a changed man, still suffering the grief of his mother's death two years before, already addicted to amphetamines acquired in the army, and with almost unending energy to party and play all night. The group of guys took shape at this time, becoming a constant presence, including at his 1960 recording sessions shortly after his return home. As soon as he got home, Elvis resumed his role as the breadwinner and leader of the pack, both of the guys and his family.
He felt sometimes as if there were a weight pressing down on him that he could no longer bear. He was surrounded by friends and relatives, all dependent on him, all looking to him for help, for guidance, for handouts - for something. He could give them jobs, he could dispense money and favors, on the surface they all deferred to him, and he was clearly the one in charge - but in his darkest moments he suspected that it was all a masquerade, they were like bluebottle flies buzzing around a dung heap, with no more loyalty to him than a fly would feel. (78)
Elvis was not really "one of the guys." Because of his fame and money, he was isolated from his family and friends. He also never quite shook the shyness and awkwardness of his pre-fame days. In spite of the fact that he had a safety net of guys around, and a revolving door of women with whom he sometimes just talked, sometimes did more than talk, Elvis seemed to be always set apart from everyone else in his life. Some of his relationships with women - with Priscilla, Linda, perhaps with Ann-Margret - gave him the outlet he needed to be himself. But even then, he could be only himself in fleeting moments, like while watching TV in his bedroom, with the curtains closed to shut out the rest of the world.

Searchin', always searchin', for something he can't find...
Elvis's dissatisfaction with his career led him to try to find meaning through other avenues, namely spiritual ones. With the help of his hairdresser, Larry Geller, Elvis explored various philosophies in his attempt to define a purpose for his life, in order to find something worthwhile amidst the mundane reality of his career. During one of the cross-country trips aboard his bus, Elvis believed that he saw the face of God in the clouds. He was about to give up on his spiritual quest, believing that God wasn't listening to him, when he had this vision that brought him to tears. He so wanted to feel something real, to experience something emotionally significant. Everything else in his life seemed superficial and out of his control; through his spiritual explorations, Elvis was taking charge of at least one part of his life and finding satisfaction in it.

While Elvis's interest in spirituality was sincere, and his spiritual quest was an ongoing part of his life, he was also known for being obsessed with something until he tired of it and then moved onto the next obsession. Larry eventually fell out of favor and Elvis became obsessed with karate. He talked about producing a documentary about the martial arts and even funded a karate school. He also bought the Circle G ranch and played the rancher until it became financially unfeasible. All of these hobbies and obsessions were just ways for Elvis to escape from his life and implicitly give the Colonel permission to run his career while he ran his personal life.

Always so unhappy, taking shelter where he can. Here I am, come meet a lonely, lonely man.

During the movie years, Elvis felt that he had become the laughing-stock of Hollywood. His dreams of being a serious actor never materialized and the movies he was contracted to make just served to embarrass and frustrate him. In 1964, an article appeared in the Las Vegas Desert News and Telegram, which, according to Guralnick, confirmed all of Elvis's worst fears.  
Would you believe that Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole owe part of their current success to Elvis Presley? These two brilliant actors...might not have had the opportunity to star in [Becket] were it not for Sir Swivel Hips. ...Elvis helped finance Becket indirectly. Producer Hal Wallis, who has made Presley's biggest hits, also produced Becket. And were it not for the revenue from Elvis' movies, there might not have been the wherewithal to film Becket. Says Wallis, "In order to do the artistic pictures, it is necessary to make the commercially successful Presley pictures. But that doesn't mean a Presley picture can't have quality, too." ...At the moment Wallis is shooting Roustabout, starring Elvis. This story may not be the greatest, but then O'Toole and Burton can't sing like Elvis either. (171)
The Colonel was a blessing and a curse. He certainly catapulted Elvis from the southern tour circuit to a nationwide audience. He succeeded in making Elvis a household name and making Elvis a very rich man. The Colonel also succeeded in making himself a very rich man, often at the expense of Elvis's artistry. The Colonel made the Hollywood deals, allowing Elvis to be pigeon-holed into formulaic movies with increasingly bad soundtracks. He kept Elvis on tour in the '70s, even when it was clear that Elvis was unwell and the combination of the exhausting tour schedule and his drug use was leading him to an early grave. For Elvis's part, he didn't do nearly enough to stand up for himself and fight for more creative control. He did manage to record a few gospel albums, and he went along with NBC's plan for the comeback show instead of doing the Christmas special that the Colonel originally championed, but he never made any global changes to his career. He never seemed to fight for control over his professional life.

Part of the issue was that it wasn't really within Elvis to be confrontational. He might blow up at people from time to time, but he always apologized and tried to make things right with them. On the one hand, Elvis remained naive and immature in many ways, and that probably made him more comfortable with just going along with what the Colonel wanted to do. On the other hand, he became increasingly apathetic, too, and sometimes just didn't really care.

Of course, the drugs also played a large role in Elvis's unhappiness and in the stunting of his professional growth. The pills made Elvis moody, made him lose focus, and caused numerous other health problems. It's amazing how many times Elvis was hospitalized after his body had an extreme reaction to the cocktail of drugs he was taking, especially when you think about the fact that he was only in his late 30s and early 40s when this was going on. The drug issue gets back to the original problem of loneliness and isolation, too: with no one able to confront Elvis without fearing for his livelihood, including his doctors, Elvis was allowed to deny the existence of a drug problem and keep on going as if nothing was the matter.

In the end, Careless Love is about Elvis's wanderings and wonderings through the second half of his life. It is a sad, frustrating story, but one that also shows glimmers of hope, deep emotion, great talent, and beautiful artistry. It's very easy to focus on the sadder, more negative parts of Elvis's life because of the circumstances under which he died and his very public decline. I, however, want to close with some of my favorite quotes from the book that demonstrate Elvis's beauty and musicality that I think deserve our respect and remembrance.

The former lead singer of the Statesmen, Jake Hess, talking about Elvis's 1966 gospel recording session:
Elvis was one of those individuals, when he sang a song, he just seemed to live every word of it. There's other people that have a voice that's maybe as great or greater than Presley's, I don't know, but he had that certain something that everyone searches for all during their lifetime. You know, he sang a lot with his eyes closed, and I think the reason for that was because he [wanted] to have a picture in his mind at all times; if something was distracting him to where he couldn't put his heart into what he was doing, he would close his eyes, so he could get that picture of what he was talking about. That's the reason he communicated with the audience so well. (232)
About the finale of the '68 comeback special, "If I Can Dream":
Although he is singing to a full orchestral backing, it is the voice that predominates, as much as it would if he were singing unaccompanied.... The song is a well-intentioned liberal statement about peace and brotherhood and universal understanding, but it is not the lyrics that command our attention over the gulf of years. It is, rather, the pain and conviction and raw emotion in Elvis' voice as he sings of a world "where all my brothers walk hand in hand" and almost screams out the last line: "Please/let my dream/come true/Right now." (310)
From Norbert Putnam, bass player during the Nashville recording session in 1970:
...I came to understand, he expressed so many things with his voice - the lyrical content had nothing to do with what was happening [for] him. He was the only artist I ever worked with that could zing you - with the 'Elvis thing' - whenever he wanted. He was the greatest communicator of emotion that I ever knew, from beginning to end. (382)
Elvis, speaking to Kathy Westmoreland in May 1977: "His mission in life, he said, was 'to make people happy with music. And I'll never stop until the day I die'" (635).

