Happy E-Day: What If Elvis Had Lived?
Note: Elvis Presley would be 78 years old today, if he had not (supposedly) died in Memphis in August 1977. This article originally appeared as part of Rocks Off's "Elvis Week" in January 2011, and still seems plausible two years later.
Do you realize that Woody Allen, Julie Andrews, the dude who was in the Darth Vader suit, and Ron Paul are all the same age as Elvis Presley would be on Saturday? Look at Woody Allen next time you see him on TMZ and just think, he's as old as Elvis.
In order to get in the frame of mind to think of Elvis Presley as being 76 years old this week, you have to suspend many realities in your head and allow for a number of variables. Rocks Off had to do the same thing trying to imagine John Lennon as an old man, which was relatively easy for some odd reason.
Presley seems to be a uniquely 20th-century machine, made of post-war promise and the first rumblings of the teen-music juggernaut that would morph into '60s counterculture. He became a movie star and played Las Vegas casinos because that was what you did back then if you were part of the entertainment world.
He was only 42 years old when he died, which at the time was middle age. Now, 42 is nothing. Elvis' daughter Lisa Marie is 42. Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn, LL Cool J, skater Tony Hawk, Rachael Ray, and Radiohead's Thom Yorke are all 42. Put that in perspective. No one would say they are washed up either.
In all too many ways everything that happened to his legacy after he died, now almost 34 years ago, has warped every memory we have of him to the point where we don't remember a vibrant, sexy Elvis. We see Graceland, we see tabloid fodder, we see a fat Santa-like figure sweating on a stage, devoid of danger or influence.
Pop culture has not been kind to his memory.
But if you listen to the recordings of those last years of show, especially some of those spangly live shows from Madison Square Garden in 1972 and Hawaii the next year, the dude was smoking. Crank up "Polk Salad Annie" from that MSG show and hear the band behind him. He was also getting really into having a female backing chorus, but we guess that was the Vegas getting to him.
The recordings from the last two years of his life aren't as fun, with the King slurring through "Jailhouse Rock" on Elvis In Concert, and the album is padded with too many fan comments. But he does bring his dad, Vernon, onstage.
The gospel stuff like "How Great Thou Art" has extra weight to it, because looking back, it sounds like a man struggling with an addiction he couldn't break, but he was still reaching back to his faith. This set was recorded just months before he died in August 1977.
Stars like Presley do not exist anymore, which makes it tough to place him into 2011. People of his stature are either dead or dying. Look at that first class of Sun Records, "The Million Dollar Quartet," that he was a part of with Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins.
Lewis is still kicking around with varying capacity, Perkins never got quite got his deserved due, and Cash's legacy is getting closer and closer to Presley's every year since his death in 2003. The difference between Presley and Cash is that we got a redemption tale and a spiritual testimonial out of Cash's life.
The Man In Black showed that it was possible to get your shit together. That was never possible from Presley, but judging by his gospel roots, it very well could have been in the cards.
There are a few roads Presley could have taken his fans down had he lived. It's fun to think what would be happening now, but also very sad to imagine what we are missing.
Elvis, Aging Troubadour This is our favorite scenario, where Elvis takes off the jumpsuit around 1980, starts slimming down for a 1984 tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of his first Sun studio session, gets the remaining Beatles to back him on the road, and has Stray Cats and The Clash opening for him.
He gets mixed up with the Highwaymen and the Traveling Wilburys, and by the time the '90s roll around, he's doing grim gospel songs with Cash and Rick Rubin in a studio. In an alternate universe, you can read Rocks Off's Aftermath blog on his most recent sold-out Toyota Center show. We sat fourth row while our date threw her panties at him during "In the Ghetto" and he winked at her.
Elvis, Movie Star and Occasional Musician Elvis could have picked back up his acting career in the early '80s, and maybe played a benevolent bartender or bouncer for Peter Bogdanovich or done a Jim Jarmusch buddy picture. Can you imagine he and Strummer doing a movie together, with Elvis as Strummer's long-lost American GI father?
Today, maybe he would be doing Larry The Cable Guy movies, but Jesus Christ at least they would have Elvis Presley in them. We just heard that he is talking to the Coen Brothers about playing Jeff Lebowski's pothead father in The Bigger Lebowski.
Elvis, Reality Star and Plastic Surgery Joke Elvis doesn't die, by the grace of God, in 1977 but he does stay on the pills a few more years before going to an extensive rehab. A disastrous crash diet and change in management sees him wearing neon jumpsuits in the mid-'80s, sponsored by Diet Pepsi. He leaves Graceland in 1983 and moves to the West Coast, but keeps his Memphis estate as a museum.
The plastic surgery starts. He guests as a drug kingpin on Miami Vice, and writes a song with Mick Jagger for the soundtrack. He puts out marginally successful albums until a 1998 heart attack puts him out of commission for a couple of years. His reality show with new wife Pamela Anderson Lee Presley is wildly popular and leads to him being a guest judge during Elvis week on American Idol. After six facelifts, his lip no longer curls.
Elvis, Vegas Rat Elvis stays in Vegas, relentlessly gigging and making occasional stops around the country. He makes another concert film, directed by Martin Scorsese, detailing his "final" show in April 1983. A few weeks after the filming, he dies after having a heart attack on a plane going back to Memphis to record a country album.
The funeral is a star-studded event, with Bob Dylan doing a wheezy "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and Paul McCartney turning in a version of "Love Me Tender" that tops the pop charts the whole summer.
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