Awesome article! Thanks for the link!
Who cares about beating records or which estate makes more money than the other?
No one will take Elvis' place in history!
By Bartholomew Sullivan
Posted March 21, 2010 at 12:06 a.m.
WASHINGTON -- Was Elvis Presley such a news media phenomenon that he deserves a special, stand-alone exhibit at journalism's showcase, the Newseum in Washington?
Are you kidding?
Consider this: When Mikhail Gorbachev was contemplating dismantling the Soviet Union, according to documentary film maker Larry Nager, he played Elvis Presley records for background music.
Or consider this: When Tom Morgan of Whiteville, Tenn., auctioned off "a ball about the size of a tangerine" of Elvis' hair clippings in 2002 that he had received from the King's regular barber, it fetched $115,000.
The seismic shift in popular culture that occurred because of Elvis Presley is the focus of a retrospective at the Newseum that features some memorabilia that haven't even been made public at Graceland. The exhibit follows a National Archives review earlier this year of the historic meeting in 1970 between Elvis and President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office.
Biographers, historians, behavioral scientists, cultural and music critics, and fans contacted by The Commercial Appeal said the focus of the exhibit at the journalism-centric museum on Pennsylvania Avenue is legitimate, both because Elvis changed the way the news media handled celebrity and for lessons on how celebrities manipulate their audiences and influence social policy.
So, how did he do it?
'Broad cultural significance'
Peter Guralnick, the American music historian who wrote a two-volume biography of Elvis ("Last Train to Memphis" in 1994 and "Careless Love" in 1999) said there's no question that Elvis had a "global impact" that "reached across all barriers of geography and class and caste."
"When Elvis came along, middle-brow culture was the standard -- polite forms of expression. It was Elvis who opened the way not simply for his music but for the music of Muddy Waters, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Hank Williams, Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow and Jimmie Rodgers," Guralnick said. "You can't help but see the broad cultural significance of his impact."
Guralnick said initial assessments in the press of Elvis' artistry placed it "beneath contempt." Fifty years ago, the idea of considering Elvis or other groundbreaking musicians of the 1950s as serious creative artists simply wasn't part of mainstream society, he said. However, Elvis' place in American vernacular culture is now clearly established, he said.
"Society has finally caught up with some of its most significant contributors who for many years it dismissed for reasons of either racial or class or social or (regional) snobbery," Guralnick said.
'This kid could speak to America'
Several commentators said it was the vision of Col. Tom Parker, Elvis' manager, that brought the truck-driving Mid-South singer to a big-time recording contract with RCA, marquee roles in some largely forgettable Hollywood movies, and eventual superstardom.
"He (Parker) had the sense that this kid could speak to America," said Robert Hilburn, the Los Angeles Times' first pop music critic who followed Elvis' career in the 1970s.
Teri Mason, a professor of behavioral sciences at Christian Brothers University in Memphis who has studied Elvis fans, called Parker "a major league manipulator." She added that Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc., which is cooperating with the Newseum exhibit, has been "very smart on how they market him."
Mason said there has always been a sensationalist press element that feeds on celebrity news and Elvis certainly wasn't the first to draw its attention. But when he first became a national figure, "writers for The New York Times and others were appalled at him. He was seen as the end of the moral world as a lot of people knew it."
Former Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer book reviewer and "ideas columnist" J. Peder Zane made a similar point.
"What was different was the fact that the media, over time, took him seriously. He wasn't just a popular phenom like (Frank) Sinatra or Marilyn (Monroe). He was socially significant. He was seen as representing broader cultural currents ...
"And so, when the Beatles come along a few years later, the media saw them not just as pop stars but also as reflections of the social movements taking flight," Zane said. "Nowadays, of course, everything -- from the dumbest reality shows in prime time to the silliest sitcoms on Nickelodeon -- are considered reflections of the zeitgeist. Everything has larger meaning. We have Elvis to thank for that."
'This is the guy we want to follow'
Los Angeles Times music critic Hilburn said the 1955 Sun Records recording of Elvis singing "Baby, Let's Play House," began to define rock and roll and "sounded like a revolution to a young person. This is totally against what pop radio is playing. This is not Perry Como. This is not Nat Cole."
"Before that," Hilburn recalled, "we were listening to dozens of records -- Billy Ward and the Dominoes, Hank Ballard and Bill Haley. But there was no consensus. Was it a group? Was it a solo guy? Was it horns? Piano? He came along and defined all of it."