Peter Guralnick at the end of the book, reflecting upon Elvis's lasting legacy (emphasis is mine):
Long before he was laid in the grave, the legend of Elvis' success, the one trademark it was impossible for even the Colonel to register, had been retailed over and over again, but now it was overwhelmed in a flood of reminiscences that a first strove to deny the "frail humanity" that bound him to the rest of the human race, then rushed to condemn him for it. The cacophony of voices that have joined together to create a chorus of informed opinion, uninformed speculation, hagiography, symbolism, and blame, can be difficult at times to drown out, but in the end there is only one voice that counts. It is the voice that the world first heard on those bright yellow Sun 78s, whose original insignia, a crowing rooster surrounded by boldly stylized sunbeams and a border of musical notes, sought to proclaim the dawning of a new day. It is impossible to silence that voice; you cannot miss it when you listen to "That's All Right" or "Mystery Train" or "Blue Moon of Kentucky" or any of the songs with which Elvis continued to convey his sense of unlimited possibilities almost to the end of his life. It is that sense of aspiration as much as any historical signposts or goals that continues to communicate directly with a public that recognized in Elvis a kindred spirit from the first. That is what we have to remember. In the face of facts, for all that we have come to know, it is necessary to listen unprejudiced and unencumbered if we are to hear Elvis' message: the proclamation of emotions long suppressed, the embrace of a vulnerability culturally denied, the unabashed striving for freedom. Elvis Presley may have lost his way, but even in his darkest moments, he still retained some of the same innocent transparency that first defined the difference in the music and the man. More than most, he had an awareness of his own limitations; his very faith was tested by his recognition of how far he had fallen from what he had set out to achieve - but for all of his doubt, for all of his disappointment, for all of the self-loathing that he frequently felt, and all of the disillusionment and fear, he continued to believe in a democratic ideal of redemptive transformation, he continued to seek out a connection with a public that embraced him not for what he was but for what he sought to be. (661)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite Deluxe DVD, Disc 2

I finally watched the second DVD in the 2-DVD Aloha set I bought at Graceland during Elvis Week. Because the main concert material is the same as the raw footage on disc 1, I'll just concentrate on the parts that are unique to disc 2 and the U.S. broadcast version.

Post-Concert "Insert" Songs Session
January 14, 1973
Elvis looks like he's singing with his eyes closed the whole time until you see that he's reading cue cards that people are holding below the stage, so he's just looking down. I don't know why they didn't have the guy with the cue cards stand on a ladder or something that would have brought him up to the level of the stage. It just seems like not a lot of thought or effort went into these recordings, particularly because Elvis was shown singing them during the broadcast. If we had just heard him, it wouldn't have been as bad.
All of the songs from Blue Hawaii were in the wrong key and the instrumentation was corny and nothing like the arrangement for the original soundtrack. I know Elvis's voice got lower as he got older, but they could have picked a better key.

Elvis, Aloha from Hawaii NBC TV Special
April 4, 1973 Broadcast Version
I have to take a crack at the inserts in the broadcast version because they were so weird/corny.
1) Early Morning Rain
Scene: Random Hawaiian dude walking along the beach with his shirt open, clearly conscious that he's being filmed walking along the beach. It is not the early morning, nor is it raining. Eventually, he takes a yellow Jeep into a field or pineapple plantation and drives around/walks around without his shirt on. He gets his shirt back just in time to go to the airport, stand on the tarmac, and look at an airplane. Eventually he gets back in his yellow Jeep and moves on.
2) Blue Hawaii
Scene: On one part of the screen, a hula dancer dances along to Elvis's singing while on another screen, a blonde woman wearing a blue loose dress that makes her look pregnant kneels on the beach looking into a birdcage.
3) Hawaiian Wedding Song
Scene: We see two hands rubbing each other in what I can only describe as hand sex. Eventually we see the people to whom those hands belong and they're looking at each other lovingly under a palm tree.
4) Ku-U-I-Po
Scene: A young couple is on the beach, and suddenly, the girl decides to run away. The guy then chases her and catches her in something like a cliche film scene.

In one of these montages, a guy slides down a waterfall. I think this show should have been called, "Elvis, Aloha from Hawaii, and the State of Hawaii's Travel Video."

Let me reiterate for the umpteenth time: Aloha is no '68 Comeback, That's the Way It Is, or even Elvis on Tour. I'm still glad to have it as part of my collection, though, since we have relatively few films of Elvis concerts (at least of decent viewing quality).

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Its not like we could have expected her to become a doctor or a lawyer or a scientist, right?

It is a credit to Lisa Marie Presley's lack of imagination that she has chosen to spend her flush life pursuing the one thing she is unequivocably unsuited for: she wants to be a singer.

I'm sorry, I cant help but be suspicious of this whim of hers to try her hand at being a singer, I cant help feeling this is a calculated gambit in the continuing fleecing of that special contingent of Elvis fans who are simple rubes, who toss away their money while clinging to some blind devotion to their hero (and that means tossing money to their hero's daughter).

I mean, really - a duet with her dad? Her dead dad, as if you needed reminding. How much can you duet with a dead man, anyway? This is electronic engineering, nothing else. And this is the second (!) such duet with her dead dad - was the first one (a team up on "In The Ghetto") such a success that fans were screaming for another one? So, it is not just a shameless enterprise to go back to this particular well again, but then to do "I Love You Because" and make a music video comprised of clips of Lisa Marie's home movies featuring Elvis to tug on the heart strings and purse strings of Elvis fans is simply unconscionable.

Lisa Marie's albums (sorry, CDs) are full of songs that she herself wrote so I do give her props for that. It doesn't matter that these songs fail to rise above the level of girls-college-dormitory-angst, they are original and she is trying to express herself. But, I guess these albums (sorry, CDs) werent selling so Lisa Marie found she must resort to tapping this Elvis well again.

Is Lisa Marie a born singer, a burning talent that will, nay, MUST, out? I have read many Elvis books, and Lisa Marie was always a tangential presence at best (the young moppet both neglected and spoiled by her absentee daddy). Still, does anyone recall any mention of Lisa Marie ever expressing any desire to be a singer when she grew up? Were there stories somewhere of Lisa Marie sitting with her dad and the two of them harmonizing together? Maile, please let me know if any stories of this sort made its way into CARELESS LOVE.

It seems strange that Lisa Marie wants to pursue something that was the very reason her dad was an absentee dad much of the time while she was growing up, and when he was around, she was witness to the fact that her dad's chosen occupation was destroying him.  You can't claim that, oh, the poor dear, she was so young so she wouldn't know what was happening: my kids who are 4+ years old and 1+ years old notice and specifically point out things like when I get a haircut or when a new bag appears under my tired eyes; how can we think Lisa Marie did not notice that her dad was getting fatter and fatter and behaving more and more strangely.

But, ok, for the time being, lets not question her motives, lets just agree she wants to be a singer.

What exactly is it that she wants to sing? Pop music? Pop music is disposable so that seems fitting for her. Rock 'n Roll, like her daddy? I know rock 'n roll music and what comes out of her mouth is not rock 'n roll.  Blues? Please - she doesnt have the passion to be a blues singer and outside of being witness to her unconscious dad being worked on by paramedics who are trying to revive him, I don't think she has experienced any kind of heartbreak trauma to come out and sing the blues (busted relationships / marriages to certifiable freaks like Michael Jackson and Nicholas Cage (one or more of which was probably some kind of publicity stunt), hardly give you the right much less the material to sing the blues). Country? Well, country music and it's fans tend to embrace even the most untalented of individuals.

But, ok, for the time being, lets not question her motives, lets just agree she wants to be a singer and, yes, pop music is her thang. 

Does she have the instrument, a voice? Having listened to some tracks from her albums, I find her voice to be toneless, without any range of expression, it's too low, too husky, lacking in any musicality (Maile, being a singer herself, can help me out with using more technical jargon to describe the mechanics of Lisa Marie's voice). 

But, ok, for the time being, lets not question her motives, lets just agree she wants to be a singer and, yes, pop music is her thang but she has no voice - the history of pop music is filled with arena-filling no-talents with no voice who still manage to release hit singles (a good producer can hide anything with enough mixing and over-production). 

Does she have a "look" to fall back on? Remember Madonna in her early years? It can be argued that Madonna wasnt much of a singer in the beginning, and she specialized in pop confections like "Borderline" but, man, did she have a look. Well, Lisa Marie looks like Elvis, which would be great except she is a woman, and the result is that she looks like a drag queen (the aforesaid low voice adds to the illusion of a drag queen).  I like to think that I have learned to appreciate Woman (with a capital "W") in all sizes and shapes (I love Chagall's ugly women, Rubens' fat women, Botticelli's beautiful women and Degas' shapely women) but I have to say Lisa Marie just...doesn't do it for me. I myself do not find her attractive and an offer from her to come to her hotel room for bountiful sex would raise nary an eyebrow on me. We all know of Elvis' ability to dress with style (not only were those Vegas jumpsuits awesome looking, but check out what Elvis wore, say, to the JayCees Ten Outstanding Men 1970 ceremony and elsewhere in his private life). Lisa Marie, by contrast, has no discernible style in clothing or appearance. She has no presence or personality at all, she is just there although you would be forgiven for not noticing her.

