You were always on my mind . . .
She was only young when he died, but the king of kitsch has got Eleanor Bailey under his spell
Sunday 10 August 1997
I was too young to understand. My parents were too busy dragging me away from the ice cream stand at Bartok recitals to do their educational duty regarding this century's biggest star. I came to like his music, but it was the man and the myth that really got me.
I've always been a sucker for shallow life metaphors and in this area Elvis is indisputably the king. The American Dream turned sour. Plucked from the ghetto, shot to the stars, flushed down the can. Elvis, like the hamburger, over-ran the world and became sick on his own gluttony.
In fact, I discovered that I am Elvis' spiritual twin. Just look at the bizarre similarities in our lives. Both our names begin EL and end EY. There was confusion at both of our births; the doctor thought I was a boy, Elvis unexpectedly arrived with a stillborn twin. We both like peanut butter, and I, too, would put on weight if I ate like he did. And neither of us can act. Spooky huh (uh-huh, huh)?
I felt spiritually closest to Elvis at college, the day Olga and I watched the tearsome telebiopic Elvis & Me three times over. After 48 hours of hedonistic, Presley-style partying, Priscilla's four-hour, drippy, sanitised film is just the thing. From the moment their eyes met in Germany to the divorce so many years later, nothing is more guaranteed to clear your stomach.
A pilgrimage to Graceland became essential and in 1995 my dream came true. Pauline, with whom I had travelled right across America, was a sceptic. Elvis was inextricably linked in her head with Radio Two and overweight, misty-eyed, middle-aged women. To persuade her otherwise, I bought, in New Orleans, a tape of the classic Elvis comeback in Las Vegas 1969 - the black leather and heavy sideburns concert. It is wonderful because there are few of the tinny, "Hound Dog"-style numbers and far more of the rich, bluesy, "Suspicious Minds" variety. As we listened, I read aloud a pile of trash called Elvis: His Last Hour On The Toilet (something like that), which had been used as a door stop in a San Francisco book store.
We drove triumphantly into the car park at Graceland and entered kitsch heaven. Every room lovingly preserved in Elvis' choice, Seventies' style - the leopard-skin rugs, the dark brown furnishings. Walking from room to room, you are accompanied by Priscilla on audio guide, talking about Elvis like the woman from the Cadbury's caramel ad.
We all - Pauline, me and lots of fat, middle-aged women - cried round the grave, which is so dignified (at least in comparison with everything else). The only let-down was the gift shop - I was desperate for an Elvis fluffy pink toilet-roll holder but had to settle for a pen.
Some people don't understand why we should thank God for Elvis. They don't appreciate the cool of a man who has been dead 20 years but is still raking in an estimated $100 million a year and has time for personal appearances in fast-food joints. So what if his outlook was naive. In these complex times, we like our icons shallow. Even "intelligent" artists love the Elvis metaphor - Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train, Nicolas Cage in Wild At Heart, singing "Love Me Tender" with his nose blown off.
Some people think Andy Warhol's "Double Elvis" is a statement about the nature of fame. In fact, it's a moral message that people who eat too much peanut butter shall be forced to practice asexual reproduction.
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