HIGHWAY TO HELVETICA
ELVIS ARON PRESLEY
By Bucks Burnett
AUGUST 16, 2007
Honestly, Elvis Presley's music never made a big impression on me, although I recall loving "In The Ghetto" when it came out, and I still do (thank you, Mac Davis). For me, it's always been about his movies. i remember seeing Kissin' Cousins on TV when I was a kid, and I was HOOKED. This was the most insane thing I ever saw! I remember thinking, 'why don't people jump around and sing like that all the time?' I'm still wondering.
I am 48, and by the age of 10 in 1968, I was buying my first records by The Beatles and The Temptations. Elvis was like...a President or something. I knew he was cool, but to me, 50's rock was something I just couldn't relate to in any meaningful way. But from my childhood to this day, if you put an Elvis movie on a TV screen, I am there. People love to bitch about how bad his movies are. I worship them like cinematic temples. They are like gods to me, especially Follow That Dream. My god, how can you hate that one. And what a surreal delight is his last acting role, with Mary Tyler Moore in...hell, i can't think of it. Why don't you Google it or something?
By the mid 70's. I was on my way to becoming a legitimate Elvis fan. He was playing Dallas about 3 times a year, 2 shows a day, like clock work in the 70's. It finally dawned on me that I should go see an Elvis concert, so when the Dallas show was announced in 1977, I decided i was going, and even hatched an elaborate plan to meet him ( I was an expert on sneaking backstage, even then). I knew where the main dressing room was at Memorial Auditorium, and I was going to hide in the bathroom stall and when Elvis walked into the room, I would simply exit the stall as if I had been taking care of business, and introduce myself, and maybe become friends or something. I was obsessed with this plan and rehearsed it in my head, dozens of times, counting the days. I was going into that stall about 4pm, when security was light, and I would come out and say hi about 7 or 8 after Elvis arrived. I was absolutely certain that this plan could not fail.
We will never know. I was called in that day for a very important interview at Peaches Records And Tapes by a shift manager named Buffy. I asked if I could possibly come in the next day and she said, 'if you wanna be told no, be my guest.' So I went to Peaches and got myself hired, and Buffy, who looked like she could eat a bowling ball for breakfast, said, "I'm a big Elvis fan, too!" I immediately began plotting my next effort. After all, he was playing Dallas every few months. Maybe I would take Buffy and get some brownie points. 'Naw, I'm gonna go by myself, and hang out in that stall and meet Elvis, dammit.'
Soon after I was hired, Elvis' Moody Blue album was released, on blue vinyl. Shortly after it came out, I was manning my post in the 8 track department, when a skinny, greasy little auto mechanic guy came in and asked, 'You got any Elvis left?" "Whattaya mean any Elvis left; of course we have Elvis!' I proudly pointed to a few rows of about 50 Elvis 8 track tapes. He looked at me and said, 'You haven't heard the news.' 'What news?" I will never forget the immortal words that came out of his mouth at that point.
"Sunnuvabitch died today, about 3 o'clock. Gimmie one uh them tapes, don't care which one."
I stared at the tapes, and handed him one. i stood there like a cereal box - inanimate, not thinking, feeling or reacting. Huh?
About 15 minutes later, another person came in and bought an Elvis 8 track. And then more people started streaming in. And then the store was flooded with people in a state of panic, buying every piece of Elvis Anything. Within two hours, our vast inventory of Elvis LPs and tapes were completely gone. We spent hours that night trying to calm distraught fans who believed RCA would stop manufacturing Elvis records because he was dead. People actually believed that it was the end of the Elvis World, grabbing at anything they could before it went away forever. People also believed that all Elvis records would instantly be worth a fortune because he was dead. You have to remember that Elvis was the first Rock God to die. Nobody had a clue as to how it would all play out. RCA announced to all record stores in America that the pressing plants would be open around the clock to meet the new demand. For about two weeks, we would get another vast batch of Elvis music, and it would sell out within a day or two. People were upset with us when we ran out.
I did not have an emotional reaction to Elvis' death, and still don't; it's just a fantastic memory of a really weird month in a record store, and a lot of good issues of the National Enquirer, who ran his famous coffin photo on their cover. By the time he died, RCA was issuing a new Elvis album literally every three months, usually about 25 minutes in length, usually easy listening and pop covers; a very empty experience. i remember thinking it was just a big rip off, wondering if he knew or cared how bad his records were getting.