But, ok, for the time being, lets not question her motives, lets just agree she wants to be a singer and, yes, pop music is her thang but she has no voice and she has no style and the issue of her looks, while not appealing to me, is a purely subjective assessment on my part.

Does she have talent of any kind? One need only look at this clip of Lisa Marie's recent appearance at the Grand Ole Opry to provide an answer to that:question:

What stage presence! Look how she works that stage! Look how she works the crowd! 

In the end, I know Lisa Marie will never amount to even a blip in the world of music (pop music, country music, whatever) but, perhaps because I am an Elvis fan, I find that her cash-in attempts (these duets in particular) promote values that deaden the sensibilities of a great democracy.  


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mourning the loss, yet again

I just finished Careless Love and have posted a brief review on Goodreads, which I'll also repost below. I will follow up with a more lengthy review soon.

An unapologetic look at Elvis for the second half of his life, written seemingly without an agenda. You see the weaknesses and the strengths of the man; Guralnick doesn't paint a rosy picture, but he doesn't go out of his way to kick Elvis when he's down. Probably the most balanced version of Elvis's life story that I've read. The end will always be so tragically sad, no matter who the author is, and that's why the book gets 4 stars instead of 5. Guralnick ended the book with respect and with a tribute to Elvis's spirit and his music, and with a great quote from a 1962 interview:

Well, I've tried to be the same all through this thing, you know, he declared early on. Naturally, you learn a lot about people, and you get involved in a lot of different situations, but I've tried to be the same. I mean, the way I was brought up, I've always considered other people's feelings; I've never - in other words, I didn't kick anybody on my way. I don't just sign the autographs and the pictures and so forth to help my popularity or make them like me. I do it because I know that they're sincere, and they see you and they want an autograph to take home, and they've got an autograph book, or they've got their little camera. They don't know the kind of life you lead, they don't know what kind of person you are. And so - I try to remember that. That's all. It's simple. It's just the way I was brought up [by] my mother and father to believe and have respect for other people. We were always considerate of other people's feelings.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


I was not going to even mention this title, it is really not worth mentioning, but, hey, its been a slow month for Elvis-related news and, frankly, this book cover had me laughing my ass off.  I thought these kinds of ridiculously tawdry titles (Elvis! The Mob!! MURDER!!!!), full of outlandish, unverifiable claims, weren't even published in this day and age. 

The lack of a publisher's name on the book spine leads me to believe this is self-published.

I just found it amusing. 


Performance anxiety. Creative block. Call it what you will. I'm stuck.

This used to come so easily.

It's Maile's fault. I think I am moving too fast for her.

Look, it has been a long time since I had an Elvis buddy, a special someone with whom you share a love of all things Elvis, that you can unabashedly obsess over the merits of take 1 of 'Frankie & Johnny" vs the master take used for the soundtrack, that you can analyze and pontificate at length over every single live performance given by Elvis in search of, well, a good performance of a song, yes, maybe some rarity that Elvis performed on stage only a few times, but also clues to Elvis' frame of mind, a glimpse into the metaphysical darkness of existential events (what? Even I don't know where that last bit came from but I am leaving it in).

A long time. 

So it is a bit understandable that I would be overly excited at meeting someone who is not afraid to admit to being an Elvis fan, who listens to Elvis' music on long car trips, who traveled to Graceland of his/her own accord ferchrissakes. And I am positively hyper at the prospect of being able to bequeath onto this new Elvis buddy x-years worth of bootleg collecting.  

My last Elvis buddy (lets call him "G") was the brother of an early ex-Mrs Blofeld's Cat. 

(Actually, there was an Elvis buddy after G, a woman, but, although she was very nice, she was one of those certifiably loony Elvis fans, like she was married to a guy (also a crazy Elvis fan) who modeled his appearance on Elvis, from the pompadour to the 1970s sunglasses and paunch but he was too short to accurately complete the illusion).

In the years I knew G, he was in his most formative, impressionable years (late high school to early college years), somewhat directionless, fatherless. Through a shared a love of movies, an ongoing intense debate as to who was better: Pacino (me) or DeNiro (he), and a taste for the ganja (he was my supplier so he earned a few bucks off of me that way), I was able to introduce him to some culture in my own ways: books to read (I worked in publishing back then, a house with a line of very fine editions of the classics of literature: smoking weed is great but reading Dostoyevsky after smoking some weed is better); jazz music (which, given that G was a confirmed grunge fan, I consider this a personal triumph; I was no expert in jazz, I was learning myself at that time via some jazz encyclopedias from my publishing house and this coincided with cassette tapes being phased off the shelves of the franchise record stores when CDs started to come into vogue so you could always get cassette tapes of jazz really, really cheap); and yes, Elvis and his music (it started with the more outrageous Elvis material, like Elvis' monologues on stage when he was out of his mind but I was able to paint this within the framework of a larger Shakespearean tragedy which made it more interesting to him). 

In order to introduce G to Elvis and jazz and literature, I would make radio shows (actually, these were mix tapes but I'll be damned if I call them that) comprised of carefully programmed music.  Please understand that these shows were thought out, planned, scripted, everything had to flow, be thematically coherent. 

Sadly, any copies I may have had at one time of these radio shows have long since been lost.  All that remains are my notebooks with some draft tracklistings which provide a glimpse of how much I toiled on getting the theme and the flow right (lots of cross outs and lines with arrows indicating move this track up here, that track down there, drop take 7 of "You Don't Know Me" off completely).  

Some greatest hits: one show featured carefully chosen Elvis movie songs bookended by excerpts of Quentin Crisp reading from THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT - these excerpts served to introduce the Elvis song and would comically comment on, say, take 1 of "Frankie & Johnny" or take 9 of "How Would You Like To Be".

Another show was an all poetry special, which featured Elvis songs bookended by the likes of Kerouac and other beats reciting their poetry, Charles Bukowski reading his poetry or William Shatner reading his poetry (!) and yes, Elvis also reciting some poetry ("As I awoke one morning...")!!  Another radio show featured one of Elvis' complete performances, one chock full of his monologues, say the College Park, Maryland show from 1974, chopped up and wrapped with classic jazz music tracks. 

In a way, it was a glorious creative time, in retrospect. 

But I think I am moving too fast with Maile.  

My god, what did I do, I mentioned to Maile that we should each make for the other a mix tape (yes, I used that very phrase, "mix tape"; I am a dork) of our respective favorite Elvis tracks

Of course, my mind is on another radio show. My older self is wanting to recapture some part of my younger self that may be long gone. 

I've already made the mistake of just blindly, hurriedly, excitedly ("Wait till Maile hears this, she will love it") making CDs for Maile already, straight copies, and so I have exhausted a good supply of outtakes and live performance tracks. 

Adding to my creative impotence at the moment is a sense I have that Maile is hesitant. Maile is an Elvis fan, one of those true bloods who loves his music, who remembers fondly watching Elvis' movies when just a child. But Maile is not interested in a trip to the dark side. Maile is not interested (yet?) in listening to, say, a tape recording circa 1976 of the last phone conversation between Elvis and Red West, after Elvis had fired Red, or, rather, had his dad fire Red, and Red is trying to to get a woozy, drugged Elvis to admit that what Elvis did was really shitty. Or listening to a phone conversation between Arlene (obviously a former one night stand) and an Elvis who is clearly not interested in talking to her. And forget about College Park, MD 1974 and most of 1977. Believe me, I can understand that only the truly demented Elvis obsessive would have any interest in hearing Jackie Kahane's act or hear the Sweet Inspirations opening set.

So I am working to put together a CD of some Elvis tunes that are on constant play on my Ipod, cherry-picking from the bootlegs so hopefully this will be material Maile hasnt heard before (although with my Elvis collection in such disarray, some on CD, some of which is just digital files on who knows which one of dozens of different portable hard drives) this is taking too long a time

And still I think about introducing Maile to the dark side.

