Sunday, August 17, 2008

Colonel Parker Was No Albert Grossman, Dude

It crossed my mind yesterday, thinking about Elvis Presley on the anniversary of his death, what a terrible manager Colonel Tom Parker was. It's not usually looked at that way, but think about it: after buying Elvis out of Sun Records and getting him onto RCA (I think he was with Elvis when that happened)--that was an exceptional move--what did he do? Got Elvis into two good movies and about 150 terrible ones, almost ruining his reputation in the process, and never, after the comeback--which was probably the one time control of Elvis' destiny was put in somebody else's hands (the classic concept of the show in '68 was the producer's)--never once arranged for Elvis to perform outside the United States. (Hawaii is one of the states, isn't it?) Performing across the globe may or may not have stimulated Elvis' creativity--I think it would have, because his repetitive concert schedule in America, echoing the repetition of the movie contract, dulled Elvis and made him lose interest in what he was doing--but from a purely mercenary point of view, imagine how much cash they could have made if Elvis had performed in Britain, France, Germany, South America, Japan, Australia--all the places that artists of global stature were going to by that time (think of Dylan and the Stones). The Colonel wasted Elvis as a human being AND as a cash cow.
Of course, you could say that Elvis needn't have been so passive; that he could have stood up like, for instance, the Stones and taken control of his career. But that wasn't the nature of the man. His was a primal genius. He preferred to leave business to the suits so he could indulge his other passions when he wasn't at work.
And on August 16th 1977, of course, indulging his other passions so dedicatedly (including among them self-pity) killed him. But as a creative force he had expired a long time before that.

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