The Explanation
(for those who require one)

And, of course, that is what all of this is -- all of this: the one song, ever changing, ever reincarnated, that speaks somehow from and to and for that which is ineffable within us and without us, that is both prayer and deliverance, folly and wisdom, that inspires us to dance or smile or simply to go on, senselessly, incomprehensibly, beatifically, in the face of mortality and the truth that our lives are more ill-writ, ill-rhymed and fleeting than any song, except perhaps those songs -- that song, endlesly reincarnated -- born of that truth, be it the moon and June of that truth, or the wordless blue moan, or the rotgut or the elegant poetry of it. That nameless black-hulled ship of Ulysses, that long black train, that Terraplane, that mystery train, that Rocket '88', that Buick 6 -- same journey, same miracle, same end and endlessness."
-- Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather

Sept. 9, 1956
They Were Collaborators #189


50 years ago today, a former truck driver from Memphis made his debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and by the time Elvis Presley had finished singing 'Don't Be Cruel', 'Hound Dog', 'Ready, Teddy' and 'Love Me Tender', it's safe to say rock and roll music had finally embedded its greasy mitts in the minds of suburban America. "Before Elvis, there was nothing," John Lennon later said, and while Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Little Richard might have something to say about it, Presley's mix of acceptable mama's boy and hormone crazed Southern rebel was able to eliminate the colour barrier and stake its claim on the popular consciousness.

Of course this was not Elvis's first TV appearance, he'd been on the Dorsey Brothers' Stage Show, Steve Allen and Milton Berle, but Sullivan was the stamp of show biz approval, and perhaps even the beginning of the end, as RCA Records and Hollywood sought to tame him even further. Presley would still make credible recordings in the days before joining the army, and notable ones afterwards, but seeing Elvis Presley on TV in 1956 was like capturing lightning in a bottle, and with the sole exception of Lennon and Co. on the same program eight years later, there's never been another moment quite like it in the annals of popular culture.

(And before someone else points it out, no, Sullivan was not present on Sept. 9, 1956, the show was hosted by Charles Laughton due to Mr. Ed recovering from an automobile accident, and Elvis, with Scotty Moore, Bill Black and DJ Fontana, plus the Jordanaires, performed their segment from California. But I love that photo.)

6 comments :

Tom Sutpen said...

Outstanding, Stephen!

The image, the text . . . bray-vo!

swac said...

Aw...shucks. Thanks, Tom!

BTW...I heard they just found Munch's The Scream and Madonna!

Someone musta seen 'em on here and alerted the authorities.

Resolver said...

That John Lennon quote always reminds me of something else he said, shortly before his own death in 1980:

"He [Elvis} died when he went into the army. That's when they killed him, that's when they castrated him."

(see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A702839 )

An astute comment, tho not completely accurate -- there was, of course, '68 Comeback, Suspicious Minds, and all that. Precious moments perhaps best understood as a brief resurrection before the pills and the food and the weirdness did him in for good. In the corporeal sense, that is. Spiritually, of course, "Elvis Lives."

Paul Reno said...

The guy was unique. Burning Love was during the 'pills and weirdness' phase, so was 'T-R-O-U-B-L-E' and the rocking, 'Promised Land' a Chuck Berry remake with all the passion of the original. Many recordings were tucked away on albums but were as great as the early Presley tracks. Before Elvis there was nothing and after Elvis there was nothing as good.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree: Before ELVIS there was nothing and after him...
not much !

Simon said...

another quote of Lennon's was

"before anyone did anything Elvis did everything"

We'll never see his like again he was and always will be unequalled.