Sunday, August 17, 2014

Dylan Jones on The Life and Death of Elvis Presley

Dylan Jones, author of ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING: The Death of the King and the Rise of Punk Rock, offers a quick commentary on the milestones in the life of Elvis Presley:

 January 8, 1935: Elvis Aaron Presley is born in Tupelo, Mississippi to Gladys and Vernon Presley

Here, in a tiny, two-room house no bigger than a trailer, the 20th Century came alive. As his twin brother, Jessie, was stillborn, Elvis was cosseted by his parents, Vernon and Gladys, cherishing their precious gift. It was a gift they would eventually relinquish to the world.

January 8, 1946: Elvis’ parents buy him a guitar at the Tupelo Hardware Store for his 11th birthday.

Elvis actually wanted his Mom to buy him a rifle, but as she had no intention of encouraging him to start mucking around with guns, she bought him a musical instrument instead. The guitar cost $7.75 plus 2% sales tax.

June 3, 1953: Elvis graduates from Humes High School.

It was at Humes where Elvis developed a reputation for wearing extremely colorful shirts and pants, dressing almost like a black R&B singer. He looked moddy, too: "He was a gentle soul," said one ex girlfriend, "but he kind of had this swagger to him."

January 1, 1955: Elvis signs a contract appointing Bob Neal as his manager.

Barely nineteen, Elvis puts his future in the hands of a WMPS folk music disc jockey. Elvis said that increasing demands for appearances made a manager necessary, and he preferred a Memphian for the job.

August 15, 1955: Elvis signs a management contract with Hank Snow Attractions which appoints Colonel Tom Parker to be his exclusive manager, with Neal remaining as an advisor

Tom Parker's gambling habits meant that he was constantly doing deals which befitted him as much as they benefited Elvis. My decisions that in hindsight may have seemed odd - song choices, concert engagements - were made because Parker needed short-term cash to pay of gambling debts.

November 20, 1955: Elvis signs his first contract with RCA Records. Among the songs he first records for the label is “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Elvis's first million seller, it was a nightmare to record, as Elvis kept jumping around during the session, so his vocals came in and out. In the end the producer had to litter the studio with extra microphones, so it didn't matter where Elvis danced, the engineers could still hear him.

January 28, 1956: Elvis appears on Stage Show in his first network television appearance

Seven months before Ed Sullivan, the band leaders Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey had the honor of introducing Elvis to America, on their CBS programme. It was the last time Elvis would look truly bashful.

September 9, 1956: Elvis appears on The Ed Sullivan Show and attracts the highest ratings for any television variety show in history

This was the day that sex finally reared its ugly head on national television, and a medium that had previously been marketed as a way to bind a family together, suddenly became a vehicle for teenage insurrection.

November 15, 1956: Elvis’ first movie, Love Me Tender, premieres at the Paramount Theater in New York City

Elvis's performance in this movie is the one that convinced Barbra Striesand that he would be a perfect co-star for her remake of A Star Is Born in 1976. She approached Elvis, and while he was desperate for the role, it was turned down by his manager Tom Parker, because of issues with billing (Parker wanted Striesand to play second fiddle to his charge).

January 6, 1957: Elvis appears on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town, but is only recorded from the waist up

Because Elvis has been causing such a stir with his libidinous performances, it was decided that they couldn't film his pelvic gyrations on TV, forgetting the fact that what initially seduced his audience was his eyes, his cheekbones and his hair. He was, after all, a teen idol.

March 25, 1957: Elvis purchases Graceland Mansion in Memphis for $102,500

Much derided by snobs who say that Graceland is what happens when you give too much money to white trash, Graceland is actually a design classic, while the Graceland experience today is as good as visiting Universal Studios.

September 27, 1957: Elvis returns to Tupelo for a benefit concert to fund the Elvis Presley Youth Recreation Center

Elvis would donate to the Center regularly for the rest of his career, while the project would become one of the things he cared most about in his life, strangely.

March 24, 1958: Elvis is drafted into the U.S. Army

When Elvis had his hair cut before being sent to serve in Germany, it seemed as though he had been emasculated. Could Elvis really be Elvis without that great greasy truck driver's quiff? Fifty years later a clump of hair that was supposedly retrieved from the barbers' floor was sold at auction in Chicago for $52,000.

September 13, 1959: Elvis and Priscilla Wagner meet at a party

They met at Elvis' home in Bad Nauheim, Germany, during his stay in the army. What many forget is that Priscilla was only fourteen at the time, and yet she still had the ability to make Elvis tongue-tied.

March 20, 1960: Elvis holds his first recording session since leaving the army

This session yielded "It's Now Or Never", a modern version of an old Italian tune, "O Sole Mio" that Elvis liked. This not only turned out to be a huge hit, but became one of Elvis's most successful and most enduring songs.