Right after Elvis died, I moved to Tyler Texas and worked at Record Town in the local mall. I stopped at a convenience store one day and bought the special Elvis memorial issue of Rolling Stone. To date, it is one of their most beautiful and moving covers. There were two editions, one with a blue logo and one with a black logo. What I have never heard anyone mention but me is quite odd; to the right of Elvis' head on this cover, there is always a faint image of a gold crown. It is because the back cover had an ad for Royal Crown, and when the magazines were printed, the crown from the back impressed its image onto the front cover as the magazines rolled out. It is quite fitting and spooky that the only issue this ever happened with was the Elvis commemorative edition. It is as if fate or god wanted the crown by his head, to say 'Elvis really was the King.'
A couple of months later, punk broke in America, full force, and every label in the land was rolling out new wave acts as quick as they could. I remember one day at Record Town I picked up an album by a geeky looking dude who called himself Elvis Costello. i was repulsed by this album cover and didn't want to touch it, because I thought he was being rude, calling himself Elvis so soon after Elvis had died. It even said Elvis Is King on the cover, as if he were a self appointed replacement. I now of course appreciate the humor of it, but back then it was too close for comfort. The old Elvis gave away Cadillacs; the new one sells Lexus sedans on TV. Lap it up, pup.
John Lennon topped his ass, the hard way, in December 1980, by being the first Rock God to be murdered. 'Take that, Elvis, I've bluddy dethroned ya, again', ain't I, mate...' This time, the record stores knew what to expect. The fans knew they wouldn't stop making Beatles records, but bought them anyway. And the Enquirer tactfully ran a post autopsy color photo of Johnny Boy on the cover, and the Death Industry was fully established. So within 3 years, we lost Elvis and The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin had 3 years left to live. Rock basically collapsed within a six year time period. Punk, very briefly, feasted on the bloody carcass, but became bloated and ridiculous itself, eventually ceasing to matter, as an active art form, to anyone with a brain. For my money, the next great Rock Gods were Talking Heads, who released their debut 77 album exactly one month after Elvis died. Thankfully, they are all still alive. Sadly, there have been no Rock Gods since.
Ten years later, I owned my own shop, Fourteen Records, in Denton, Texas. I had a country band, The Ne'er Do Wells, and our most popular song was called "I Wanna Be With Elvis." We wanted to play it live, in front of Graceland, on August 16, 1987. Never happened. But I did decorate my bathroom with Elvisbilia and called it Wasteland. Named my cat Elvis Paisley. My mother was so proud when The Dallas Morning News ran a huge photo of me sitting on the toilet in Wasteland on the front cover of the entertainment section. Something about Elvis and toilets...
In 1997, I was back in Dallas, working at a CD store, and Tiny Tim had recorded my song "Fourteen" on his final album. A girl named Connie Ambrosch at Bug Music in L.A. walked me through the steps of getting my publishing rights taken care of. She was a godsend, going the extra mile and always cheerful.
It is now 2007, and today is the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death. I recently found out that Connie is a huge Elvis fan, and likes to make a big cake for him on his birthday, which is eerie, because in my song "I Wanna Be With Elvis," I sing:
I make a big cake for Elvis, every January 8th. A few friends come over, and we listen to Elvis 8 track tapes, over and over again.
This week, Connie agreed to become my agent, although I call her my Guardian. Fantastic news. I think it's nice that this happens so close to Elvis Day, since she is my Elvis Twin. We still haven't met, but I know I'm in good hands. Any girl that makes a cake for Elvis on January 8th is okay by me.
It's 2007, and I have yet again blown my opportunity to sing my tribute to Big 'Un in front of Graceland on the big anniversary. Peaches gave way to Sound Warehouse, which got swallowed by Blockbuster Music, which was replaced by Wherehouse Music, which crawled up its own ass. The old Peaches building, once magnificent, was subdivided into smaller spaces years ago. The music business seems ready to collapse on top of itself, just like Big E in 1977. To this day, I regret that job interview with Buffy. Even though I now know my plan had no chance of working, I would've seen him live, and now I can't, forever.
With the exception of a few songs, mainly his 60's hits, I'm still not a huge fan of his music, but adore him for being the Bad Art Messiah of the black velvet kingdom. Velvis; Black Velvet Elvis. But I do have almost all of his DVD's. It's all about the movies. It's all about being young in 1977, one of the greatest years in rock and roll, and my life. Zeppelin, Elvis, Talking Heads, Pistols....how could you ask for more? It was an unbelievable time to be alive, and to die, if you were Elvis Aron Presley.
I hear he's with Jesus, and I'm sure that they are the best of friends. I just hope he's singing, with Gladys and Vernon Presley again, over and over again.
from "I Wanna Be With Elvis"
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