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Elvis: Gone, yet far from gone

Posted 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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I didn't feel slighted. I just felt that I maybe wasn't clear enough regarding my affection for Elvis and the good that he did for me on a personal level. I appreciate your concern. God Bless.

-- Posted by jjones on Sat, Aug 18, 2007, at 2:14 PM

I wasn't slighting your comments at all, I just wanted to bring attention to the other side of him also. I understand and see where you were coming from! I agree J.D. did talk about his drug use and of other instances that Elvis confided in him. J.D. wasn't without fault himself, so I think he understood Elvis more than anyone. It was unfortunate that Elvis died the way he did and I'm glad to hear that something good came from his death for you! I can imagine how that would affect you!

I don't think he disliked the "King of Rock-N-Roll" title, but when it was shortened to "The King" he didn't like that. I agree, he has that title and it will always be his.

I think he's the best thing that ever happened to Rock-n-Roll myself! :-)


-- Posted by margaretreed on Fri, Aug 17, 2007, at 4:34 PM

I have seen the footage of the concert where he made the statement that you refer too. I have also seen footage of interviews where he was proud to be considered the King of rock and roll. I don't know if he hated the phrase or not but the title will always be his. I made reference to his drug usage because I wanted to relate my own personal experience of the era and how his death affected me. Elvis is one of the great rags-to-riches stories of all time and certainly was one of the more talented entertainers to ever take the stage. But lets be real here. J.D. Sumner has relayed many times in interviews that he spent many hours trying to reason with his friend regarding the drug addled road that he was taking, as did his dad Vernon Presley and assorted others in his circle. The fact is that he did take drugs for years, and the fact is that he died from the abuse to his body that the drugs caused. It is an unfortunate part of his legacy, but still a part of it.

I do believe that Elvis was filled with the holy spirit-all you have to do is listen to his version of How Great Though Art to be convinced. There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Enoch was right. Somewhere in heaven there is a stage with two great friends reunited making beautiful music together......

-- Posted by jjones on Thu, Aug 16, 2007, at 5:04 PM

I was just 2 months old when Elvis passed, but was raised on his music and am still to this day a HUGE fan! My mom and aunt are tremendous fans and each have refused to get rid of any of those "vinyl albums" mentioned above. Infact 2 years ago I purchased a record player for the sole purpose of listening to those wonderful old Elvis originals!

Though I loved all of his music I am partial to his Gospel Music. There is a reason why those songs move you... they moved Elvis. His Gospel Albums were the ONLY ALBUMS he ever received a GRAMMY Award for... that tells us something! I was also a huge fan of J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, the gospel quartet that backed Elvis on many of his tours. J.D. Sumner has said many times that each night after the concert they would gather in Elvis' room and sit around the piano and sing gospel songs for hours on end... while singing these songs Elvis never tired! Gospel Music was his first love! J.D. was the man who was called on by Vernon Presley, Elvis' dad, to arrange the particulars for Elvis' funeral. J.D. honored Elvis with bringing some of his favorite Gospel Singers to sing at his funeral, James Blackwood, Jake Hess and J.D. himself, all of who now have passed on. J.D. believed that regardless of the drugs and all that Elvis had gotten into, he did find peace in the end... J.D. believed that Elvis had a heart for God. When J.D. passed away in 1998, Ed Enoch (who sang with the stamps from the time they were with Elvis and now owns the group) said that he believed J.D. was now singing in Heaven with Elvis.

I could go on and on about Elvis... however I wanted to post all of this so that in some way Elvis is remembered by his Love of God rather than his drug use!

Also, Elvis hated being called "The King"... he replied to some fans in his audience one night who had a HUGE sign reading "THE KING" that he was not the king, there was only one KING, Jesus Christ.

-- Posted by margaretreed on Thu, Aug 16, 2007, at 3:30 PM

It is hard to believe that it has been 30 years! I still remember the news and the incredible sadness of his passing. I grew up with his music and still listen to him though not as often as I used to. It is amazing that his music and his image continues to endure. It is testament to his incredible voice, something that he always praised and thanked God for. The stories of his generosity for his fans of all walks of life are legendary and his gospel music still brings goosebumps every time I hear it. I was saddened that he allowed himself to sink into the world of drug use to the point that it affected his music and led to his eventual death. I was a teenager in the seventies and experienced all of the excesses of the time including smoking that funny smelling green stuff. Elvis' death had a profound effect on me. He was the King, he had the looks, money, fame, and fortune and yet he died on the toilet with enough drugs in his system to stock a small pharmacy. I quit the day he passed and I have never touched another illegal drug since.

The King is dead but his music and legacy lives on. I pray that he has found the peace that he was so desperately looking for.

-- Posted by jjones on Thu, Aug 16, 2007, at 10:34 AM

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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.