Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What a world we live in. Somehow, some way things have gotten to the point that it seems that the only person committed to defending the legacy of the King of Rock and Roll is a bitter, hostile guy with a pseudonymous blog primarily devoted to his one man crusade against the Boston Red Sox. Elvis passed away 30 years ago, but for some reason no one will let him rest in peace.

Tonight, ABC News devoted two hours of broadcast time in prime time to a special retrospective on Elvis and his concerts in Las Vegas between 1969 and his death. No stone was left unturned in searching for luminaries to contribute to this program. And we were given no choice but to appreciate the gravitas of the program when we saw that no less a light than Elizabeth Vargas appeared on screen to host it.

David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite could take lessons on how to handle serious and weighty material from Ms. Vargas. Perhaps I spend to much of my time avoiding news magazine shows and the evening news and perhaps I'm overreacting to this evening's terrible program, but Elizabeth Vargas is terrible. She seems like she's trying too hard. It's almost as if she's sending out a subconscious signal that she wants to be taken seriously but doesn't have enough confidence in how she does what she does.

I wish I could find the people who assembled tonight's cast of celebrities paying homage to Elvis. For instance, how exactly is Faith Hill singing a version of "That's Alright Mama" with the pronouns adapted to suit her gender a tribute to Elvis? Granted, it's better than having me croak out an off-key version of Elvis' cover of "Gentle on my Mind" (my personal favorite of his recordings). But who cares what Faith Hill thinks about Elvis, and is she really all that good a singer?

I had less of a problem with Miranda Lambert singing Jailhouse Rock. But that's because I hate the song. It's just a silly, trite number that smacks of the songs from his later films that were so universally reviled by fans, critics and even Eddie Murphy in Delirious. Plus it strikes me as a bit gay.

Maybe the songwriters were recalling a time in the 1880s when prisons like San Quentin were actually co-ed when they wrote this line: "Number 47 said to Number 3, you're the cutest little jailbird I ever did see, I sure would be delighted with your company, come on and do the jailhouse rock with me." It's possible, but I doubt it. Also, I'm not sure what they meant when they said the whole rhythm section was a purple gang. It was 10 years too soon to have been inspired by the Minnesota Vikings defense which also was a purple gang. Either way, I don't like the song, but I do think the film of the same name was far and away the best of his movies.

One edifying site was watching Paul McCartney strumming the actual bass used for the early recordings and concert tours when Elvis was starting out. I found it amusing because McCartney was wearing a gold band on the ring finger of his left hand. Maybe I'm a bit cruel, but I have hated the Beatles since I was a kid, so it brought a smile to my face. I have to tell you I might be heartless, but with that high profile divorce I got a chuckle out of that sight.

I also appreciated 50 Cent's appearance. He talked about a lot of the same things I mentioned in my post on the 30th anniversary of Elvis' passing. Where some critics rip Elvis for "raping" black music, 50 Cent said Elvis took what influenced him from black music and made it his own. That's what I said, Elvis made records like That's Alright and Hound Dog as a tribute to the artists who inspired him, not as a cold, calculating attempt to exploit African American culture for profit.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, what shocked me the most about this evening's program was that Priscilla Presley (Elvis' ex-wife/widow, I'm not sure what one calls an ex when their former spouse predeceases her) was available for an extended commentary. I would have thought that she would have been busy with other projects. After all, it was a very near thing that she didn't receive more awards for her stellar acting in films like the Naked Gun, the Naked Gun 2 and 1/2 and the Naked Gun 33 and 1/3. Most actresses would kill for a resume like that.

Perhaps I am being too harsh in my criticism of Priscilla. She did a great thing when she prevented the Scientologists from getting their paws on Elvis' bequest to Lisa Marie when she joined their...religion. And I don't necessarily fault her for divorcing Elvis because it's none of my damn business and they led a strange, somewhat creepy life together. But she did bang Chuck Norris, and that's just wrong on 100 levels, mostly dealing with how much of a tool and how bad of an actor Chuck Norris is.