One show I have been listening to of late would be a perfect start. The September 3, 1973 closing show in Vegas. Elvis has not yet descended to the deranged (as he did in September 1974) but he is becoming unhinged.

How else to explain Elvis coming out on stage in this fashion:

Now, look closely. See anything, uh, strange? Yes, I know the sight of Elvis riding on the back of a fat man is strange, but is there anything else peculiar?

Look closer. What is that on...

Yes, there is a monkey on Elvis' back. He is giving a performance with a monkey on his back. Would Maile be curious to know why? How can Maile not be curious to know whether Elvis is even aware that there is a monkey on his back?

And that is just the start of the show. 

I dont want to give away the high points of the show, but one visual bit of business (of which no photos can be found) that wont be appreciated by listening to the recording is that when Elvis starts singing "What Now My Love", a bed (!) is rolled out on stage and Elvis lies down on the bed and sings the song from there.

Believe it or not, there is a good set list for this particular evening but that is actually secondary to what happens on stage.

Would Maile want to know who this "Mario" person is that Elvis mentions during the show? and why exactly does Elvis decide (in mid-song!) to throw down a challenge to Conrad Hilton (the owner of the Hilton Hotel where Elvis happens to be performing) as well as all of the staff? 

How can Maile not be intrigued enough to take a trip to the dark side?

Notes on Double Trouble

I've finally seen it: the infamous scene in which Elvis was forced to sing a version of "Old MacDonald's Farm." It's one of those stereotypically bad scenes that is referenced by those who write about Elvis because it was so outrageous and embarrassing for him. As I watched it, I was embarrassed for him. It wouldn't have been so bad if he and co-star Annette Day were just sitting on the back of a pickup with a bunch of animals. People in movies tend to do that from time to time. It's just when he sings "ee-i-ee-i-oh" and flaps his arms like a chicken and makes horns with his hands to mimic a cow that you cringe on his behalf. (Elvis, wherever you are, I felt your pain.)

This scene appears in Double Trouble, Elvis's twenty-third film, released in 1967. In this adventure, Elvis plays Guy Lambert, a singer who finds himself dating a 17-year-old girl who just won't leave him alone. He tries to break it off with her when he learns her age, but to no avail. They sail from England to Belgium where she is supposed to attend boarding school and where he has gigs with his band. The music quickly gets moved to the back burner as Guy discovers that Jill's (Day) uncle has hired hit men to kill her before she turns 18 so he can get her inheritance. In addition to dodging hit men, Guy and Jill are also being followed by jewel thieves who stashed their cargo in Guy's suitcase during the trip to Belgium. After running to and fro and managing to ditch one of the hit men in an old well in Antwerp, Guy is arrested by the Wiere Brothers, who made cameo appearances as a comical trio of police officers. In the end, everything turns out all right, I guess (kind of an odd ending - you judge for yourself).

Since I commented on the costuming for Spinout in my last post, I'll mention here that Annette Day looks like Little Bo Peep in some scenes of the film, which makes it even more awkward that she's supposed to be a teenager dating an adult man. I didn't notice as many multi-layered costumes for Elvis this time, but his hair bothered me. He was sporting the same do that he had for Frankie and Johnny (1966), which featured a small tuft of hair sticking out in the center of his forehead, like all of the caricatures you see of him. It wouldn't have been so bad if the rest of his hair wasn't all slicked back. The tousled look was good for him, as was the style of having all of the hair slicked straight back. This one was not his best.

Some of the parallels between Elvis's life and this and some of his other films strike me as interesting. First, the idea that an adult man would never dream of dating a teenager. Priscilla was no longer a teenager when this movie came out, but she did live with him when she was one. Second, the man who is single and carefree and is finally convinced (or forced) to settle down and marry. Again, cue reference to Priscilla. Of course it's entirely possible that the writers (if you can bestow that title upon them) were just trying to create what they thought to be a believable story, but you have to wonder if they had any inspiration or, perhaps, encouragement by a certain Colonel - not just for Double Trouble, but for others too. Just food for thought.

(Aside to Blofeld: I bet the outtakes from the Double Trouble soundtrack recording sessions are entertaining. I imagine some 4-letter words during the "Old MacDonald's Farm" tracks. Am I right?)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What's with Elvis's movie wardrobe?

After just having finished Spinout, I have to ask: what's with Elvis's movie wardrobe? In at least two scenes, it looks like he's wearing three shirts - a turtleneck, a crewneck, and a vest - all under a jacket. Perhaps the turtleneck is actually a Dickie, but it still looks silly. This wardrobe style seemed to be the norm from the mid-1960s Elvis movies on. Why the need to cover up so much? It looks particularly dumb when he's singing by a swimming pool and most of the other people are in bathing suits and he's in a button-down shirt and long pants. In Blue Hawaii we saw him shirtless and in tight short shorts. In Girls! Girls! Girls! he wore short-sleeved polo shirts. In Kid Galahad he was bare-chested and just wearing boxing shorts during all of the boxing matches. It is true that his weight yo-yoed a lot in the mid-'60s, but in Spinout he looked pretty darn good to me. Why not show off those muscular legs? I'm sure I'm not the only person who thinks that some of these fluff movies would have been much improved if we saw fewer bikinis and more swimming trunks.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Elvis Movie Progress

As of August 2012, I had seen roughly 2/3 of Elvis's movies. Before you get indignant, let me say that I had seen the best ones and was missing mainly his later ones, with the exception of Kissin' Cousins (1964) and Roustabout (1964), which somehow I had missed before, even though I know the title songs well.

Since August, I have watched the following films:
The aforementioned Kissin' Cousins and Roustabout
Girl Happy (1965)
Tickle Me (1965)
Paradise Hawaiian Style (1966)
Easy Come, Easy Go (1967)
The Trouble with Girls (1969)

Before seeing all of these, I thought I had seen Paradise Hawaiian Style but not Tickle Me. It turns out it was the other way around! I just knew the opening theme to Paradise, but the rest of the movie was not familiar at all. Maybe I saw part of it on TV once? On the other hand, I felt major movie deja vu when I watched Tickle Me (and not just because there were scantily-clad girls falling all over Elvis while he was singing). The part that convinced me I'd seen the movie before was when Elvis, his love interest, and the nerdy guy are all trapped in that old hotel and the weird monsters in masks are chasing them all over the place. That's when I knew - that part of the movie was too strange to forget!

Of all of these films, clearly Tickle Me has the soundtrack advantage because a new movie soundtrack was not recorded and, instead, songs were picked up from Elvis is Back! (1960), Something for Everybody (1961), Pot Luck (1962), and the Fun in Acapulco soundtrack (1963). "It's a Long Lonely Highway," one of my favorites, was recorded in 1963 as well and is listed in the Kissin' Cousins soundtrack as a bonus track that was not featured in the film. Some of my favorite songs from the early '60s are represented here, but the fact that the soundtrack is a random compilation of previously-released music makes the soundtrack rather disjointed. It may have been Peter Guralnick who pointed out that the Viva Las Vegas soundtrack (1964) is the only one that resembles a regular musical soundtrack in that it serves to move the plot forward. The Tickle Me soundtrack, while full of great tunes, doesn't serve any purpose in the movie other than to be forms of entertainment for the women at the fat camp.

The title theme in Roustabout is one of those songs that I can I just break into singing, because it's a song I heard a lot growing up on The Essential '60s Masters: Volume II. Other than that tune, the only other really interesting one on the soundtrack is "Little Egypt," though upon close scrutiny of the lyrics you cringe at the racism of the "ying-ying" line (which my sister had to point out as she was watching that part of the movie with me). I've come to accept some of the un-P.C. aspects of Elvis's songs as par for the course when you're dealing with 1950s and 1960s pop culture. I don't condone racism or sexism at all, but if I were to refuse to listen to any Elvis music or watch any of his movies that included one or both of these offenses, I wouldn't be able to watch any of the films, and there would be a bunch of songs I'd have to exclude from my library. I don't believe that Elvis was a racist; I do believe that there were many occasions where he was sexist, but so were a lot of men of his generation. Not to say that it's acceptable, but it's a flaw of his that I have come to accept in order to appreciate the broader impact of his personality and music on our culture.

