Tuesday, March 31, 2009


In perhaps the biggest book-reading feat in my recent adult life, I finished the two-volume Elvis Presley biography by Peter Guralnick last week. All I can say is, it was a devastating experience. You can't come away from reading that much about Elvis Presley and not be a little bit obsessed with Elvis Presley. He's such a genre unto himself, it's almost pointless to try explaining how all-encompassing and metaphorical he is in American life and history, but suffice to say, more books could be written, probably are being written, and probably should be. The most obvious takeaway: He had a massive virgin/whore complex, and consequently also a bifurcated sense of America, a God-fearing Southerner of the Nixon-majority stripe who toted his collection of honorary police badges around with him in a leather bag, but also an Aquarian-age sexual libertine and man of social justice for whom jeweled bat capes, Edwardian collars and gold-plated belts were as American as apple pie. The center could not hold. It's sick, but there's no end to the pleasure in reading about a man who bedded every 16-year-old he could get his mitts on while popping enough speed to kill a horse and injecting himself with Demerol every day -- and then spending his off-hours singing gospel hymns, praying with the same 16-year-old girls and regaling anyone who would listen with stories of his dearly departed mother.

What you'll find in the video clip above is astounding, to say the least. The bass playing by Jerry Scheff, who had at one time played with Coltrane and was generally regarded as a jazzhead, is the pulsing, crazy-fingers heart of Elvis stage act. I'm pretty sure this is from one of a string of hugely successful Vegas shows he did at the Hilton. He's not yet completely insane with drugs and depression yet -- not yet spending every day in a 30-foot bed drowning in prescription pills (prescribed by his own personal Dr. Feelgood) -- but you can see the eccentric signs of coming madness, including the karate master delusions and winking self-loathing. Knowing the detailed back story allows you to see layer upon layer in every moment. Caught in a trap. I can't walk out. Because I love you too much. It's savagely entertaining. Once you get past minute 2:30, you're off to the races. Just watch.

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