My real problem with Priscilla is probably not even her fault, since I don't know how Elvis' will left things. But I resent the level to which the family and now the corporation that controls Elvis Presley Enterprises has sunk to exploit his image. As if Elvis-shaped bottles of Jim Beam weren't bad enough, they had to let little E slather the King all over the stock car that couldn't even finish a race the other day.

I haven't watched any of the recent Elvis concerts where the digitally generated image of Elvis performs with what remains of his backing musicians, but I have a huge problem with them. This just doesn't seem right. Nor does it strike me as a means to introduce a new generation to Elvis' music.

As much as I hate them, I appreciate one thing about the Beatles. Half of them are now dead and gone, but they allow new fans to come to their music more organically than Elvis Presley Enterprises does. For whatever his other problems John Lennon had, at least his face isn't decorating the hood of some half-literate redneck's stock car.

I also resented the implications that ABC and the producers allowed to seep into their program. Vegas didn't save Elvis' career, nor did it kill him. It was just one more step in both processes. The show did discuss the 1968 Comeback special in passing, in part because it led to the second slate of Vegas appearances. I say the second slate because Elvis played Vegas in 1956 and bombed spectacularly, but ABC left that out of tonight's show.

Also, between the 1968 comeback special and the Vegas concerts, Elvis returned to Memphis and recorded some tracks that did a bit more to bring his career back than appearing in a jump suit in Vegas. Some of those tracks are among the best known in his songbook, like In the Ghetto and Suspicious Minds. The ABC show mentioned how the became staples of his Vegas shows, but seemed to imply that Vegas made them hits as opposed to the songs being hits and making the Vegas shows a success.

I suppose it would be too much to ask that a show about Elvis not dwell on his drug problem in some way. But we all know the stories about him staying up until 6 or 7 AM then taking sleeping pills to get to sleep only to wake up and pop uppers to do it all again. It doesn't get less depressing with each retelling, nor does it stop other people from doing things like that.

I know a guy who knows a guy who carries his prescribed uppers and downers to the golf course. If he's too energetic, he takes a downer to get him back to where he needs to be to play good golf. If the reverse is true, he takes an upper to get him amped. It's his life, he can do what he wants as long as he doesn't hurt anyone.

Who am I to talk? Isn't that what I do over the weekends when I drink beer until I can't blog coherently then spend the next morning drinking hot tea and eating greasy food to chase the cobwebs away? With beer it's a longer process than with the chemicals in uppers and downers, but it's not any healthier and not much better as a way to live. So can't we cut the guy a break and leave Elvis in peace?

And may God forgive them for wrapping the show with Celine Dion performing Can't Help Falling in Love. May God forgive them for having her perform it at all. I certainly won't. But God might.


TheKobraKommander said...

"As much as I hate them, I appreciate one thing about the Beatles. Half of them are now dead and gone, but they allow new fans to come to their music more organically than Elvis Presley Enterprises does."

Am I the only one that remembers the massive hype around the Beatles Anthology? What was organic about that? If the Beatles aren't on Whisky bottles or Formula One racers at Silverstone it is because they've managed to tire everyone out already.

BTW: The Sox got swept by the Jays and you are rambling on about Priscilla Presley and Chuck Norris... what gives?

Anonymous said...

I didn't see the show, but I really like Elizabeth Vargas. I was sorry she didn't choose to be fulltime anchor at ABC. I appreciated her seriousness.

If you disliked the program so much...why just not watch it? If you so dislike the way they deal with Elvis' legacy...why not just ignore it and listen to the songs you like or watch the movies you like (if any...it was hard to tell, you spend so much time listing things you don't like).

You seem like you're a very sad person. So negative. Your life must be very unhappy or you wouldn't be attacking things right left and center. I do hope there's someone in the world who cares about you and will pray for you to be happy.