The Trouble with Girls was an odd duck of sorts, though it had a semi-interesting plot. The odd part is that Elvis was very serious in this film, not the brooding kind of seriousness found in Jailhouse Rock (1957) or Roustabout, but just grown-up serious. It was nice to see a talented co-star (Marlyn Mason). As much as the Colonel wanted Elvis's films to focus exclusively on his client's talent, I think the films in which Elvis had a co-star with similar singing abilities helped balance the pictures and made them seem less like Elvis showcases and more like true films. I'll refer back to Viva Las Vegas and say that Ann-Margret was probably his best co-star in this regard. My favorite song in The Trouble with Girls is "Swing Down Sweet Chariot," originally from the album His Hand in Mine (1960). Though the song works well in the context of the plot - a gospel group needed a fill-in singer for its performance at the festival - Elvis's character seemed out of place singing and moving like he did, based on what we had seen of him throughout the rest of the movie. Elvis's movements were also kind of jerky, like he was trying to imitate the moves that had been so natural to him when he was younger. (Is this his fault or the fault of the choreographer? I don't know.)

The inclusion of the two children was interesting, especially since one was white and one was black and it seems to be accepted that they're best friends. This surprises me since the film takes place in the 1920s and the film was made at the end of a decade of racial violence that culminated with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. the year before. Given the racist and sexist elements in his earlier films, this film seems to take a step forward toward racial acceptance. As a student of history, it's interesting to me to analyze how the events going on in the outside world influence popular culture. Of course, the mother of the little girl is still portrayed as a whore because she is single and, therefore, is prone to fool around with a local married man. Clearly not all stereotypes could be abandoned.

Speaking of children, the girl in Paradise Hawaiian Style (Donna Butterworth) was quite talented. I can imagine that Elvis might have felt unhappy about singing with a child because he might have interpreted it as another way that people were making fun of him, but I think she was a good addition to the cast. I think the scene in which dogs are climbing all over him in a helicopter and he's singing "A Dog's Life" would have been much more embarrassing.  Other than the cute scenes between Jan (the little girl) and Elvis, the rest of the movie plays like a typical Elvis movie, in which there's a scheme to start a new business and Elvis chases oodles of women while attempting this endeavor. Of the Hawaii movies, Blue Hawaii (1961) remains my favorite.

Given the length of this post already, I'll just say that I thought Kissin' Cousins was goofy and that Girl Happy failed to live up to its title. Elvis seemed the least crazy about girls in this movie. Shelley Fabares was a good part of the cast, as she falls into the category of talented co-stars. It was funny to watch Gary Crosby, who looked like a younger version of his father, Bing, just with more hair.

Only 5 movies to go! Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite Deluxe DVD, Disc 1

One of the purchases I made at Graceland during my trip last month was the new deluxe DVD set of the Aloha from Hawaii special recorded in January of 1973. It's a two-disc set that includes a short video of Elvis arriving in Hawaii via helicopter on January 9 and being greeted by fans and Hawaiian performers, a rehearsal concert from January 12, and the Aloha concert as it was broadcast around the world on January 14 on Disc 1 and then the post-concert "insert" songs session from January 14 for the U.S. broadcast, which didn't air until April 4, 1973, and the U.S. version of the broadcast on Disc 2. Thus far I have only watched Disc 1 in its entirety, but I wanted to get down some notes before I forgot what I wanted to say.

Elvis Arrives and Greets Fans:
This film shows that Elvis still has a faithful following and that people will still try their hardest to touch him, to get a piece of him. A lot of younger fans greet him, people who were probably children when he got started in the 1950s, and there are also children present. The diversity of the fans shows Elvis's universal appeal and sows the seed for the longevity of Elvis's popularity. Not that his fans in the 1950s weren't faithful, but the fact that he is still attracting new fans almost 20 years after starting his career while retaining the original ones is a powerful statement. (Of course, I think about the enduring legacy of Elvis's music and personality a lot, being a fan who became a fan after he passed away.)

It is also interesting to watch Elvis's interaction with his fans in this video. He seems a little out of it, or perhaps just apprehensive, when he arrives. He kind of gazes around at the crowd, but looks kind of bewildered. Is it jet lag? Is it drug-induced? Is he just worried/scared? It's hard to know without getting inside his head or being privy to the events of the day. He does seem somewhat afraid of the fans. He goes over to greet them, and does shake some of their hands, but their aggressive attempts to touch him and even grab him makes him reluctant to get too close, understandably. You wonder if he became more cautious with time, after having experienced so many "maulings" by fans since the '50s. Overall, it's just a strange interaction between a shy, reluctant man and his screaming fans.

Rehearsal Concert:
I have to disagree with the author of the liner notes, Dave Marsh's, assessment of the rehearsal concert. Marsh writes,

The best version of these songs, though, comes from the night before, the "rehearsal show," where Elvis looks lean, acts loose and lets go musically as he rarely did. ... It's a shame it has taken so long for this show to find its public, because there isn't a better record, in video, film or audio, of what Elvis did once he'd standardized the '70s show and began touring with it regularly. Elvis radiates healthiness, but more important, he sings fabulously, and the ritual he and the audience enact has a depth of feeling on both sides. The main ritual though is the byplay between Elvis and the musicians, who are clearly having a ball, especially at the beginning where there are ample opportunities for Burton to tear off with many of the rock 'n' roll riffs he helped invent.

I will concede that Elvis looked good in this performance - the bloated look of the later years was not present here. That's where our agreement ends. It's not that this show is bad, but Elvis is clearly holding back because it's just a rehearsal, not the worldwide broadcast. He forgets most of the words of "Burning Love" and just keeps singing the same verse over and over. I would have thought this would have been one of the easier songs for him to remember, since he had just recorded it in 1972. He kind of breezes through the old standards, like "Love Me" and "Hound Dog." He really only puts energy into songs that are meaningful to him, like "You Gave Me a Mountain," "I'll Remember You," and "An American Trilogy." The concert does improve as it gets going, but all in all, I wouldn't say that this was an outstanding performance. The audience is certainly enthusiastic, probably because many of them were likely seeing him for the first time, unless they were wealthy enough to get onto the mainland to see some of his Vegas shows or other tours. He does the usual scarf-throwing and kissing during the show, but the electricity that I love about Elvis and that was present in some of the other concert videos (namely the '68 comeback and That's the Way It Is) is not present here. One nice moment is when Elvis tells the audience that they helped raise $75,000 for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund and he expresses his appreciation. Kui Lee was the Hawaiian composer who wrote "I'll Remember You" and died of cancer at age 33.

Elvis, Aloha from Hawaii Concert:
The actual concert is executed better than the rehearsal, but it does not carry the same level of energy as the aforementioned '68 special or That's the Way It Is. Again, the strongest performances are of the more meaningful songs, though the audience clearly enjoys everything. I think some of Elvis's reserve may have come from nerves, knowing that this concert was being broadcast to Australia, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, The Philippines, South Vietnam, and other countries. It was then seen on a delayed basis in approximately 30 European countries shortly after. According to the Deluxe DVD notes, "In all, it was seen in about forty countries by 1-to-1.5 billion people. A global smash. Entertainment events presented live via satellite are common today, but in 1973, this was a first. Never before had one performer held the world's attention in such a way."

To me, the concert is worth viewing if, like me, you want to see every video ever made of Elvis, and/or if you want to see one of his many history-making performances. It is also interesting to see what the rest of the world saw (which I will compare to the U.S. broadcast version in another post). Like the rehearsal, Elvis does warm up as the concert goes on and he becomes more comfortable. Many Elvis documentaries use the performance of "An American Trilogy" as their choice clip from this special, and it is one of his strongest performances in this concert. The emotion and soul that made Elvis's performances so memorable come through in this song.

Overall, this DVD is a great addition to the Elvis archive, but it is not one that I am sure to watch over and over again in its entirety. Thanks to the DVD menu, I'll be able to re-watch the best songs over and over, but I cannot imagine that this DVD will get as much repeat-play as some of my other Elvis DVDs. I hate to be unenthusiastic about anything Elvis did, but the rehearsal concert and worldwide broadcast just did not grab me like his other performances. I was very excited to get this special edition DVD to find gems that I hadn't seen before, but it ended up coming up a little short.

