January 8 marks Elvis Presley’s birthday. To this day he remains the highest selling solo artist in the history of modern music- with qualifications like that it is no wonder that he is often referred to as the "King of Rock and Roll" or simply "The King". On the 25th anniversary of his untimely death (in 1977) the New York Times wrote this of him:
"All the talentless impersonators and appalling black velvet paintings on display can make him seem little more than a perverse and distant memory. But before Elvis was camp, he was its opposite: a genuine cultural force. ... Elvis's breakthroughs are underappreciated because in this rock-and-roll age, his hard-rocking music and sultry style have triumphed so completely."
From poverty in a two-room shack in Tupelo to unlimited cash in the Graceland mansion, Elvis’s life was one of extremes. The most brutal of these extremes was an addiction to pharmaceuticals- one forensic report into the singers death reported as many as fourteen drugs in his system. While Presley's main physician, Dr. Nichopoulos, was exonerated of criminal liability for the singer's death, the facts were startling:
"For 10 years Dr Nick was Elvis Presley's personal doctor. It was Dr Nick who helped prescribe the constellation of uppers, downers, laxatives, narcotics, hormones and shots that kept Elvis going through the last decade of his life…. In the first eight months of 1977 alone, he had [prescribed] more than 10,000 doses of sedatives, amphetamines and narcotics: all in Elvis's name.”
In a rare turn of events both Presley’s achievements and his short-comings have added power to his legacy. While I like to joke about his death (OD-ing on the toilet, his obese and flaccid body slumped on the pink shag pile, now-cold sweat staining his greasy spangled jumpsuit) as though I'm too cool to care- I do.
I care because I grew up listening to him. I sang along to Elvis with my Dad, watching the landscape roll by as we turned the cassette up a little higher and sang a little louder, both of us slipping between corny impersonations and heartfelt renditions. I remember dreary Sunday afternoons made better by back-to-back Elvis movie specials, the pretty girls swooning over him as he rocked a guitar and shook his hips. I used to love shakin' my baby ass to his tunes while wearing a pair of my mothers blue-suede high heels. I stuck his pictures on my walls, spent nights gazing up at his face- the top lip twitch, the high cheekbones, the dreamy pout… Yeah, I had a crush on him. Actually his whole aesthetic encapsulates everything I find sexy in a man- a genteel kindness, the sleek moves of a panther, the dark features, the fashion flair, the total dedication to a life of music. Lord have mercy!
If you also harbour a secret crush on Elvis, or just want to share a bit of music history with your wee one, check out these super adorable Elvis-inspired toys and clothes: