A mood of quiet melancholy seems to pervade my MySpace page today with the addition of two new videos, "Hurt" by Johnny Cash and a live performance of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" by Elvis Presley, recorded two months before his death for his last television special.

Elvis' physical appearance shocked everybody who saw those last concerts, either in person or on television. He was overweight, his skin was bad and at times he looked sluggish, even confused. And the version of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" featured here has been used ever since as proof of how sick, and degraded, he had become. He stumbles over words, misses beats; he even appears not to know where he is or whom he's addressing. Jesus Christ, the critics said then and still say now, this guy was really off his face!

HE WAS JOKING, IDIOTS! Okay, the first verbal slip was a mistake but the rest was a traditional piece of self-effacing on-stage Presley clowning. He did it all the time; and "Are You Lonesome?" was one of his favourite moments in the live show to do it because he didn't like the song. What makes it all appear unintentional is that he looks so ill: the apparent loss of creative control seems to go hand-in-hand with his loss of physical control--whereas the perfection of his physical appearance only a few years earlier created the impression that everything he did must be deliberate.

Old debates. I may even be the only person who cares about Elvis Presley anymore, and the Johnny Cash fad is fading out now "Walk The Line" has made it to the bargain bins. But regardless of whether or not Elvis deliberately messes up "Lonesome," listen to the voice. The man has lived like a god. He's achieved more, scaled higher peaks, in 42 years than most of us will get close to if we have twice his time on earth. Now he has two months left to live and he's singing beautifully, maybe better than he ever did.

When he hits those deep soul notes it stops my breath.


Anonymous said…
I feel bad for him anyway - despite his celebrity and all the fans and money and all that hero for posterity bull. Of course he achieved much, but to my mind, each time he took one step up, he took two steps back in his personal life. A person isn't just what he's done for himself and his fans - he is also what he's done or not done for his family, loved ones. Leaving money and things behind is really small consolation. Like MLK, I believe that the bottom line should be the content of our character. If we are true champions to our "selfs" but are stunted in our relationships, all the hero worship in the world doesn't change it.
Bruce Hodder said…
True. But I think Elvis realised, in later life, that he had made some terrible mistakes. Look at his spirited defence of Priscilla's character live on stage in '74 or '75, and his gloomy midnight visits to her even later than that, when he would ask to look at Lisa Marie and appeared to be very awkwardly trying to reconcile with P. There's no greater tragedy on a personal level than knowing that you have destroyed what mattered most, and there is no way back. I think Elvis looked into his own soul and saw the blackness and the rot that lay there--he saw that although he was a good man, he was also a bad man--and that is what killed him.

To me there is no such thing as a character that is either good or bad, positive or negative, right or wrong. We are all a balance of opposites, we aspire to Heaven even as our impulses pull us down to Hell, and to expect more of any human being is unfair.

Unfortunately for Elvis, his portion of Heaven probably lay in his genius.