Dear Mr Presley.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Elvis lately. He’s always there to be honest, as the sun and the stars, always with a chair at the top table. Not Elvis Costello you understand, because Elvis Costello is like woke culture, retrospective book re-editing, cider or vegan sausages: I know they’re there, but I don’t care for them much. No, there is no room in this world, living or dead, for more than one Elvis, and Costello is most certainly not the one this world was made for. Elvis is Presley and Presley is Elvis. He straddles galaxies and tickles solar systems. He is definitive and he is timeless and he is essential. So much so that I think I’ll have to give in and watch that Baz Luhrmann film, which was somewhere when it came out but is everywhere now, just to prove I’m right. He is as urgent and crucial (Elvis, not Baz) as Shakespeare and Gandhi and Beethoven appear to be but, and very importantly, he is a lot more fun. He’s even more fun than Muhammed Ali, which is saying something indeed. Elvis may well be the most important lesson we could ever learn from history. He teaches us as if a Jesus and appears to us as if a God. And if God did make man in his image and that image was Elvis Presley then I might even have to start thinking that there really is a God after all. To say you don’t like Elvis is to expand beyond boundary the essence of denial. Even people who don’t know Elvis like Elvis. There’s him, death and taxes. And he’s by far the best of the three.

What is perhaps most extraordinary about the rococo fame and soap-opera misfortune of Elvis is just how disjointed his career was and just how mediocre quite a lot of his music is, even in glorious hindsight. Roughly speaking you can break his time in the spotlight up into five sections: the early Sun Records material and stage appearances, where he would shake his hips and curl his lips in such a manner that grown women (and I dare say a few men) were able to reach a shuddering climax in mere seconds; the slightly whiffy bit just before and after he went into the army; the really whiffy bit that took up most of the 60’s where mostly dreadful films filled far more time than the sporadically good music; the Comeback Special to beat all comebacks and the first dip into Vegas; and then the slow, strangely magnificent decline into rhinestone jumpsuit kitsch and a desperate land of a thousand sweat drenched scarves. Each phase had highlights, often a lot more than a few, but so much of each was also pointedly imperfect, which means that the sole reason Elvis was really able to keep it all going was through the sheer weight of his charisma and his breath-taking image; rock and roll is stuffed full of cool looking people but very few came close to the cool of Elvis having a good day.

I’m grateful for Elvis. That’s the bottom line. I’m grateful he was born as he was and became who he did. I’m so happy he cut through the rough often enough to create a back catalogue crammed with blazing hits and shimmering misses. I’m oddly grateful that he never recorded anything close to a perfect album, because that way I can dip in and out as I please; a sumptuous Elvis buffet, all you can eat but just be careful you keep one eye on the toilet door. Over the years I have picked up all sorts of compilations and expanded reissues and even a tidy box of his complete RCA albums, which, like the décor in his Graceland Jungle Room, is over-the-top and unnecessary in the most splendid, must-have kind of a fashion. In terms of looks you can literally stop time at any point between 1955 and 1977 and find a great snap of the man, often more easily than you can a good song. And I am in no way embarrassed to say that my favourite Elvis is, and will always be, that big ol’ boy who slowly retreated into the brightest shadows Las Vegas could offer, to lick his wounds and grow old until he was young enough to die.

And the reason I like the decline so much is because that’s where the tragedy slowly crossed over the triumph until they became one and the same. Elvis may have been a God, but he was also as human a being as you could ever create. His narrative is gripping, his journey impossible to ignore. Blessed with looks and charm and a voice few will ever match he also came with a big, heavy bag of flaws: jealousy, addiction, professional stagnation, bad taste, poor judgement. The list could go on. At a quick glance it may have seemed like a charmed life, all that money and fame and unquestioning adulation, but by the mid 70’s, way on down, Elvis must have been one of the saddest people on the planet. You can see it in his face when you watch the really late period tour shows, a fattened up cartoon version of a face, hair dye running, lips sweating, pleading, haunted eyes flicking about for something to focus on, something to get him out of there to a happy place that even he knew was little more than another girlfriend, another sycophant, another bag of pills and an awful lot of bacon sandwich. Watching him sing ‘Unchained Melody’ or ‘You Gave Me A Mountain’ in 1977 borders on excruciating and yet watch we must, because even then, a beaten legend up against a wall is still a legend. And believe it or not, to be a legend in your own lifetime really doesn’t happen all that often.

So rather than look back on Elvis with regret we should look back with thanks. Thanks that he made it to 42. Thanks that he kept on trying. A strange, perverse thanks to that shameless, craps table charlatan Colonel Tom that he kept on pushing his battered prize fighter out time after time after time, because after all, without being on that stage, a caged lion with a bit of growl left, what else was there really left for Elvis to do? He was never the sort to retire quietly and do adverts for stair lifts. And thank goodness we still have footage of him, to prove he really did exist, because these days you probably couldn’t make him up. Everyone should be taught about him. Every X Factor non-event and Love Island fuck-monkey should be shown what really magnetism, real talent and real star power is really all about, and if you want to see that all in one go there genuinely isn’t a better place to start, or finish. You don’t go to Bowie or Brown, Sinatra or Lennon. You go to Elvis Aaron Presley – the king of the jungle. The star, the icon to top them all. A few may be better at some of it but no-one, ever or ever again, will ever be able to be better at it all at once. And that, I think, is well worth remembering. Long live the king.

G B Hewitt. 04.03.2023

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