Who remembers where he was when he heard the news that Elvis had died?
I do. I was having lunch on a farm called Meroo outside of Mudgee in New South Wales. Having started on the sheep shearing at 06.00 on a cold, crisp morning that soon turned into a warm, winter's day. My role in the whole was to clean the wool after a man called Clive had shorn a sheep in a matter of minutes. All the shit, prickly stuff and what ever else got caught in the fleece that did not belong there had to be taken out. I did that for days on end. At 12.00 we set out to lunch at the farm, walking from the shack in a paddock on the other side of the dirt road. An Australian phenomena showed itself when we walked. As soon as we stepped out of the shade of the shack, a swarm of flies flew up to settle on the backs of the persons in front of me (so undoubtedly on my own as well). They travelled along right until the moment we reached the shade of the house and disappeared as mysteriously as they appeared. How many flies cover the earth of Australia?, is a question I can't even fathom to answer.
Over lunch the radio was turned on for the news. With one reason only: the wool prices in the different towns around the farm. Where best to bring it to at the end of the day? It was during this news bulletin that I heard Elvis had died, which was a shock. The date was August 17. It was years later that I found out that the official date of his demise was 16 August.
Yes, the man was much older than I am, but with 42 not at an age he was supposed to die. In fact he could have been alive today at the age of 82 and record another comeback album with Rick Rubin or some such. Even be touring.
All this was not to be. Elvis is dead today for 40 years.
Who was Elvis to me? Somebody from an era that I wasn't around. The first song I remember is the classic 'In The Ghetto', followed by the monumental 'Suspicious Minds', two hits from 1969. In the 70s I got to know his oldest songs better and his latest hits.
No matter what, I never truly became an Elvis fan. Despite the fact that I like to play some of his old rock and roll hits in the cover band I play(ed) in, it is not something that I play at home. Coincidentally I heard 'A Little Less Conversation A Little More Action' in the Junkie XL remix this morning, which triggered this post. Tom Holkenborg gave an obscure, mediocre Elvis song the boost it needed, giving him his last #1 hit song. At the time I liked this version a lot and found out that I still do.
What I do hear in the old rock and roll songs, is the energy Elvis and his band managed to capture on record. What I hear truly is what I am meant to hear and can imagine how exciting it must have sounded at the time. Something new was happening that caught the youth of America and beyond by the throat to not let go. In some of his later songs, the post 1968, recordings I recognise the class with which Elvis was able to surround himself. Whether it was in a song like 'Burning Love', 'Way Down' or 'Guitar Man', it all holds something worthwhile.
Elvis Presley in the end is a tragic figure. Someone who became more famous than was good for him. Perhaps he just was not smart enough to deal in a sensible way with his fame and riches. I don't know, these are just observations from far off. Fact is, that he leaves behind a legacy which will keep him famous and well-known for eternity. And forever connected with work on a sheep farm in a far off country in my individual case.