Friday, August 16, 2013

Long live the King: "sooner or later you have to deal with Elvis"; Annie Leibovitz photos

I have John Zech of Composer's Datebook to thank for a new tweak on the Elvis legend:
On August 16, 1977, Elvis Presley died in Memphis, Tennessee. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935, Elvis first earned his living as a mechanic and furniture repairman who occasionally played cowboy ballads on the guitar at parties. But somehow Elvis reinvented himself and became the archetypal rock ‘n’ roll superstar, revered more as the modern day reincarnation of the Greek god Dionysius than a mere mortal. His funeral caused such an outpouring of hysteria and that two people died in the chaos and many more were injured. There was even a bizarre plot at the time to kidnap Elvis’ corpse and hold it for ransom. And, of course, some people claim he never died at all. American composer Michael Daughtery has taken pop icons like Elvis as the inspiration for a number of his concert works. He has even written a bassoon concerto titled “Dead Elvis” — a set of variations on the Dies Irae theme from the Latin Mass for the Dead. In performance, the composer asks that the soloist enter in the familiar costume of Las Vegas Elvis — sunglasses and a rhinestone-encrusted white jumpsuit with a plunging, open, neckline. Hip gyrations are optional. Michael Daugherty writes: “Elvis is a part of American culture, history, and mythology, for better or for worse. If you want to understand American and all its riddles, sooner or later you have to deal with Elvis.”
Graceland, Elvis's home in Memphis, is now a museum. The second-floor living space remains private, however. Below are the stairs going up to it as photographed by Annie Leibovitz for her book Pilgrimage.
Leibovitz made many other poignant photos, including ones of his gleaming silver Harley, his mother Gladys's closet with the vintage patterned cotton dresses still hanging in, it and his grandmother Minnie Mae's dressing table with her cat's eye sunglasses. The tv, below, which he shot in frustration in the 1970s, is kept in a storeroom.
I'll close with this photo of Elvis at Graceland. And Elvis lovers will want a copy of the newish documentary Elvis Thru the Years: Special Anniversary Edition
Below: Elvis's Harley Davidson, by Leibovitz.

Here's another sort of Elvis visual: a depiction of his eyewear from the zoomable chart of celebrity glasses created by Brooklyn's Pop Chart Lab.


  1. I could not resist searching for the reason Elvis would shoot a TV. The most self-assured answer says that he was shooting at an image of Robert Goulet, whom he resented for having sneaked around with his girlfriend while Elvis was stuck in the Army.
    This sounds more plausible than the theory that he was shooting at the Beatles, cause, to my way of thinking, professional jealousy never provokes a man to violent looniness, but being two-timed surely can.

  2. The Beatles had really wanted to meet Elvis, who was one of their heroes. When they met, the King appeared bored and mainly watched TV. Finally someone suggested that they have a jam session. Much to the Fab Four's surprise, Elvis picked up a bass—he had recently taught himself how to play it. I don't know what songs they played (probably early rock-n-roll or old standards) but oh, to be a fly on the wall!

    1. More about that historic meeting – in Los Angeles, not Memphis or London – can be found here. The only song mentioned as being played that night is Charlie Rich’s Mohair Sam.

      p.s. George Harrison here tells Paul and Ringo about the other time he met Elvis.

  3. Oh, the eyeglasses are fun--as a lifelong member of the bespectacled tribe, I've often considered signature frames. But the criterion has always been how I see, and not how I look. How does Elton John stand to see everything pink?

    BTW, love the idea of stealth addenda. It rewards people like me who scroll through previous posts to see if anyone has come up with, say.. another penguin/bagpiper joke!