More to come when I watch Disc 2.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

This says it all

Last night, while reading Careless Love, I came across this quote from Jake Hess, the former lead singer of the Statesmen, member of the Imperials, and Elvis's idol, who recorded with Elvis in the spring of 1966. It encapsulates what I love most about Elvis and his music:

Elvis was one of those individuals, when he sang a song, he just seemed to live every word of it. There's other people that have a voice that's maybe as great or greater than Presley's, I don't know, but he had that certain something that everyone searches for all during their lifetime. You know, he sang a lot with his eyes closed, and I think the reason for that was because he [wanted] to have a picture in mind at all times; if something was distracting him to where he couldn't put his heart into what he was doing, he would close his eyes, so he could get that picture of what he was talking about. That's the reason he communicated with the audience so well. (232)

Friday, September 21, 2012


I love when various driving passions of my life come together and form a little piece of heaven here on earth, no matter how fleeting. For instance: ice cream + Starbucks = Starbucks Java Frappucino Ice Cream in the freezer section of my local supermarket.

Now, I love Elvis and I love cult/psychotronic/bad movies. Lord knows, Elvis' own movies are themselves a perfect blending of those two elements. 

By happenstance, I discovered a mention of TOUCHED BY LOVE, an Elvis-related flick from 1980. I haven't seen it but I am now looking into the darkest corners of the internet to find it.

This is apparently a sensitive drama about a young nurse who becomes determined to reach an unresponsive teenage cerebral palsy patient by encouraging her to write to her favorite rock singer, Elvis Presley. Incredibly, this seems to be based on true events(!). The movie is based on a memoir entitled TO ELVIS, WITH LOVE by Lena Canada (published in 1978). 

As with any film, the first thing that catches my attention is the cast. TOUCHED BY LOVE is peppered with faces that would be familiar to the aficionado of cult/psychotronic/bad movies: a pre-hotness Diane Lane; Deborah Raffin (DEATH WISH 3); John Amos (from GOOD TIMES, the 1970s TV series); Clu Galager (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD); Mary Wickes(!) (she has been around since the 1930s);and Cristina Raines ('member her from the cheesy, sleazy THE SENTINEL?)).

Of even more interest to me is the director of this flick.

Let's think for a minute: who would you expect to find as the director of such tear-jerking material as this? 

Why, none other than Gus Trikonis, of course. 


In 1981, Gus directed TAKE THIS JOB AND SHOVE IT (which has an even more amazing cast that only an aficionado of cult/psychotronic/bad movies could love: Robert Hays (AIRPLANE); Barbara Hershey (*swoon*); Tim Thomerson (TRANCERS); Eddie Albert (THE LONGEST YARD); Martin Mull; Art Carney).

Also in 1981, Gus directed another Elvis-related pic (this one a TV movie)(!), ELVIS AND THE BEAUTY QUEEN w/Don Johnson as a fat Elvis (!!) and Stephanie Zimbalist as Linda Thompson(!!!).  This one I do remember seeing and my only lasting impression was thinking that Don Johnson was horrible as Elvis (I seem to recall Don having unconvincing sideburns and wearing those very Elvis sunglasses in every scene). 

Again, I havent seen TOUCHED BY LOVE, but a quick perusal of the internet finds straight-faced descriptions (on of scenes like "Even more moving is a scene where Karen breaks free from the shackles of her physical and psychological despair and begins dancing in her wheelchair to Teddy Bear. Despite her love and admiration for Elvis there is an incredible inner tension for the crippled Karen: "He's so alive. I love him…I could never move like that". "

Maybe it is just that description of that scene but I think this flick sounds hilarious. It sounds like this flick is played too straight and so it tips over into unintentional comedy and the distance of time has probably turned it into a camp classic.  I just dont see the director of SUPERCOCK being able to make scenes like this actually work. Diane Lane became a fine actress years later but she is still a kid here and I expect her performance will be no more than that of a child actor being told by the director of SUPERCOCK how to act dramatically, being told by the director of SUPERCOCK how to act with cerebral palsy, no less.

I guess "Elvis" doesnt make an appearance in the movie; there is no listing in the credits on IMDB for any character named "Elvis". 

Elvis does appear on the soundtrack however. Again, from "Of the six Elvis songs featured in Touched By Love only two are sung by Elvis (Love Me Tender and Reddy Teddy). The others (Don't Be Cruel; Teddy Bear; Hound Dog I Was The One and a second version of Love Me Tender) are very competently sung by a singer shown only in the credits as Alan." 

Icing on the cake: "The end statement of the film says it all: 'To Elvis Presley for his compassion and ability to spread joy'."

Must. See. This. 

No, no, wait, let me amend that: Must. Smoke. Some. Weed. And. Then. Watch. This.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

RIP - Sheila Ryan (1970s Elvis babe)

News comes that Sheila Ryan has passed away.

As you might recall, Sheila was one of Elvis' late period girlfriend babes (I think in 1974 -75, overlapping with the Linda Thompson years).

Sheila has made some memorable "appearances" on disc with Elvis: at the beginning of take 1 of "And I Love You So", Elvis says "Sit up here Sheila, lemme sing to ya, baby." and, of course, who can forget Sheila's appearance at the incredible September 2, 1974 closing show in Vegas when Elvis, completely whacked out of his mind, introduces Priscilla (they are divorced at this point), who is in the audience, but then introduces Sheila, also in the audience, in fact at the same table as Priscilla, and Elvis indulges in a lengthy (over 6 minutes) bit of drama with one of his patented, legendary, stream-of-consciousness monologues, one of several during this show; this particular bit of business is about his divorce settlement and Priscilla and how much she likes a stud!

Sheila makes a very striking appearance on the cover of the classic 4-cd bootleg box A PROFILE: THE KING ON STAGE VOLUME 2 (pictured above).    

As Elvis says during the aforesaid Vegas show (actually about Priscilla but it is appropos to Sheila): "Boy, s-s-she's beautiful izzn't she, I'll tell you fer sure, boy...Boy, I-I-I knows 'em when I picks 'em I think y'know, Hot Damn!"

Saturday, September 15, 2012

O Bootlegs Where Are Thou?

Is it me or does 2012 seem like a slow year for Elvis bootlegs.  Off the top of my head, I cant think of any bootlegs that were, or contained snippets, of any long-lasting ipod-rotation merit. No soundboard concerts (at least none that were anything other than a re-release of a classic bootleg soundboard from yesteryear); no studio outtakes. Only FTD's recent "From Hawaii to Las Vegas" release of a previously-unreleased-in-any-form Vegas rehearsal (!) from 1973(!!) stands out and is currently on replay/study mode on the Ipod. It's not a soundboard but rather it is an audience recording, not great sound, good, but hollow and in some places kind of harsh (when Ronnie Tutt adds a little extra strength to his drumming, it might give you a startle through your headphones). Nevertheless, the sound doesnt distract from Elvis and his performance; he is relaxed, sounds like he's in a good mood, and, even if he is definately holding back on going all out for things like "My Way" or "You Gave Me A Mountain" so as to save something for the actual show later that day, there is some great material here: a "Steamroller Blues" that is slower than you might remember it, a nice slow-building chug-a-lug that Elvis leads beautifully to a big finish; the super-rare "I'm Leaving It All Up to You" that is an impromptu-sounding refrain that Elvis keeps repeating (I know that doesnt sound like much but Elvis and the band sound committed (this is where you need to watch out for Ronnie's drumming in your ears)); and the piece de resistance: Elvis rehearsing "Separate Ways" for possible inclusion in the show!

"Separate Ways" fergodsakes!

I might still be in the glow of "the first time" (the first time I smoke some weed after a few months of having none, the first time I have sex with this or that woman, the first time I hear never-heard-before Elvis material that blows my mind) but, really, this is some phenomonal listening.  Elvis is really working through this song, getting his phrasing just right, trying to make this song work. I cant for the life of me think of why this didnt make the set list. I mean, never??!?! This definately would have went over well in the actual show. Elvis gives a gentle reading during the rehearsal, just think how this would have gone over the stratosphere of perfection if Elvis chose to do it for a tour or two.

