Elvis died 35 years ago this week. His music was just a little ahead of my time (my older cousins liked him) and I was never a fan; but I believe he had a huge and lasting impact on music. He represented the best and worst of music careers and how fame can screw up talent.
Everything I have seen and read about him says he had a dream, followed it in the face of negative advice and lived the dream. He fell into the valley of personal excess as a result but he was also generous with some of it. Giving cars to his mother and friends is one example.
I have visited Graceland twice, one time while he was still alive and living there (you could tour the exterior then) and one time in the late 1990s. The inside of the house is frozen in time, a living monument to 1977. The place was state of the art for the era, including his TV room with three televisions. The color scheme is very green and yellow, popular at the time. The kitchen is huge for its time and kind of big for today too. The grounds are now part of a tourist empire, with the house and main property on one side of the street, fenced off of course. Across the street is a car museum, a private airplane named for his daughter Lisa Marie and a diner with some of his famous food indulgences on the menu. Admission tickets are sold for everything except the diner and gift shop. The whole thing is excessive and impressive at the same time.
Elvis changed the course of music, partly because of talent and partly due to good timing. His career spanned more than twenty years but the peak music years were closer to the beginning, from 1956 – 1958, then again in the early 1960s after a two-year break for Army service. Today’s music stars almost always use concert tours to build a recording career but Elvis performed surprisingly few concerts after his recordings became hits. He starred in numerous movies, then had several concert runs in Vegas. Televised concert specials from Hawaii and other locations keep his career alive but also showed the physical toll his excesses were taking. The last concerts during the year prior to his death were just plain embarrassing.
He is called the King of Rock & Roll but his music styles went from rock to pop to blues to country to gospel. He has been imitated and parodied but never duplicated. He sold more than a billion records, a record nobody has beat.
Some people, including me, believe his most powerful recorded performance was his 1968 Comeback Special. He had not performed live for seven years and was somewhat nervous, yet he looks and sounds completely comfortable. This was twelve years after his first hit and nine years before his career and life bottomed out with his death. This particular song stands out to me, partly because of its message and partly because the performance is so strong. Enjoy.