It’s not fashionable to like the film of Elvis any more, but this is my Guilty Pleasures slot and I’m unrepentant. As a child, I saw them as a fantastically glossy way to pass school holidays there seemed to be one every day and they would transport me away from the cold, brown boringness of Seventies Derbyshire into Las Vegas, Hawaii and other sunny climes. That Elvis was attractive only became clear later. I wasn’t too sure why I particularly liked it when the long expanse of his fringe fell onto his face, but as I got older, I began to get an idea.
Today is the 30th anniversary of his death and it seems as if he’s never been more present. It’s true that he’s made more money dead than alive and that he’s attained true iconic status, but as with many of our dead icons, it only seems to be acceptable to mock and scorn. We now only seem to focus on Marilyn’s mental problems and Diana’s darker nature and so, with Elvis, we only remember the bloated Vegas Elvis who came to an unseemly end alone on the loo. Not how any of us would want to go.
So this weekend will see me having a marathon of his films to remember the talent and charisma that seemed so cruelly wasted. Blue Hawaii for the songs and the shorts. GI Blues because it’s my favourite, the songs are the best and there’s the uniform (getting a theme yet?). Viva Las Vegas for his kooky chemistry with Ann Margaret. Jailhouse Rock and King Creole to mourn the acting promise that was snuffed out by Col Tom Parker (Elia Kazan wanted Elvis for several movies and he was offered roles in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Grease, A Star is Born (with Barbra Streisand), West Side Story and Midnight Cowboy (Parker refused to allow him to consider any of them). For sheer power of performance, there’s Elvis: That’s The Way It Is (especially Suspicious Minds (It’s the whole karate thing).
And finally, best of all, the ’68 Comeback Special. He never looked better (fans herself at the thought of the black leather) or was more appealing. If you’ve never seen it, get it out now to see a performer at the peak of his powers.
And seeing him being his sweet self will send me off to listen to one of the gospel albums he recorded. Truly the music he loved best, he has the soaring voice of an angel and a sincerity that’s truly moving. You’ll soon forget the tawdry white jumpsuit.
So Elvis and his legacy will be on my mind a lot. I don’t really care that he changed popular music forever, but he’ll always be important in my life. I was raised on Elvis. My dad’s proudest possession was his eight-track player in the car and we had a handful of precious albums for it that we listened to all the time. Tom Jones’s and Englebert Humperdinck’s greatest hits. Johnny Cash live at San Quentin. And Elvis’ Aloha from Hawaii. Listening to any of those artists sends me back to the car with my beloved dad (who’s been dead a while too).
So Elvis, dad, this weekend’s for you…