This rehearsal is so good it just makes you forget that you arent listening to it in the best possible sound. It is a rare kind of good that can do that.

I tend to avoid audience recordings because soundboards and crystal-clear studio outtakes have really spoiled me. I dont want to spend time with  shows that sound like Elvis and the speakers are too far away and you wind up listening to the chatter and screams of the people holding the recorder and of those in their immediate vacinity.

The upcoming release of a cd entitled "Night on the Town" featuring the March 29, 1975 midnight show in Vegas is providing some temptation to break my rule about avoiding audience recordings.

The March 18 - April 1 Vegas engagement  is actually one of my favorites, based on the evidence provided by the March 22 midnight show featured on one of the cds in the classic 4-cd bootleg box A PROFILE: THE KING ON STAGE VOLUME 2. This show is one of my all-time top 5 favorite shows, featuring what I think is one of Elvis' best performances of "Promised Land" and a a terrific, impromptu-sounding "Youre The Reason I'm Living", a never-before-heard-never-heard-again song from Elvis that is quite spirited and jaunty. There are other shows available (e.g. AZTEC KING with the March 27 midnight show (its an audience recording); BIG BOSS MAN from FTD with the March 28 midnight show; the classic vinyl LP-of-yore bootleg ROCKING WITH ELVIS APRIL FOOLS DAY (April 1 dinner show) and if none of these other shows have achieved the place in my heart that the March 22 show has, it is not due to Elvis' performance - in each show, he is relaxed, in good humor, happy to be there on stage and so he is giving really good performances.

As to this new cd, check out this track list:

Opening Theme - See See Rider - Rip lt Up (exc.) - I Got A Woman / Amen - Love Me - If You Love Me (Let Me Know) - And I Love You So - Big Boss Man - It's Midnight - Burning Love - Introductions - I Can Help (exc.) - My Boy - I'll Remember You - My Heavenly Father (performed by Kathy Westmoreland) - Let Me Be There - The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face - Tiger Man - Can't Help Falling In Love BONUS: Promised Land* - Fairytale* - Help Me** - I'm Leavin'** - Heartbreak Hotel**

See what I mean? "Rip It Up"?!?!? "I Can Help"?!!?!?!  I am sure it is only a line or two of each but I just meant that this shows Elvis was in good humor and having fun. Can't wait to hear what exactly spurs him to do even one line from these things. The rest of the set is fairly standard for this engagement ("Promised Lnad", "Burning Love", "And I Love You So") but "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" is something rarely done in this engagement and do my eyes deceive me or does that track list say "Tiger Man", just "Tiger Man" and not paired with "Mystery Train" like it usually is. Nice. Apparently Kathy Westmoreland gets a number to herself but I can assure you I will skip right over this. The bonus songs also yield surprises with "Heartbreak Hotel"(!) and "I'm Leaving" from the March 28 dinner show.

Touchdown, the label releasing this cd, has (I think) a good reputation amongst collectors with the good packaging of their cds and, I assume, clear sounding audience recordings but I cant say that I have heard any of their prior releases.

So yes, I might be tempted, I might succumb...




Careless Love Progress Report

I am in the midst of reading the second volume in Peter Guralnick's two-volume biography of Elvis. The first volume, Last Train to Memphis, ends with Elvis shipping off to Germany and Careless Love picks up with Elvis's arrival there. I've read the first 171 pages, which brings me to April 1964. A lot has already happened in the 5.5 years chronicled thus far. Guralnick addresses Elvis's deeply-rooted insecurity, from his concern that he would be forgotten while in the Army, to his suspicions about various girlfriends' loyalty to him should they dare to speak to one of his friends. His drug use is brought up repeatedly, starting with his amphetamine abuse in the Army and continuing with the addition of sleeping and diet pills in the early '60s. The author is also sure to establish that Elvis was not alone in his use of pills and quotes Elvis's friends and co-stars who confirm that "everyone" took pills. I don't think these quotes are meant to justify Elvis's use, but I suspect that the cooperative nature of the drug abusing will be addressed later, perhaps to explain why Elvis's friends couldn't prevent him from getting more heavily involved with prescription drugs.

Guralnick is also upfront about Elvis's many dates and love affairs with women/girls who were often much younger than he. His relationship with Priscilla comes to be seen as the norm, rather than an anomaly. His relationships with younger women also tie into the vulnerability that was omnipresent within him: it seems like he was more comfortable opening himself up to people who were not a perceived threat to him. He could never open up to the guys because they would just laugh off his concerns and he would lose his advantage over them as the leader of the pack. He couldn't really date women his own age (mid-twenties) because it might get serious fast and then he'd be expected to commit, which clearly he was not ready to do.

Although the reader does see a lot of Elvis's eccentric behavior early on in the book, Guralnick also continues the thread he started in Last Train to Memphis that shows Elvis's commitment to good work and good music and his intellectual curiosity. He writes of the artistic success of Elvis is Back! (even though it wasn't as commercially successful) and the command Elvis has over his recording sessions. I was intrigued to learn that Charlie Hodge had an influence on Elvis's singing style, providing him with informal voice lessons while they were stationed in Germany. I didn't know about Charlie's formal training until I read about it here. His involvement in Elvis's recordings and concert performances makes way more sense within this context.

In every Elvis biography you read about Elvis's disgust with his movies. What Guralnick adds to the discussion is a critique of Elvis's performances and behind-the-scenes business details that reveal how formulaic the films really were and the fact that they were that way on purpose. Hal Wallis and Colonel Parker wanted to make money. Period. They did not expect Academy Award-worthy pictures. While they were making deals, Elvis was listlessly going through the motions to get the movies done. He did the best he could with the material he was given, but the sense of entrapment and defeat is evident in Guralnick's retelling. His dreams of becoming a serious actor seem to have started slipping away. On p. 171, Guralnick quotes an article published in the Las Vegas Desert News and Telegram on April 20, 1964 that "confirmed all of Elvis' worst fears."

Would you believe that Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole owe part of their current success to Elvis Presley? These two brilliant Shakespearean-trained actors, winning worldwide acclaim for their performances in Becket, might not have had the opportunity to star in the picture, were it not for Sir Swivel Hips. ... Producer Hal Wallis, who has made Presley's biggest hits, also produced Becket. And were it not for the revenue from Elvis' movies, there might not have been the wherewithal to film Becket. Says Wallis, "In order to do the artistic pictures, it is necessary to make the commercially successful Presley pictures. But that doesn't mean a Presley picture can't have quality, too."

After reading the article, Elvis "was unhappy and disillusioned, profoundly dissatisfied with the way his life was going." Leading up to this point, the reader gets the impression that the Colonel's and Elvis's priorities have been diverging and, sadly, it seems that the Colonel's priorities are taking precedence. From this point forward, Elvis will be filming "quickie" movies aimed at making money for himself, the Colonel, and the studio. As the reader, you want this to be a turning point where Elvis puts his foot down and starts to determine his own creative path, but because you already know how the story ends, you just feel frustrated and sad for Elvis that he couldn't take charge and make changes in his own life and you understand why his life turned out like it did.

To be continued...

Monday, September 3, 2012

Review: Easy Come, Easy Go (1967)

In this film, Elvis plays Ted Jackson, a sailor just getting out of the navy who discovers a shipwreck with possible treasure while on his last diving mission to disable a mine. Determined to retrieve the treasure, he teams up with old friend and business partner Judd Whitman (Pat Harrington) and the cooky Captain Jack (Frank McHugh) to rent a boat and diving equipment. There are obstacles he must overcome, which in this case are the competing treasure-seekers Dina Bishop (Pat Priest) and Gil Carey (Skip Ward).

As with every other Elvis movie, Ted (Elvis) has a fist fight with his chief competitor, Gil, on board Dina's boat. Also necessary in an Elvis movie was to have a plethora of attractive women, and this film was no different. In order to get more information about the sunken ship's treasure, Ted consults with the granddaughter of the skipper, Jo Symington (Dodie Marshall). Jo is a free spirit, stereotypical of the late 1960s, who lives in an artist commune and introduces Ted to various forms of expression and yoga. In one of the most amusing scenes in the movie, Ted tries to perform yoga poses at the demand of the yoga instructor Madame Neherina (Elsa Lanchester, who also played Katie Nanna in Mary Poppins (1964)). It would have been a much funnier scene without the song "Yoga Is As Yoga Does." In many of Elvis's movies you get a glimpse of his acting talents, and this scene suggests that he might have done well with comedy if he had been given better scripts.

