Saturday, 16 August 2008

Elvis Presley has left the building

The NME was right when it put ‘Remember him this way’ on their cover the week Elvis died. I was wrong when I thought the Clash were cool and prophetic. ‘No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones in 1977.’
The world would be no poorer without the Rolling Stones, and I could happily live without ever hearing the Beatles again. But Elvis’s death was a loss.
In the end, the Clash had to own up to their debt to Elvis (and there aren’t many musicians who don’t have one). At least, they allowed a homage in Ray Lowry’s album cover design for London Calling, based on an Elvis LP sleeve. (There’s loads of pop trivia where this came from, fact fans. You’re reading someone who once beat a Mastermind contender on ‘punk rock in the 1970s’. Without even revising.)
In 1977, I couldn’t remember Elvis at his best because I just didn’t know about it. It’s hard to believe now, but before YouTube, before DVDs, even before video, you only saw what people decided you were going to see. The only time I saw Elvis on TV was in bad 60s films and bad jumpsuit concerts.
(Why do Elvis impersonators always do the jumpsuit years? No-one should remember him that way. Because no-one could hope to recreate the presence he had at the start.)
In 1977, I was young, I was arrogant - or should that just be ‘ignorant’? - and to me Elvis was someone who was at best a has-been, at worst a middle of the road irrelevance.
Then one day I saw that footage from the 50s. And I got it. Elvis was punk rock, as much as anyone. Punk rock is rock’n’roll, as much as anything. And Elvis was extraordinary. Remember him that way.

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