Posts Tagged ‘Elvis’

The first song I think of as an American Icon is “American Pie” by Don McLean. It was written in 1971 and I’ve always wondered what a lot of the lyrics meant. Don McLean talks about the time of the 1950’s. He describes it as ‘a long time ago’ because of all the turmoil that happened. The next line about having the chance to make people dance is about the purpose of the music in the 1950’s, which was for dancing. Don McLean wanted to play rock and roll so people could have a good time. February was not just cold; Buddy Holly died on February 3, 1959 in a plane crash in Iowa. Don McLean’s idol was Buddy Holly. ‘The day the music died’ refers to the crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper. Therefore, February 3rd 1959 is called “The day the music died.” The standard rock and roll songs are the music that died. These were the only major artists left because Elvis was drafted, Little Richard turned gospel, and Chuck Berry was arrested. Don McLean asks ‘do you believe in rock and roll’? This is from the hit “Do You Believe in Magic” (1965). The next line, ‘And, can you teach me how to dance real slow?’ Surprisingly, dancing in the 1950’s wasn’t like it is today. Then, if you danced with someone, you then were committed to him or her. I liked learning that kicking off your shoes is a reference to a “sock hop”. In the 1950’s, a pickup truck was a symbol of sexual freedom, and Marty Robbins had a hit with “A White sport Coat” in 1957. The end of verse two brings a new ago; the 1960’s were a social revolution! In 1959 the music died, around 1969 is when McLean more than likely started writing this song. The line ‘The courtroom was adjourned, no verdict was returned’ deals with Kennedy’s assassination. The Beatles music became more political so this is why ‘Lennon read a book of Marx’. Also with reference to The Beatles is ‘The quartet practiced in the park’. Of course this was a time of hippies and getting high. ‘Then landed in the foul grass’ is a suggestion to marijuana. ‘While sergeants played a marching tune’: remember the album cover with the marching band on it? This album was recently named the most influential album of all time. Woodstock took place in 1969, hence ‘we were all in one place’. Of course, this is when the moon landing was (in 1969). That is was this generation was ‘lost in space’. Satan had won, this is why he was ‘laughing with delight’. This was the end of the 1960’s. The violence was amongst the people on earth. The ‘sacred store’ is the record store that sold 1950’s albums. The refrain denotes to the traditional Americans who are depressed wit the current lifestyle.                             





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Mugshot Evlis

I wanted to bring this up to an idea from our conversation about Elvis, about him watering down the “Rebel” image to sell commercially, and how common the “rebel” narrative is in the United States. Elvis had numerous run-ins with the law, as do many famous musicians and icons , but those confrontations very rarely lead to a completely negative connotation of those people. If anything, those transgression seem to be appealing because it shows the idols as counter to a societal system that often disenfranchises and disappoints people. By being rebels, Elvis an other icons seem to give people a way to literally buy into a counter culture. For them, Elvis’ mugshot must have reassured them that this was a man on the edge. someone to marvel at for their music and confrontations with the law. However, as he and his audience get older, such brushes with law must have seemed more desperate and embarassing then rebellious.

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Elivs Lives…Kind Of.

I’m sure a lot of you have seen The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, as it has been on Netflix Instant for a while now, but I’m never sure how many people have had the opportunity to watch that documentary’s prequel – The Dancing Outlaw, which focuses on Jesco White himself from about fifteen years earlier. A brief synopsis for anyone new to the White family as a whole: think coal mining, West Virginia family that does too many drugs, has probably witnessed a few cousins marry, and has curated an almost impressive disregard for the law. Jesco, the main character who has developed his own brand of fame following in his father’s footsteps as the best tap dancer in West Virginia (I am not joking), is also certifiably insane and probably a psychopath.

So what does this all have to do with Elvis? According to Jesco, he is Elvis. At least one-third of the time. Mr. White appears to have multiple personality disorder, and through the film you can meet all three of his personalities. Jesse is his nice character, Jesco is “the devil himself,” and then there’s Elvis. Jesco has collected probably literally every kind of Elvis memorabilia and stored it throughout his home, but the crowning jewel is the “recording studio” he set up in the basement. You cannot make this stuff up.

I haven’t really considered the cultural/academic/social connotations of a grown man’s adoption of Elvis as his third personality, and while I’m sure there are some, I’d rather just share a couple of choice video clips with you.

First, my favorite Jesco line, from The Dancing Outlaw:

And Jesco as Elvis, from…the internet:

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I feel like this clip from This is Spinal Tap is a great subversion of the idea of Graceland and Elvis Presley’s grave being this great, holy place. There’s this image of how special it’s all supposed to be, but a lot of the time, as seen here, it just comes down to a couple shmoes standing around and trying to imitate a legend. This doesn’t make Graceland a bad thing, necessarily, it just suggests an outsider’s perspective on the place. For those who have spent their lives loving and worshipping Elvis, it means a lot. However, for someone like me that had next to no familiarity with Presley, this properly encompasses the vague ideas of what such devotion looks like.

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I don’t know who I first learned about Elvis from, but I can definitely tell you Elvis’s association in my childhood: Uncle Jesse. A running joke of full house was Uncle Jesse’s Elvis obsession, an obsession that was and still is something very real to all people. It is interesting what people choose to accept and ignore when it comes to icons. In addition to his substance abuse and horrible movies, people also seem to ignore- or refuse to accept the fact that Elvis died a tragic but very preventable death.
People seem to just love to love Elvis.
long live the king!

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Elvis Impersonators


Elvis impersonators have become an essential American icon, having existed since Elvis’s popularity surged in the 1950’s. There is no are in which cultural appropriation of the image of Elvis is more pervasive than in the mass phenomenon of Elvis impersonation. A simple Wikipedia search will tell you about all the types and levels of impersonation. There’s look-alikes, sound-alikes, and combinations impersonating Elvis as a professional (or Elvis Tribute Artist), amateur, or comics. Sure, the King means different things to these different people—but to them, Elvis is their life style. 

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The Scared Heart of Elvis

John Lennon famously said that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus, well according to this picture Elvis IS Jesus.

I think that this picture really represents how Americans can turn a person into an idol, and also how even though America has no state religion, the zenith of being an icon is to be compared to Jesus.

Claire Stoms

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