Friday would have been the 75th birthday of Mr Elvis Aaron Presley, a name you probably won’t need to look up in Wikipedia. Like most anniversaries (or, for that matter, most things in life), the news coverage was a fairly predictable affair. Stock footage covering both ends of his career followed by smug observations about Elvis impersonators and obligatory soundbites from eccentric fans, which invariably consisted of a random great granny from The King’s original target demographic (who, ideally, doesn’t much care for modern music) juxtaposed with some young arsehole with a quiff. I assume the latter was “going through a phase” and his or her parents were probably into Britpop or hip hop.
Personally speaking, I’ve always been rather fond of Elvis. My parents’ were part of his original target demographic, you see, and some of the first songs I ever heard were by The King. In psychological circles that’s known as imprint vulnerability. I’m also old enough to remember what I was doing when I first heard that he’d died. I was putting on a snake belt and getting ready to go to junior school.
In memory of Elvis I planned to spend Friday night watching Bubba Ho-Tep and listening to Gravelands by The King and Porcelain Monkey by Warren Zevon. Unfortunately I was sick, so I didn’t. To the best of my knowledge, Bubba Ho-Tep, Gravelands by The King and Porcelain Monkey by Warren Zevon did not feature prominently in the mainstream media’s coverage of the Elvis anniversary. I suppose that’s the reason why God created the Internet and idiots like me.
Bubba Ho-Tep, in case you don’t know, was a blackly comic but strangely touching independent film directed by Don Cascarelli that was released in 2004 or thereabouts. It featured the mighty Bruce Campbell playing an aging Elvis who cheated death in 1977 and now finds himself living in a Texan rest home. Together with an elderly black guy – who may or may not be JFK – he has to face down a deranged mummy who’s preying on the souls of pensioners.
It’s one of my favourite movies of the last decade, and I cringe a little as I type that. Blog logic – or blogic, if you will – states that I’m now have to follow through on that comment by churning out a list of my favourite films of the decade. More bad haiku, then.
Gravelands, on the other hand, is a 1997 album which features cover versions of songs by dead rock stars performed by an Elvis impersonator from Belfast whose real name is James Brown. Yes, I know that sounds like the ingredients for some God-awful novelty record, but it really is quite wonderful. ‘The King’ really does sound like The King, the musicians really do sound like the Takin’ Care of Business Band and the choice of songs is priceless. They make it sound as though Nirvana’s Come as You Are, Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart and AC/DC’s Whole Lotta Rosie are new additions to the Presley back catalogue. To put it another way, it gives us a weird glimpse into a parallel world where Elvis got to live for another couple of decades and Rick Rubin helped him rehabilitate his legacy.
Finally, there’s Porcelain Monkey by the late Warren Zevon, which featured a blistering riff and some characteristically brilliant lyrics:
From a shotgun shack singing Pentecostal hymns
Through the wrought iron gates to the TV room
He had a little world, it was smaller than your hand
It’s a rockabilly ride from the glitter to the gloom
Left behind by the latest trends
Eating fried chicken with his regicidal friends
That’s how the story ends
With a porcelain monkey
Zevon, however, was not what you might call a fan of Elvis. In an interview in 2000 he said:
“He furthered the cause of ripping off a culture we’ve already oppressed for 400 years in my country. But I don’t know how much is individual brilliance, genius, and how much is just the currents of culture. Being at a cultural crossroads can be luck, you know? Don’t be absolutely sure that Soundgarden wasn’t as good as the Rolling Stones. They just came 30 years too late to be innovative.”
I’m a big fan of Zevon’s, but that’s a pretty harsh and iconoclastic position to take, even by his standards. The 6th Century sage Chilon of Sparta once said “Let only good be spoken of the dead”, but if that’s the case then how have Channel 5 documentary makers managed to stay in business? And does this lofty ideal still apply when the person wagging an accusing finger at a dead rock star is another dead rock star?
I can’t say for certain, but I do know that Zevon’s Life’ll Kill Ya is one of my favourite albums of the decade. I cringe a little as I type that, too.
I guess that means I’ll be churning out even more bad haiku.