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Visions Of Elvis
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Matthew Paris

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Post Sat Jan 24, 2004 4:28 pm - Visions Of Elvis
In late August of 2002 I attended a concert of rockabilly music at Lincoln Center featuring some of the oldest complainants about lack of constant sexual provender for their overweening erotic hungers I have never seen anywhere on this planet. In several classes it amuses the septuagenarian wailers for more amorous fodder to be caroling the very plaints that a half century earlier they though was a self-evidently central lack in their life.
Some of the luckier ones like Conway Twitty had gone on before his death to warble the country music that tells one they have been at least several times around the block. Conspicuous in his absence from this festival of the aging puerile was its central champion of such jejune fevers and hungers: the now immortal Elvis.
It can be said that at least publicly though uses of cosmetics and avoidance of dessert to lose hundreds of pounds Elvis never did get to where Conway Twitty did. If we have any historical sense of the growth of this faith system at all we might be able to pinpoint its naissance circa 1953 at the sacred advent of the late Elvis.
The estimable Elvis Presley represented to us and probably himself a pure animal hunger that might redeem him us from lives much more dour than occasional getting all shook up. It’s a rare god who can redeem himself. Now we might claim we were all corrupted by rockabillies now perished.
I wouldn’t dismiss too quickly that Elvis’s life and death was worthy of classical hagiographia. He was born as one of identical twins, the other of whom died; his very birth was a kind of cosmic internal paradox. He was also by Talmudic law a Jew like Jesus. His maternal grandmother was Jewish. Our world has an odd tendency to have prophets who are Jewish from Moses to Marx as it has an equal partiality for Armenians as rug salesmen.
Elvis died in a way that was as much a metaphor for constipation as other demises by other equally celebrated redemptive messiahs; he aspired on the crapper after suffering constipation from too much drug use for years. That is a vintage martyrdom for a consumerist hero.
To be bloated with fastfood harvests, oodles of fried chicken, glistening spare ribs, bibbing cola, crispy fries, and butter laden biscuits, to have them festering in one’s body like cosmic internal trash because one can’t get of them is an classical American martyr’s death.
It’s not as if Elvis doesn’t inspire morals. Elvis’s last years were spent on crash diets, taking off eighty pounds in a few months to appear in Las Vegas as casually svelte. He always busily dyed his pure white hair black as if one snowy hair were a sign he might lose his market value. He even had recourse to cosmetics to maintain a puerile image he could not biologically keep by a personal edict of God in his sadly truncated middle age.

In his last years he became as saintly consumerists do a bit of a recluse as well as an addict. He had a court of White trash retainers and rarely left his rhinestone-ornamented palatial house in Memphis glistening under the stars like a neon palace. He occasionally called J. Edgar Hoover to talk about John Wayne in between calls from John Wayne to talk about Hoover. He gobbled painkillers by the truckload and shot heroin for an encore. One couldn’t imagine a more zealous suburbanite life style.
Yet there is something grotesque about the 44 year old White haired potty Elvis expiring on a pink plastic toilet with asymmetrical cut rhinestones glittering garishly over the commode as his corpse maundered there in the porcelain chamber after a notably untrammeled revel of overeating and constipation. Yet even in decline and death Elvis represented us. Few of us would like to be dispatched like a cockroach by starvation, hunger; we would rather expire in a gluttonous orgy of devouring whole planets if we could.
In gratitude for his divine achievement and even resurrection as a polyhedrous army of Elvis impersonators America has recognized this modern divinity as one of its gods or sons of god in which history and myth combine indissolubly. His apparent earthly father, Vernon Presley, was something of a weakling and wastrel, they say; what else could one cuckolded by God himself be? We couldn’t want him to be other than the craven lush, ne’er-do-well and general vulgar nobody he was.
Keeping a tradition that was old in the days of Chaucer, Americans make continual pilgrimages to Memphis to visit his home perhaps on their way to the Grand Canyon. In the pious way medieval travelers walked to the holy sites of their saints and martyrs of their time they may even micturate and defecate for a hefty fee at the very toilet in which late Elvis took his leave of us.
Of necessity the Elvis cult is not the only modern religion abroad. Certainly its Pentecostal character of Elvis suggested as no other demi-god did that worship of youth and its glandular imbalances was a tarantula-like faith fit for us. My own theory about Elvis is such artificial permanently adolescent beings that America has produced in profusion as Mexico had foaled tamales since the 1950s and both Elvis’ miraculous and serendipitous advent were the harvest of too much daily watching of television. People ask their gods to be what they are not. Elvis was at least in myth a personage embodying a life of total spasmodic action. He vibrated and gyrated for two decades until he was too fatigued to even twitch a little. Then he collapsed when even his colon failed to shudder. That, folks, is sacred death.
Of course nothing and nobody asks less from a human being than a television set; Elvis asked nothing of us either. He inspired no revolutions, no ethical departures, no changes of ontological view. If one has a limitless taste for passive amusement gives one more for nothing than television or Elvis. It does have its alchemical effect though in America in spite of itself.

I had often had the feeling while teaching in public schools that I had been valued by students as entertaining because I could compete in wit with what they had seen their whole lives while staring at a tube. Whether they learned anything or not was a moot point as we all know.
I wouldn’t dismiss any of these sacred theories of advent on television from the birth of Elvis to the carving of Howdy Doody. Nevertheless I would put back the beginning of a new age focused on puerility as if it were a virtue a little further; before Elvis I would suspect the grey fatigues of maturity in the Second World War had inspired many who survived it to take refuge in an antithetical infancy.
Even the days when Elvis was an oleaginous dream conjured in the back of an old Chevrolet parked circumspectly in a bayou the case for adult lives being as weak as it was after supposedly mature civilized Westerners had brought us that the ultimate nightmare of vast national genocides. If Western maturity was fighting in such wars or enduring the stale domestic obligations of peace, we might all do better as aging toddlers living in imaginary perambulators.
One might ask, who was going to support us? If we were true perpetual artificial newborns, did it matter? Do monsters ever worry about a job or how to make a living?
A new morality worthy of Elvis’ shiny garb and stray threads form his legendary gold lame shroud began to creep into America in the middle of the those harvests of maturity. We are now even in our vast Florida spas where the senile and worse gobble down expensive elixirs to make them momentarily virile ready to not only live but to die like Elvis.
Is Elvis a god utterly new? Have there been precursors in such divinity that might infirm us of our probable future one day on our own plastic toilet? Emperors like Nero not only worshiped the precursors in Rome of Elvis; he wanted to be Elvis. We are all Neros in our cult of youth. The faith means as it meant to Nero that action to embrace virility, violence and revels proper to youth is preferable to anything we might take up that savors of the measure and wisdom of experience.
In the end we look to Elvis, not Nestor in our culture as Nero did because we don’t think there is anything to learn from life. Perhaps in some lives there is indeed nothing know or learn. If we can't be Elvis, we’d rather be turtles if we could that have all the knowledge they needed for life while they were in the egg.
Then we could pick our way from our white shell into the light, swim awhile, die mutely udder the sun. We might be viruses or even minerals with a consciousness untainted by anything but the slight expansions and implosions of substance mirrored by our as brainless erotic tumescence. We might ion the near future blast and shrink like Elvis on his toilet as we ar laved by the sun and moon like a stone.
Then we would need new gods; we will shelve Elvis or trash him like old shiny plastic. He will be what all Americans and things American must be in the end: swill, garbage, landfill. He will be replaced by a simple smooth and opaque pebble.
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