Two important people died the year I turned ten. My grandmother went first at a mothers day tea party. It was sudden and scarey and I was deemed too young to attend her funeral. Five months later however, at a dull unitarian church on the Isle of Wight, I sat beside my mother and younger sister surrounded by large, leather clad bikers sobbing into their beards, for the Elvis memorial service.
There are those significant events in our lives, perilously close to cliche, where we are destined to remember where we were when we heard ‘the news’. For those of us in our early thirties we just missed the Kennedy assasination and were too young to really remember Armstongs space steps and so are left with the death of Elvis, 25 years ago this month, Live Aid, and most recently September 11th.
Now, when fear and hatred seem almost ubiquitous, I find myself nostgalgic for that innocent technicolor world of childhood day dreams, where the good guy gets the girl. At an age when my wildest fantasy consisted of my hero sleeping under my bed, Elvis was omnipresent. While today it is the early 70’s stage performer that captivates me with t raw unchorreographed sexuality and tassely white jump suits, as a child it was the film star that captured my imagination, My youthful naivety obscuring the now obvious contrivance as Elvis struts self conciously in fake tan and tight trousers. These days I can almost hear the cash registers ker-ching with every smoldering glance and kiss and am intrigued by a distant time when a gyrating pelvis was considered a threat to national security.
Elvis’s image has a protean capacity for multiple readings and as such makes commentary on a sociological level lengthy; and though fascinating, I am reluctant to embark on a dry academic diatribe on the cultural significance of his enduring iconic status. Without wanting to draw too much attention to my lack of credentials, inspite of appearances I am not an Elvis expert. I realise it is an unorthodox approach, to undersell my qualifications, but I feel its important to stress I am not a fanatic. Of course I own pretty much everything he’s recorded, but I’ve never been to Memphis, I don’t have a ‘TCB’ tatoo and the minor details of his dietry habits or Cadillac collection don’t interest me. I must however confess to shedding a tear or two during the documentary ‘The Way It Is’ in the cinema last year, and if the truth be told I have screamed wildly during Suspicious Minds at the Elvis concert at Wembly Arena – for the unniniated his original band play live on stage while Elvis, projected on to a huge screen, sings, his vocals digitally separated and remastered. A truly surreal experience but mesmerising nonethe less. I don’t want to proselytize but, DH Lawrance wrote…
“If men were as much men as lizards are lizards they’d be worth looking at” and on stage Elvis, if you are willing to surrender your satire, was worth watching.
Some may also argue that several months of colouring in giant pictures of myself accompanied by my childhood hearthrob, for my first Cork Street exhibition, qualifys me as an extreminst, especially given the fact that I have to have physio for RSI in my right elbow (every time I go over the lines I have to start again!) However, I remain resolute the Elvis I am drawing is not the showman, resplendent in seventies sartorial display. I am depicting a simple, almost transgendered, erotic idol, before the man was destroyed by excessive consumption of all fame had to offer.
It is incredible to me when I hear people laugh at the circumstances of Elvis’s death. It should seem impossible today that the world impotently witnessed his detrioration and mismanagement as he became a parody of himself, his objectification compounded with every mug, beach towel, and ashtray that Elvis inc. produced. But like Michael Jackson and his cosmetic surgery the phenomenom of superstardom continues to this day and we are left to wonder why no one ever said ‘enough!’