Thursday, August 16, 2007

The day the music died

Would you laugh if I said that Elvis Presley's enduring popularity has something to do with the fact that he was, really, just one of us?

No, wait. It's not as far-fetched as it seems.

Presley's career was something of an accident, if you believe the legend. Recording ballads at Sun Records, Presley and his back-up band of Scotty Moore and Bill Black took off on an old R&B tune, "That's All Right."

The rest, as they say, is history.

Seen from a couple of generations removed, Elvis to me always seemed like a regular guy caught in something he couldn't control. Deep down in his soul, he remained a Southern boy who loved fried cookin' and makin' music with his friends. That he couldn't go out except late at night, and had no one near the end who really cared about him, led to his downfall.

Along the way, he drifted from rebel teenager (although he never saw himself that way), to a soldier boy to a Southern middle class hero, struggling to pay his bills and fighting a losing fight with age. Who can't relate to that?

And, man, could he sing. Overlook "Jailhouse Rock" and dig deeper. You'll find some fine pieces of work. To this day, chills still rise up my spine when Elvis hits this one note on "Loving Arms," a rare cut from a forgotten 1970s album.

And that gospel music? Nobody sang it any better.

It saddens me that Elvis has become something of a caricature. Because beyond all those stories of shooting TVs and taking midnight runs to eat cheeseburgers lies an artist, a real, flesh-and-blood musician, who instinctively knew how to craft a song and make it his own.

Today, on the 30th anniversary of Presley's death, I'll remember that music. I'll wonder awhile what might have happened if he could have weened himself off all those prescription drugs.

And most of all I'll listen to the music. Not the pop fluff, but the real stuff, the songs that make you climb the wall, play them again, marvel at such an emotive voice.

That, friends, is the King's legacy, no matter what those jerks write about fried food weight gain.

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