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Elvis: Gone, yet far from gonePosted Thursday, August 16, 2007, at 7:27 AM
Thirty years ago this afternoon Elvis Presley died.
And I suppose part of America's last remaining innocence died with him.
I was 17 on Aug. 16, 1977 and thought of Presley as a somewhat tacky, sort of fading star. After all, the teens of my generation were listening to KISS -- disguised as Elvis was, just in more theatrical style -- Peter Frampton, whose musical appeal escapes me years later, the Bee Gees and KC and the Sunshine Band. (Trivia note: No periods after KC).
But when I heard the emotional DJ on 104.5 (then WHIN-FM Gallatin, today's Zone) cancelling all other music programming and going to all-Elvis I realized he was still relevant to many.
There were no iPods, MP3s, MTV or even CDs in 1977. Just vinyl albums (Remember those, kids? They were big 'ol flat things and you couldn't play 'em in the car), cassette tapes which melted in the sun, eight-track tapes (beginning to fade away by '77), only a few real FM rock stations hearable here. I guess I thought Elvis would, from that point, forever fade into the past as music media changed.
Yet music media has changed. And Elvis is still in the mix. You'll even find him on YouTube -- an intentional move by the business people who own his image to improve his standing among teens, they've said.
Is "The King" relevant today? Musically, much more so than many would think or admit. Strip today's instrumental backing to its roots and Elvis's band is right there. (Remember, it was Scotty Moore, Bill Black and D.J. Fontana who really created the sound behind Elvis' voice. Presley didn't really play that guitar much). Plus, Presley was a big part in rhythm and blues styles becoming part of the mainstream, arguably paving the way for today's rap and hip-hop to be widely accepted (and purchased) by white audiences.
And rock's rebel image goes back to the 1950s go-wild-on-stage Elvis. But the 1950s Elvis seems more like a real person than the rhinestone-and-jumpsuit clad so-called icon of the 1970s who seems like a parody of all things good about rock. That's even when you consider the 1970s style excesses.
Of course, plastic surgery and makeup supposedly, even early on, changed Elvis '57 from the more natural Elvis '55.
Glitter and glitz took over. But should music of all genres, and the image portrayed by its performers, reflect real life or an escape from real life?
What would a living Elvis would be like today at age 72? I suspect we'd see a more natural performer, one who had gone back to his roots and maybe taken the same direction as the late-career Johnny Cash: gritty, real rock, a stripped-down image and younger fans listening to his newer material.
And I don't think he'd be playing Branson.
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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.
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