Pop Rocks: The King Is Dead

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Last Friday -- January 8 -- marked what would have been the 75th birthday of Elvis Presley. The milestone was dutifully noted on most national new broadcasts and publications, tastefully hitting the high points of the King's life without dwelling overmuch on this drug- addled final years. The bulk of the celebrating took place in Graceland, unsurprisingly, where the event was marked by a three-day fete capped by appearances from both Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley. Turner Classic Movies ran a (mostly) 24-hour retrospective of Elvis movies, a few of which (Harum Scarum, Roustabout) strain even TCM's liberal definition of "classic," while various other commemorations were scheduled throughout the US.

But if Houstonians weren't watching network news, or blinked as they loaded up the old RSS feed last Friday, it's entirely possible they missed the whole thing. Were local restaurants serving peanut butter and banana sandwiches to mark the occasion -- like Nino's Osso Buco in New York City? Beats me. Hell, the Houston Chronicle didn't mention the occasion at all (the same can't be said for Rocks Off, however). Of course, I can't really blame the Chron, as there's only so much space left once you're done talking about the return of American Idol and the shocking fact that it gets cold in the winter.

Still, we need to confront the cold reality of the situation. Namely, by asking if Elvis is still everywhere, as Mojo Nixon once asserted, or has he finally become irrelevant? When the man's legacy is increasingly limited to campy impersonators and people more interested in discussing the sordid details of his death than his music, it's not a trick question.

"Less" relevant, surely. Graceland is still -- according to the the official Graceland page, that is -- the second most visited private residence in the United States (behind the White House), though in overall tourism it's well back in the pack. Elvis has also started slipping down Forbes' list of top dead celebrity earners (4th in 2009, behind Yves St. Laurent, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Michael Jackson). Priscilla could take a few marketing tips from Gene Simmons, or maybe an authentic Elvis Aaron Presley coffin would be a bit much.

Presley's influence is significantly lacking among the young, who let his birthday pass largely unnoticed, but also their parents, who would be among the first to have grown up with no living memory of Elvis performing. This hasn't been a problem for other long-defunct acts, like -- for example -- the Doors or the Beatles. But those groups still have living members who can either release video games or tour with new singers to keep interest stoked. As far as I know, there isn't any Elvis (Presley) DLC for Rock Band, much less talk of an actual game a la The Beatles.

Looking at footage from last weekend's celebrations, the age gap was even more apparent. Most celebrants looked to be no younger than their late 40s, with some grimacing teen grandkids in tow.

And while Elvis was once a titan of the silver screen, recent depictions have ranged from the perfunctory (Walk the Line) to surreal (Bubba Ho-Tep), and few musicians younger than Baby Boomer vintage seem interested in acknowledging his influence at all.

Yet influential he remains. Accusations of cultural theft aside, Elvis is still one of the most recognizable and dominant figures in entertainment history. I only have vague memories of his 1970s specials, but I remember where I was when I heard he died (in the car on the way home from a trip to Yellowstone) and I still have a handful of songs in my iPod (nestled between Elton John and Emmylou Harris). I won't claim great sorrow at his slow passage from our collective memory, but am not in any hurry to experience an Elvis-less world.

Unlike Michael J. Fox, I'd still like to have some Elvis in me.

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