Saturday, August 16, 2008
The King Is Dead
Sun Studio, Memphis, TN
On this date in 1977, Elvis Presley died.
Do you remember where you were when you heard?
I do. I was in my car, driving home from work across Sunset Blvd. and was making the left turn on La Brea up to my apartment at the corner of La Brea and Franklin - the Famous Lobotomy Apartment. I was listening to the AM radio station KRLA, as I often did. They played more than the usual number of Elvis songs in a row, and as one does, I asked myself, "what, did he die or something?"
Well, yeah... he did.
What, you may be asking, does Elvis Presley have to do with punk rock?
Well - if you have to ask....
Elvis has everything to do with popular music - for every generation, but mostly, in the big picture, at the time he broke out, Elvis represented something unique in American popular culture for American youth. Yes, I could take you down one the road of those post-modern, socialist, Marxist type analyses of post-war youth culture and popular culture production.... but I won't.
Elvis influenced everyone in some way. He was a rocker and a crooner. He wore black leather (and looked damn good in it) and he wore silly white jumpsuits --- so you see, he influenced Bono and Celine Dion and everyone in between - like the Clash for instance... or how about Elvis Costello who took the monikor?
Elvis is one of the many reasons I am obsessed with both Memphis and Mississippi. (William Faulkner is another one of the reasons I'm obsessed with Mississippi, and Jimmie Rodgers is another)
Highway 304, De Soto County, Mississippi
Elvis was born and raised in Mississippi and moved up to Memphis, where he made his way into the music biz and became The King of Rock n Roll. Robert Johnson was also born and raised in Mississippi - and he died there on August 16 as well (in 1938 at the young age of 27 - setting in motion perhaps that curse of rockers who die at 27.) If Elvis is the King, then Robert Johnson is the Grandfather of Rock n Roll - it was his riffs and his whole body of work that really put something new into motion.
I don't know what it is about the Delta and how it spawns such musical greatness, but it does. It is a Mecca - with Memphis, Tennessee as its inadvertent capital, just as its namesake, the ancient Memphis was the first capital of Egypt...a city on a river (The Mississippi and the Nile) that unites two regions, and was also the capital of its regional culture.
The painting on a downtown Memphis elevator door of Robert Johnson is by Lamar Sorrento. From his distinctive style and his name, you might think "Lamar Sorrento" is an old Black dude from New Orleans. But he's not. He is a kick-ass guitar player and incredible recording artist. I've seen him play around Memphis more than a few times. Please check him out (click his name).
Let me bring this back to the punk rock in a more obvious way. One third of the band that in the 90s saved punk rock for me - the Memphis garage / punk band, Oblivians - is pictured below. Greg Cartwright. He does a killer version of Elvis's Suspicious Minds which I have seen and heard a few times over the course of the years I've been seeing him perform. If you see Greg's band The Reigning Sound perform, why don't you shout out a request for Suspicious Minds and see what I mean.