"Buying an Elvis record was almost like voting for president," Hilburn said. "It was like saying, 'Here, this is the guy we want to follow. We believe in this.'"
Hilburn, author of the 2009 book "Corn Flakes with John Lennon and Other Tales from a Rock 'n' Roll Life," saw dozens of Elvis concerts and discussed him with the Beatles star.
"Lennon, more than anyone, loved Elvis," he said. "I went to John's house at The Dakota one time and he had a jukebox with 50 records, and 40 of them were Elvis records." Hilburn said his encounters with Elvis were "friendly, but there was a distance ... He called you 'mister' and stuff; it was disconcerting."
Hilburn also recalled traveling with Bob Dylan to his 1987 concerts in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. When he pulled off the highway to get a sandwich, Hilburn said he found an Israeli restaurant filled with Elvis memorabilia and an owner longing to visit Graceland.
'An international phenomenon'
Carl E. Rollyson Jr., a Baruch College professor and author, in 1986, of "Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress," said that in the 1950s both Elvis and Marilyn "were viewed as phenomena -- projections of mass media or mass entertainment."
"Elvis was very, very aware of how he combed his hair and how he talked to the press," he said. While Monroe developed a reputation for being fairly demanding after she broke her contract with 20th Century Fox, Elvis appeared "more submissive in the sense of allowing the media to have its way with him," Rollyson said.
Several experts referred to the Elvis sound as "revolutionary" for young listeners who had never heard anything like him and who clamored for news about the star in newly emerging teenager-focused fan magazines.
"The cultural impact was enormous -- a sort of revolution in music from the days of Frank Sinatra," Rollyson added. "What Elvis did for popular music, how he influenced the Beatles -- he's not just an American phenomenon; he's an international phenomenon."
'Coming into living rooms'
Nager, a musician and former music critic for The Commercial Appeal who now lives in Nashville, said Elvis broke into the music scene when children were still listening to their parents' music, because "there wasn't anything marketed strictly for younger people."
"There was almost like a left turn in Elvis' career where suddenly there was the realization that there was this huge, young, predominantly female audience ... Plus you had television and those early variety shows," Nager said.
"There he was with the jugglers and animal acts, but it kind of changed things when it started coming into living rooms. It was more intimate," he said.
Morgan, the guy who sold the tangerine-sized hairball, said he still has some of Elvis' locks, as well as the .357 pistol with inlaid gold and carved ivory handle Elvis gave Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1970. The retired administrative assistant to former Shelby County sheriff Gene Barksdale, Morgan says he believes the Newseum focus on Elvis as a newsmaking phenomenon is right on target.
"He always made the news," said Morgan. "He's been dead 30 years and he's still making news."
Bartholomew Sullivan reports from Washington for The Commercial Appeal. Contact him at (202) 408-2726.
SEE ELVIS AT THE NEWSEUM
Elvis Presley's impact on music, the media and popular culture is the subject of an exhibit that opened last week at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
"Elvis! His Groundbreaking, Hip-Shaking, Newsmaking Story" features objects on loan from Graceland that include Elvis' 1957 Harley-Davidson motorcycle and the gold-and-diamond belt the singer received in 1969 for breaking attendance records in Las Vegas, as well as photographs, newspapers, letters and other documents noting highlights of Elvis' career. Visitors to the exhibit will also see a Newseum-produced video on a 90-foot video wall that includes footage of Elvis' performances and press conferences.
What: "Elvis! His Groundbreaking, Hip-Shaking, Newsmaking Story"
When: March 19 through Feb. 14, 2011.
Where: The Newseum, at Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street, N.W., in Washington, D.C.
For more information: Visit newseum.org or call (888) 639-7386.
Awesome article! Thanks for the link!
He's The King
"NO-ONE, BUT NO-ONE,IS HIS EQUAL, OR EVER WILL BE. HE WAS, AND IS SUPREME".Mick Jagger
I agree, who cares about beating records and making money...no one has ever come close to being the unique fantastic talent that Elvis was.
He was a living legend, and he will always be the number one in the entertaiment industry. No one will ever take his place in history.
There is a lot of stars with a great voice, but the differnence is the feeling Elvis put in his songs. He sounds that he belived in every word
he did sing. You can compare the song Hurt with most of todays songs... They don`t have the passion, feeling that he put in a song.
We know his place in history, nobody can take that away from him.
Great read thanks!
Work in Progress!
You're all welcome. I enjoyed it a lot too