The writer was six years old when Elvis Presley began making his presence felt in the world of music. Now, at 27, he reflects on the man who became known as the king of rock and roll.
By Michael Coates
I am what many persons would consider an Elvis freak, but I’m not a fanatic. Not one of those who shrieked and hollered back in the 1950s when he first made the quantum leap from obscure truck driver to star. I’m not old enough to have participated in them.
And I’m not one of those who nowadays would go to any length or any expense to see Elvis in Las Vegas. I’ve never even belonged to fan club hordes.
But for 20 years I’ve been a good solid fan, first in appreciation of his talents — and he definitely had talent — and then in appreciation of his role in the evolution of rock and roll. He became a legend quickly, and I believe in legends. Others admired sports personalities. I chose Elvis.
Over the years, I’ve purchased close to 25 Elvis albums, which may seem like a lot, but they’re only a small part of the dozens and dozens available. One of my prize possessions is an original copy of Elvis’ Golden Records, Vol 1. It’s about 20 years old, easily the oldest record in my collection.
For me at least, when Elvis was at his best, there was no one anywhere who could top him, whether it be the tinny, primitive sound of his early material like “Jail House Rock” or a definitely matured ballad like “Kentucky Rain” in the early ’70s.
I’ve never been blind to his artistic weaknesses. I know that most of his material during the 1960s, when he did virtually nothing but movies and soundtracks, wasn’t worth much. It was lightweight junk which had no feeling.
I know too, from firsthand observation, that in the last couple years Elvis didn’t put much of himself into his concerts.
I saw him in 1971 in his first Los Angeles performance in nine years. He was great. He seemed to get his energy from the crowd and he gave it back with true feeling in his material.
I saw him again in 1973 or 74, and he was bad — so bad that many persons walked out before hi finished. He didn’t seem to care about his music or his performance. He sang his songs perfunctorily and went through some listless motions.
But still he filled a void, drawing huge audiences and pleasing thousands, so he couldn’t be termed a has-been even at his worst.
In the end, though, it isn’t really his performances of the past decade which will mark his place in history. It’s his image as a pioneer. While he wasn’t the earliest rock and roller, he became its most visible figure, it’s biggest symbol. His appearance and his gyrations outraged parents back then and delighted the teens who identified with his seeming defiance of the norms.
The music was raw and hard, and he sold millions. And he influenced many, many later figures — including the Beatles, who many times acknowledges their debt to his sound and style.
Interestingly, his private image — whatever vices he may have had — was not crude or coarse. He amazed people with his charm and good manners.
He was and is a legend. There are other legends. But he was one of a kind.
I guess I am an Elvis freak, at that, and I’m not ashamed of it.