She’s figuring it out: Lisa Marie Presley
by Nancy J Price
To much of the world, she needs no introduction: Lisa Marie Presley, the one and only child of the legendary Elvis Presley. She’s gorgeous, has a genetic heritage the rest of us can only dream about, and, as the sole heir to her father’s estate, is one of the richest women in the country. But beneath all that, she longs as much as anyone to be appreciated for who she really is.
So, yeah, she’s Elvis’ daughter. But even more, she’s Lisa Marie. And you can hear her on the radio, too.
“Music has always been a huge part of my life, so I just sort of naïvely wanted to do the same thing for other people that music has done for me,” she laughs. “Not really thinking about where I come from and what it means for me to do that — the comparisons, and that whole thing. That is why I named the first album To Whom It May Concern. To break through preconceptions.”
As the daughter of the King, people’s expectations are, of course, something she constantly has to contend with. “Absolutely. But if you think about it — and think about the history of it — my father was the greatest rebel that ever walked this path of rock and roll,” she says. “And at a time when things were very conservative, versus now when you can do anything, and it’s not shocking. But at the time, that was a quite a cross to bear. And if you think about that, I’m not genetically — or otherwise — going to go with what’s expected necessarily,” she says. “It’s kind of like in my own way, I’m doing my own thing, and that’s the descendant part of it. You know, he did his own thing when he did it, my mom’s paved her own path in her own way — of leading an unusual, different sort of life — and I’m kind of doing the same thing. I don’t want to be commercial, and I don’t care if I’m commercial.”
Now What, the title of the singer/songwriter’s latest album, came about after some self-reflection. “I thought it was a very good representation of who I am. It’s kind of a sarcastic attitude with the title. But when you listen to the actual song, you’ll hear that there’s a lot of vulnerability going on,” Presley says. “That depicts me pretty well, so that’s why I settled with that one.”
“Dirty Laundry” — a cover of the Don Henley hit from the early ’80s — is the first single, and a song choice no doubt influenced by a lifetime in a fishbowl, her love of older music and her utter distaste for what Americans consider entertainment nowadays. “I just think that what our entertainment is now is absolutely insane,” says the 36-year-old mother of two. “Everything seems very Stepford to me right now. Everyone has to look like a Barbie, everyone has to look half-naked… Things that are soulless get a lot of attention.”
As she speaks, Presley comes across as very straightforward, very honest, and — a couple high-profile marriages aside — clearly not interested in taking the Paris Hilton route to fame. “I’m not doing this because I’m a vain person who likes to get attention, you know? I mean, I’m just not that person,” she says. True enough: If her life was all about getting more column inches, no doubt there are plenty of things she could do. As she puts it, “I could be on every red carpet, on every opening of an envelope.” She doesn’t even like living in Los Angeles, she says, “but I have to be here, because I’m working here right now.” Given the choice, she’d far prefer to make her home on an island, tucked away with her family and friends.
So if she doesn’t like LA, and thinks the entertainment industry is completely vapid, what on earth is she doing in the music business? To her, it’s all about making connections to the people that matter: The fans. She says she loves “everything about them. That I’m moving people.”
While she may not worry about being marketable, the little peer group she put together on her album ensured her some level of commercial success. For example, Presley sang a duet with Pink on one song, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols played on two tracks, and she recorded a cover of the Ramones’ “Here Today” at the behest of Johnny Ramone himself. Linda Perry — who has worked with Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani, among others — came in and co-wrote five of the album’s 11 tracks. (Presley wrote all the lyrics on the original songs.)
This talented assemblage aside, Presley says she isn’t inspired by current popular music — in fact, she rarely even flips on the radio. “I always listen to old stuff, I don’t listen to what’s out right now. I’m a big ’70s music lover. I love old singer/songwriters — anything from Gordon Lightfoot to John Denver to Pink Floyd to the Bee Gees to Aretha Franklin,” she laughs. “It’s like any art — anything from that period, I love.”
With music from her pop’s heyday as her influence, certainly her career would make the King proud. “It’s not something that I think about all the time,” she says of the notion. “I’m so critical of myself that I can’t even like it enough to go, ‘Oh, I’m sure everyone will love this, this is great.’ It’s just not my personality,” she laughs. “I’m terrible, you know? I’ll do a show, and it will come off okay, but I’m focused in on the things that didn’t go right, and I ruin it for people that come back and say it was good. I’ll be like, ‘Aaagh!’ and I’ll be complaining about something that happened on stage,” she says. “I have to stop that. It’s a bad habit.”
Even of her own album, she’s hardly the type to gush. “I mean, you always want it to do well – I just don’t have false hopes. I have other friends that are amazing singers, and have had amazing careers, that cannot for the life of them get played on the radio right now, because there’s a very specific market,” she says. “All you can really kind of hope for is that you get fans and you move people and you can keep playing and they keep coming.”
But, to her, success means more than just selling records. What it’s all about, she says: “Contributing to people — to mankind.” In fact, Presley is very involved with a few charities: The Literacy, Education and Ability Program (LEAP) is a children’s literacy group. Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) is a charity that focuses on stopping “the criminal acts and abuse of human rights that occurs in psychiatry today.” CCHR’s sister organization, Fight For Kids, focuses on “today’s widespread practice of labeling children mentally ill and drugging them with heavy, mind-altering, psychiatric drugs.” Finally, Presley Place is a home that houses 14 separate apartments, all of which are rented free of charge to homeless families in Memphis. “For me, giving back is really important,” she explains. “It keeps you sane, I believe.”
Her 15-year-old daughter Riley also gets involved with these philanthropic efforts. “She’s got an innate thing where she loves to help,” Presley says. “I took her to a charity function in December in Memphis for that family housing project and the literacy group, and she just lit up the room. She was so interested in helping these kids — I could tell. It was very cute to see,” says this proud mama. “I’m glad, because that’s what’s important. Don’t get all caught up in how you look and this and that, and whatever’s going on in society right now, which is completely insane. You know, what our expectations and what our attention goes to, who we focus in on, and for what reasons.”
For now, her attention remains focused on pleasing her fans. “They’re important to me,” she says. “They’re the whole reason I do what I do.” She included a call-out to them in the album’s liner notes (“YOU are made it all worthwhile the last time, and YOU are what made me do it again”) and stays tuned in to her admirers by way of the message boards on her web site. “I was talking to my friend yesterday, and I said, ‘Come on, if you had people that were fans and liked your music, wouldn’t you know who they are, about them somewhat?’ And my friend just started laughing and said, ‘Yeah, I’d want to know everything about them.'” Now, she says, “I scan [the message boards] as much as I possibly can.”
Soon, Presley will be playing concerts across the country — something that makes her excited… but also nervous. “The other night was our first show, and I surprisingly found myself like a lion in a cage — wanting to get out there,” she laughs. “Because I had so much adrenaline going and I was so amped up for it, I found it almost relief to go out there on stage and just do it.”
And out there — under the lights and in front of the crowd — she finds some of those things she craves the most: acceptance, appreciation and affection. “I just want to know that I’m moving people, and that I’m good, you know?” she says. “And I feel better that I’m doing something.”