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.