I became a fan by assignment.
One night over drinks in 2004, my boss at the time told me of his decision to have me create the imaging production for the first artist-only channel at Sirius (still separate from XM, and pre-Howard Stern). It was to be “Elvis Radio”, to which I replied, “Hell yeah, I love Elvis Costello!”
I was being facetious. I did love Elvis Costello, but Elvis Presley? I’m doing an Oldies channel of nothing but Elvis? And, being that what Elvis Presley Enterprises wanted was for Elvis’s speaking voice to be ever-present in the imaging – like he’s still alive, almost a “host” – I knew that meant I’d have to digest everything Elvis. EVERY. THING. That meant all the music (do you have any idea how many official and unofficial CDs there are?), all 33 movies (’cause I needed isolated clips of Elvis dialogue), and even some books to get some background for the VO scripts.
I devoured everything whole, and spit out some of the finest work I’ve ever done (if I say so myself).
And, in the process, I became a HUGE fan.
My brain is still healing from overloading it with much of his inane cinematic oeuvre (I’m looking at you, Harum Scarum and Double Trouble), but I remain endlessly fascinated with this man’s life. I’ve now read countless books – from Peter Guralnick’s excellent and well-balanced two-volume biography “Last Train To Memphis” and “Careless Love”, to touching on-the-scene accounts from his close associates Jerry Schilling (“Me and a Guy Named Elvis”) and Alan Fortas (“Elvis: From Memphis to Hollywood”), and the more sensational stories from his Memphis Mafia cronies (“Elvis: What Happened?” and “Elvis and the Memphis Mafia”), and none of them have a happy ending. No detox and rehab that finally took. No ill-advised Disco smash. No Rick Rubin-produced return-to-form comeback album. Just a very sick man dying in his personal bathroom, finally released from his own demons to reunite with his terribly-missed Mama.
In the end, a modern Greek tragedy.
The Elvis I choose to remember is not the bloated, belt-buckled, jumpsuit-splitting, karate-chopping, cape-wearing, President-badged cartoon character he became. Nor is it the controversial young buck, or the leather-clad comeback kid (though that last one runs a close second). It’s the guy in the YouTube bloopers reel posted above. It’s the guy you hear on the between-takes studio chatter unearthed on countless reissues (like the just-released Elvis at Stax), cutting it up with friends and colleagues in the only place he ever totally felt in-command and in-control – the recording studio.
That’s where he was alive. Human. Taking care of business.