August 27, 1965: The Beatles visit with Elvis at his California home and the group informally play music together.

John Lennon in particular found this a rather depressing meeting (especially as he was his childhood hero), as Elvis appeared to be rather uninterested in this new English beat sensation. They spent most of the time playing records and mucking about on the pool table, like teenage boys.

May 1, 1967: Elvis and Priscilla marry during a small ceremony at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas.

The Aladdin was the first major casino to open on the Las Vegas Strip in the 1960s, although in recent years it was demolished, making way for the Planet Hollywood hotel. Because of his addiction to gambling, it was always Tom Parker's dream to get Elvis to Vegas.

February 1, 1968: Priscilla gives birth to Lisa Marie Presley at Baptist Hospital in Memphis.

The most extraordinary thing about meeting Lisa Marie is discovering that she looks almost identical to her father, with the same brooding eyes, the Mount Rushmore cheekbones and even the same shock of dyed black hair.

December 3, 1968: The 1968 TV Special “Elvis” airs on NBC. It is incredibly popular and one of the biggest television successes of the year.

Not only did Elvis copy the dress sense of the Doors' lead singer Jim Morrison for this performance, he also had his entire leather wardrobe especially commissioned. He dieted, too, as he didn't want to have to disguise his body.

August 28, 1971: Elvis receives the Bing Crosby Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), the organization that presents the Grammys. This award is later renamed the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Before Elvis received this there had only been five previous recipients: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Irving Berlin. It told Elvis that he had finally arrived.

October 9, 1973: Elvis and Priscilla divorce with joint custody of Lisa Marie.

The eight -year courtship of Priscilla Beaulieu would last longer than their marriage, principally because Elvis tried to emotionally smother his bride, while continuing to sex with other girls.

August 16, 1977: Elvis dies at Graceland.

Elvis died during the month of punk rock's apotheosis, relinquising his crown to a new generation o
rockers like Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious and Billy Idol. But even though the punks laughed when Elvis died, little did they know that everything about them - the aggressive nature of their music, the shocking, extravagant way they looked, their rebellious nature - had all been invented by Elvis twenty years previously.

Advance Praise for Elvis Has Left the Building
"Elvis Presley died on a stormy summer night when punk was at its very height – Dylan Jones explains why the heavens wept, and why they are weeping still for the only rock star to become a religious icon, the once and future King of them all. Elvis Has Left the Building is the ultimate rock and roll fable about the ultimate star, a gripping tale of impossible success and terrible waste and lost beauty that veers from Memphis to Las Vegas and all the way to the broken backstreets of London. This is best Elvis book ever written, revealing Elvis the Memphis Flash and Elvis the fallible man and Elvis the mother’s boy and Elvis the rock Messiah, and it is a must-read for anyone who ever had the music at the absolute center of their universe. Dylan Jones has written a glorious tribute to the man who burned all the maps, and broke down every barrier, and filled this world with magic." – Tony Parsons, author of Man and Boy

In a new book, Elvis Has Left the Building, British journalist Dylan Jones takes offers a unique and provocative reconsideration of the life and times of Elvis Presley, and his lasting impact on music and popular culture. Winding the clock back to mid-1970s, Jones examines the intersection between the rapid rise of punk rock in Britain and America and the decline of the world’s first rock and roll icon, Elvis Presley. 

Punk had set out to destroy Elvis, or at least everything he came to represent, but never got the chance. Elvis destroyed himself before anyone else could. Yet nearly forty years after his death, rock’s ultimate legend and prototype just won’t go away and his influence and legacy are to be found not just in music today, but the world over.

With great flair and exacting detail, Dylan Jones evokes the hysteria and devotion of The King’s numerous disciples and imitators, offering a uniquely insightful commentary on Elvis’s life, times and outrageous demise. This is an original, fresh account, written with the author’s customary panache, recounting how Elvis single-handedly changed the course of popular music and culture, and what his death meant and still means to millions today.

A final chapter offers the author’s own list of Elvis’s fifty greatest songs in chronological order, beginning with his first commercial single in 1959, “That’s All Right, Mama,” and ending with “Way Down,” released shortly after his death in August 1977 and quickly made its way to number one on the Billboard charts.

Elvis Has Left the Building adds a new chapter in the vast literature of books about Elvis – not only does Dylan Jones pinpoint the moment of the death of the King, he explains its impact on our society and culture. “The cult of Elvis,” the author writes, “actually started on August 16, 1977. Whether it was the sharp-featured Elvis you wanted, or the latter-day idol in all his magisterial pomp, the King could supply it all.”

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