Music: Elvis Presley
by Bob Claypool
Elvis Presley has been breaking hearts for more than 20 years now, and, Saturday afternoon in The Summit - in a completely new and unexpected way - he broke mine.
In short, the concert was awful - a depressingly incoherent, amateurish mess served up by a bloated, stumbling and mumbling figure who didn't act like "The King" of anything, least of all rock 'n' roll.
It made for a sad, pitiful afternoon - even though the narrow-minded, but always-present, screamers-for-Elvis bunch were still squealing and jumping through the whole thing. But, on this day, there seemed to be less of them than ever. The Summit was sold-out, packed to the gills (17,500 people, maybe more), and for every die-hard screamer, there were at least two or three blank, stunned faces, staring at the stage in disbelief.
The show followed the usual format - a warmup set from the orchestra, a short gospel section from J.D. Sumner and the Stamps, a comedy spot by Jack Culhane and a closing performance by The Sweet Inspirations. That killed 43 minutes, and was followed by a 25-minute intermission.
Finally, the recorded strains of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" filled the hall, the flashbulbs began popping, the screams rolled down in waves...and...THERE HE WAS! The screams were deafening, as always, but on this day the minute Elvis got onstage, people all around me stated whispering to each other, in shocked tones, about how "at" how "bad" he looked.
They were right, but that first impression wasn't the worst of the afternoon, because Elvis didn't look "fat" so much as absolutely bloated. His jowls were puffy, his eyes (seen through a telephoto lens) looked horrible, and his sparkly, multi-colored brocade vest accentuated his protruding stomach.
Elvis slipped immediately into "C.C. Ridjer", but the old fire didn't seem to be there. From that moment on, it was a tossup as to which was worse - his singing (a generally lethargic, throwaway series of vocals, brightend only occasionally) or his between-songs raps (which sounded like a bad imitation of "lovable lush" Foster Brooks).
Every time Elvis, who, as we've all been told, doesn't drink or smoke - said "ladies and gentlemen", it came out like "ladishandshgennimen".
A stranger sitting next to me - a young blonde woman - said, "Oh, my god, what's wrong with him? He can't even talk! He can't even finish his sentences".
Elvis himself said that he'd caught the creeping crud, which several hard-cored fans interpreted as a "really bad cold".
Whatever it was, it didn't stop the screaming, and Elvis plunged ahead into "Mean Woman Blues" (one of the high points of the show - Elvis slipped "Amen" in the middle of it, then immediately gritted his teeth and ground his hips at the audience before getting back to "Mean Woman". He was, in small does, still able to express carnality and spirituality in the twinkling of a rock 'n' roll eye). "Love Me", "If You Love Me, Let Me Know, "You Gave Me A Mountain", a rock 'n' roll medley - the tunes rolled on and on, but few contained any real energy. One exception was his latest single "Hurt", during which Presley did his most bombastic (and impressive) vocalizing.
Otherwise, he often seemed to be a heartless parody of his former self. He moved very little - his pelvic thrusts were few and far between, and even they were clumsy, of all things. He walked the stage in a lumbering fashion, throwing those famous scarves out toward the clutching female hands.
Faithful as always, they still came down front - came bearing gifts (a painting of Elvis, a six-foot long stuffed dog, a small teddy bear, oodles of flowers). It made you realize that iff they would come and love him on a day like this, then they would always do so - no matter how bad, how ill, how uncaring he would get.
But for some of us, it would never be the same, because the man who had given us the original myth of rock 'n' roll - the man who created it and lived it - was now, for whatever reason, taking it all back.