Thursday, August 16, 2007

THE KING AND I

Welshcakes from Sicily here, with a post that has nothing to do with Sicily whatsoever:



I used to be able to recite Elvis Presley’s army number. I don’t know what good I thought this feat would do me, but my Dad thought I might have made a passable spy because I could commit this kind of information to memory. [To this day, I don’t have to write telephone numbers down.] Knowing and regurgitating useless facts about our pop idols was just something we did in those days of the Romeo and Bliss girls' comics.

Elvis Presley entered my life after Tommy Steele and by this time we had 45 rpm records that you could stack on the spindle of your record player. I would watch entranced as the stylus arm automatically made its way across, used its side to knock a record onto the turntable then lowered itself onto the edge of the record to play it. Our record players didn’t need to be wound up any more [yes, I remember the gramophone!] and they were portable – not in the sense that an MP3 player is today, of course – but portable enough to put them on the floor in our bedrooms and stretch out beside them listening to and dreaming about Elvis or whoever else was in the “top ten”. It's hard to explain to younger generations the freedom we felt that this gave us: it made the music "ours", you see; we could listen to it in private or just with our friends; we didn't have to share it with our parents [who knew nothing about anything, did they?]

Elvis, of course, outlasted them all: Every time I received a record token as a present or saved up 7/6d [pre-decimal British currency] I was off down to the record shop in Stapleton Road and time and time again I came back with an Elvis recording because they always made it to number one in those days.

And in some ways, I think Elvis was my generation's first anti-hero [although the world had been assured by no less a personnage than Ed Sullivan that Elvis was a "fine, home-lovin' boy"]: he wasn’t baby-faced like Cliff Richard , ill-looking like Billy Fury or seemingly undernourished, as Adam Faith appeared in those days [though the latter became a thoroughly fanciable actor in a later incarnation]. The older “square” generation [though not my parents] were scandalised by Elvis’s pelvis twisting and you only had to look at those shadows under his eyes to swoon! [My Dad roared with laughter at Elvis’s pelvis antics in the film Love Me Tender, which was supposed to be set in the nineteenth century!] We needed anti-heroes, perhaps, because we had been brought up on so many tales of the unmatchable heroes of WW2.

I saw all the Elvis films and couldn’t have told you even five minutes after they finished what had happened in any of them, for I spent their running time snogging in the back row with my boyfriend Clive. All these films were fairly plotless vehicles for Elvis’s voice, anyway. Blue Hawaii was the first Elvis LP my Dad bought me and I still have it, along with the 45s.

How I cried over that version of Are You Lonesome Tonight?, absurd though the spoken part is: “Someone said ‘the world’s a stage’”; would it have sounded much less romantic to have said ‘Shakespeare’? Or was that too "square"? And that diction! “I wonder if… you’re lonesome tonight…” I played it over and over again after the break-up of my two-year romance with Clive and even now, when I hear it, I think of a “bright summer’s day when he kissed me and called me sweetheart” .

Then suddenly along came a group called The Beatles and the sound was unlike anything any of us had ever heard before . They looked different too – those strange suits and all that fuss over what were quite innocent haircuts. We transferred our loyalties to the sound of Liverpool and the Elvis releases stopped becoming automatic number ones. I’m ashamed to say that some of us forgot him, for a while. But he was still there, in the background and, older, fatter and often drugged up, he started to stage come-back concerts. I didn’t go for the religious songs he recorded in those later years but I loved the newer versions of the ballads – and strangely enough, my generation discovered, so did most of our mothers! I am listening to the “Love Songs” CD now, as I write.

My favourite Elvis songs? Always on my Mind – the line about “little things I should have said and done” always makes me cry and I think of my Mum; Anything that’s Part of You because I’m such a sentimental hoarder! And Return to Sender because it still makes me want to get up and jive!

When, thirty years ago today, I heard that Elvis had died I couldn’t believe it. It seemed that part of the “punctuation” of my youth had gone and of course it was so sad: all that money; a still fine voice; women who adored him all over the world; yet the king of rock ‘n’ roll had been so unhappy, walled up in Graceland finding solace in goodness knows what. So much has been written about that final decline that I am not going to go into it here, except to say that the death of his twin at birth may have had much more effect on him than we realise and certainly affected his relationship with his mother, whose death I don’t believe he recovered from.

I miss Elvis, who most inconsiderately did not show up in a Carson City supermarket during my one visit to the USA . I imagine him as a stunningly handsome older man, portly perhaps, but with a shock of white hair and still those haunting eyes, wowing the ladies as ever. But it was not to be. Perhaps he would never have been content. Who knows? And like another icon who died twenty years later during August, I don’t think Elvis ever knew how much he was loved.

No reason left for me to live
What can I take, what can I give?
When I’d give all of someone new
For anything that’s part of you
.”

7 comments:

Colin Campbell said...

My kids love Elvis. They get the CD out and sing along. They are very interested in how he died, where he died... He is a major cultural phenom.

It is interesting, because although I think he is alright, my wife and I hardly listen to him. This is something that they have picked up themselves.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, CC. That's very interesting to hear, that your kida have discovered Elvis for themselves.

Graf von Straf Hindenburg said...

You're not allowed to be "lonesome tonight". You've Simi and us. :)

lady macleod said...

welshcakes that's lovely! What a romantic you are. thank you for sharing your memories. I am smiling with a tear in my eye.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thank you, James. That's a very nice thing to say. Yes, Lady M, a hopeless romantic!

jmb said...

Lovely post Welshcakes. I never was a great fan of the King then although I appreciate him more now, looking back. Sometimes these things need to have more perspective.
regards
jmb

Liz said...

Ah, Elvis. In the ghetto. Wooden heart. Jailhouse Rock. Suspicious minds. Just a few favourites.

Lovely memories, as always wonderfully recorded.