Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Zoglin summarizes Elvis

Elvis hardly enhanced his stature in the rock world by becoming a Las Vegas star. The gaudy setting, the show biz affectations, the sentimental ballads, the mostly middle-aged, middlebrow audience, the housewives with bouffant hairdos who sat swooning in the front rows-- it hardly jibed with the motivating ethos of so many rock performers in the late sixties. They saw their music as an avenue for personal expression, social-political protest, and artistic experimentation. All Elvis wanted to do was sing.

And sing to everybody. Las Vegas wasn't just a creative resurrection for Elvis; it was also his grand statement of inclusiveness. No one was more responsible than Elvis, back in the mid-1950s, for driving the initial stake that split the music audience, and eventually the entire culture, in two: the adults who listened to the pop standards and Hit Parade tunes sung by Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Rosemary Clooney; and the kids who embraced a new kind of music called rock 'n' roll. By the end of the sixties, the battle had grown awfully lopsided: rock was becoming mainstream, while the old-style crooners were reduced to a few creaky TV variety shows, a diminishing roster of night clubs--and Las Vegas.

Elvis wanted to bring everyone back together under one tent. He was a rocker and a child of Memphis blues, but also an unabashed romantic; he loved Mario Lanza as well as Bo Diddley. He could kick ass in "What I'd Say" or go for the tears with "Memories." For Elvis, it was all music. He was a great populist -- a uniter, not a divider-- and Vegas gave him his greatest platform. He brought his showmanship, his matchless voice, and the urgency of an artist on a mission to redeem himself. Las Vegas brought the crowds. Neither would ever be the same again.

-- from Elvis in Vegas, by Richard Zoglin (2019, Simon & Schuster)

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