When someone like Elvis Presley is such a part of the public's collective consciousness it's hard to come to grips with what his contributions actually were to rock and roll music. We all have seen the "Velvet Elvis" paintings, the statues, the countless anthologies that compile and sometimes butcher his work, and the marketing blitz that has his likeness on everything from coffee mugs to stickers and automobiles. On a day like today where the world is remembering the 35th anniversary of his death I still believe that the perception is sometimes skewed by these commercial displays.
When an artist's popularity reaches the heights of someone like an Elvis, McCartney, or Sinatra there comes with that popularity a sense of loss by the public at large. A loss in the sense that what the public really loved and admired about an artist like Elvis gets lost in translation over time. Even great admirers and scholars of these artist's work can be blinded by media perception and generic beliefs compiled over time.
I want to use today's rock discussion to encourage fans of rock and roll (which you must be if you are reading this) to tear away the layers of pretense, and let yourself, even if for only a second understand the contributions as a artist and performer that Elvis Presley has given music lovers.
Put aside the revelations of musicians like John Lennon, and Mick Jagger who's endless statements about the importance of Elvis on music can become part of the stale media view of the "King". Close your eyes and think of holding a brittle, and bright yellow Sun Record 45 in your trembling hands which you either stole or saved weeks of allowance money to bring home. Put yourself in the time of mid to late 1954 where that tangible piece of vinyl would make the rounds of your friends multiple times back and forth gathering scratches and dust during it's travels.The music existed as an object, it was not just a file set in space. Think of how in a time of family values and antiseptic boy balladeers, this white boy (who many thought was black from the record) took pieces from all existing , blues, gospel and country, and presented it a way that created a new genre of music and a new way of performance.The way we view performers was changed by Elvis. Imagine dropping the needle on that record and hearing something that had not been created before in the world of music. It's not easy in 2012 to place yourself into an unknown time. It's difficult to listen with virgin ears when in today's music world its already all been done. The shock is gone, nothing surprises anyone. But Elvis set the precedent for surprise when that first 7" single containing "That's All Right Mama/Blue Moon Of Kentucky came shaking out of turntables around the country. The single record still reverberates in every rock song that has been recorded and performed since those days.
A new genre of music was birthed by Elvis, and losing sight of that loses sight of why we still honor his memory. Performers and musicians up through the years into 2012 have learned how its done from his examples. The trail was blazed by Elvis Presley. Don't think of Elvis Presley as a bloated drug riddled Las Vegas nostalgia act at the end of his career. Don't perceive him as an image on a beer mug or tube of chap stick. When you think of Elvis today think of a young Southern boy who took his love of Gospel and country and mixed it into a stew that would feed the world through offensive gyrations and a smoking three piece band.
It would take an entire book not a just a blog to adequately explain the nuts and bolts of HOW Elvis did this. In this short place I just want to express the realization that the American Idol, portable music generation may have lost sight or not even care about the "Elvis" the world has told them about. But every time that a "new" pop idol hits the charts and causes girls to scream, or every time a new rock song is written and performed, it is an echo of the one who started it all. The one and only "King of Rock and Roll".