Because Elvis's film career spanned 13 tumultuous years, it is interesting to see how cultural and political events occurring in the real world crept into his films, albeit in somewhat caricature-ish fashions. Elvis, himself, was not a Beatnik type and his character's skepticism about Jo's "artistic" friends reveals what I imagine Elvis might have thought about these left-leaning free spirits. In 1967 he was also 32 years old, which made him a bit older than the 20-somethings who were taking over American pop culture. In order to stay current, though, his films had to graduate from the innocent beach party/Western/crime dramas of the earlier days and incorporate elements of the counterculture. According to Wikipedia, yoga was introduced to the western world in the late 1800s, but reached peak popularity in the 1960s when western interest in Hindu spirituality increased. I do not know if Elvis ever took up an interest in yoga, and I can't find a reference to Elvis and yoga in my reference books. Even though Elvis still refers to women as "girls" and some of them are still pretty dippy, the two main female characters in this film aren't completely brain-dead, which I think may have been the result of the gradual change in gender stereotypes. Dina is conniving and manipulative, which were some negative female stereotypes that weren't uncommon, but she's also smart and definitely has the upper hand in her relationship with Gil. Jo is entrepreneurial and plans to use her share of the treasure to open an art center where her friends can pursue their talents. She's in charge at the commune and doesn't fawn all over Ted like some women might. While Ted's attitude toward women and their capabilities still harkens back to an earlier era, the women themselves suggest that they can do more than he and other men believe they can.

Overall, I wouldn't say that this is a film that I'll watch over and over again, but it does have its points of interest. The soundtrack is forgettable and the plot is cliche. The saving grace for Elvis is that there weren't any scenes in which I felt particularly embarrassed for him. It wasn't a huge hit for him - according to IMDB the movie just about broke even with a $2 million estimated budget and $1.95 million gross income - but it definitely is not the worst film I've ever seen.

Internet Movie Database, "Easy Come, Easy Go."
Wikipedia, "Yoga."

Photo credit:, "Elvis Presley's Films as an Actor."

Saturday, September 1, 2012

"From...the director of MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING"
That should be warning enough.

I was aimlessly channel surfing this morning and chanced upon this flick (already in progress; about midway through). With Life offering nothing better at that particular moment (it was the early AM and I couldnt sleep), and with a title like that, how can any self-respecting Elvis fan resist at least giving this a look-see.

I am predisposed to hate movies that utilize Elvis in some way (as a plot contrivance; as a actual character). In most cases, these movies are made by folks who don't listen to Elvis or know anything about him or his music, and/or know him only as the pop culture caricature that he has become (complete with "Than'ya verr much"). I remember seeing a movie called HEARTBREAK HOTEL that featured David Keith as Elvis circa 1972 but wearing the gold lame suit from the 1950s (see the cover of Elvis Greatest Hits Vol 2 to see the suit I mean). Elvis never wore that gold lame suit in the 1970s!! A movie that makes that kind of factual faux-pas really irks me and will have me writing the movie off rather quickly (it didnt help that HEARTBREAK HOTEL, as a movie, just, how can I put this succinctly, sucked anyway).

I am also predisposed to hate movies that utilize Elvis impersonators and that sub-culture.  Elvis impersonators are invariably used for cheap laughs, as if the sight of someone (say, a little old lady) dressed in one of those 1970s Elvis jumpsuits is riotously funny.  There is a movie to be made about, or using, Elvis impersonators, one that understands this sub-culture, one that lets the impersonator(s) have some dignity and be a fully formed characters, but for now we will have to suffer through filmmakers' myopic view of Elvis impersonators.

ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING includes both the "real" Elvis (in a flashback, the 7-year old version of the character played as an adult by Kim Basinger meets the 1950s Elvis; suffice to say the actor playing this "real" Elvis is not up to the task, looking and sounding nothing like 1950s Elvis and making one long for any of the actors used in the laughable Elvis dramatization segments that dotted THIS IS ELVIS) as well as a plethora of Elvis impersonators (again played for cheap laughs).

As mentioned, I came in at the middle of the film so I am hard-pressed to tell you what was going on, or why (I can tell you, its a romantic comedy), so lets look to the Wikipedia description of the plot (my editorializing appears in CAPS):

"Elvis Has Left the Building is a 2004 film directed by Joel Zwick and starring Kim Basinger as a cosmetics saleswoman who accidentally serially kills Elvis impersonators as they travel to a convention in Las Vegas. John Corbett (WHY DO PEOPLE CAST THIS GUY AS A ROMANTIC LEAD? HE IS THE EPITOME OF WHITE BREAD BLAND ZERO SCREEN CHARISMA AND MAN HE IS NOT A COMEDIAN) plays an advertising executive and her love interest. Tom Hanks has a seconds-long cameo appearance as the dead "Mailbox Head" Elvis impersonator (THIS IS THE EXACT POINT AT WHICH I HAPPENED UPON THE FILM; I REPLAYED THIS SCENE TO MAKE SURE THAT WAS TOM HANKS I HAD FLEETINGLY SEEN; YES, YOU READ THAT RIGHT, HE HAD A MAILBOX ON HIS HEAD AND I DONT KNOW WHY). .
The film opens with Harmony (Basinger) driving down a long, winding road, the sounds of Elvis playing all around her. She feels that her life is empty and artificial. She is a traveling cosmetic saleswoman, setting up "Pink Lady" training seminars in the western portion of the United States. When she is asked if she's "one of those Mary Kaye ladies?", she replies, "No, we're pink, they're more salmon." While she is popular and successful selling "Pink Lady," there is nothing real or honest in her life. As Harmony travels around the country, trying to figure out what is missing from her life, Elvis impersonators keep dying in her wake. She is romantically pursued by Miles (Corbett)."

I can add that Harmony is pursued by some cops (or FBI guys), one played by character actor Mike Starr, who is always a welcome presence (and who ultimately dons an Elvis jumpsuit and sings a karaoke version of that DJ-remix version of "A Little Less Conversation" that was popular a few years ago). 

Everyone converges in Vegas at a convention (or something) of Elvis impersonators (en route, Harmony asks directions from Wayne Newton who pops his head out of a car window for a 10-second cameo) and when Miles and Harmony finally get a chance to talk face to face in the parking lot of the hotel hosting the convention, they realize they are in love & their story (and the film) ends rather abruptly.

Wait, sorry, one more thing happens: Denise Richards (ex-Mrs Charlie Sheen) (!) shows up at the convention (I dont know what, if anything, she had to do with the main story) but she dons the Aloha From Hawaii jumpsuit and the final scene is Denise-in-Elvis-jumpsuit and hundreds of Elvis impersonators on the roof of the hotel, chanting at the night sky ("Elvviiiiis, Elviiiisss, Elllllllllvvvvviiiiisssss", or something like that) and chanting and chanting until stars in the night sky (by the miracle of some really cheap special effects) move to form an Elvis constellation (!!) which then proceeds to shoot a lightning bolt at the roof of the hotel which causes it to collapse and presumably kill everyone (!!!!!).

By any standard (putting the whole Elvis angle aside for a moment) this movie is simply lame; the leads have no chemistry and the "comedy" is unfunny (resorting so low as to introduce a character who is an ugly, broadly played caricature of a gay man that illustrates how backwards thinking the filmmakers are). My only point of interest was spotting the cameos: in addition to those already mentioned, Angie Dickinson (still smoking hot at age 70 or however the hell old she is) shows up playing Kim Basinger's Elvis-loving mom!!), Annie Potts (remember her from PRETTY IN PINK?) and TV actors Richard Kind and Pat Morita (actually I looked on IMDB for those last two but I didnt see them in the half of the film I watched; Pat Morita is listed as "Man in Turban").

One last bit of interest: Elvis music does populate the soundtrack. I refer again toWikiPedia for this list 

"These songs appear in the film, listed alphabetically.