Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Elvis - The Pop Top Rocker?

Remember the Seventies littering phenomenon, pop-top tabs? How they were everywhere? You'd walk across parking lots filled with them. And I used to go barefoot all of the time. I vividly remember going to Big K once at Memorial Village (such a quaint name!) with my cousin Lisa (we bought play money) and how the asphalt burned our feet.

Darwin's Market (now site of a mission that gives out clothes to the homeless and poor) was a cracker box grocery store that my father always went to with its shelves full of outdated canned food and August 16, 1977 was no different. We took his brother over there to get something, I knew he'd bring me a Coke and some M&M's probably, or maybe even a Reggie bar. We stayed outside in the heat, and it was super hot. A typical Tennessee swelter laid over us. I probably had my Minutemen softball hat on. I was a star outfielder in the Jimmy Carter Softball League sponsored by the Moose Lodge. Pop top tabs baked into the parking lot, leaving little aluminum sparks.

Uncle came out of the store and got into our blue and white Ford Ranger. He had my Coke and M&M's. "But I wanted a Reggie Bar," I whined! Reggie Bars were sub-human Baby Ruth bar rip-offs named after Reggie Jackson that I didn't even eat when I was bought one. Heck, they may not have even been on the market then, but I remember always wanting one. We'll leave it in for dramatic effect since the rest of this is completely as I remember it. "There's a guy on the radio that says that Elvis is dead," my Uncle reported. I thought he was telling a joke, or lying. My father didn't care for Elvis, but the King was "The King" to my mother and me. When Uncle assured us it was not a joke, I did the standard run through of psychological phases, and you know the ones: shock, denial, anger, etc.

When we got home, my mother was sitting in a chair and she was crying while that Ronnie Milsap tune "It Was Almost Like A Song" played on the radio. I knew then that it was all true. There's been a soft spot in my heart for that song ever since.

We witnessed the rest like most of America; from in front of our television screens we saw the circus in Memphis. Boy how I wanted to be there, in my hometown, that's how I felt about Memphis back then. We lived in the Murfreesboro, but I felt like I was just in temporary exile from the big city I was born in. My mother bought the tabloids and a couple of collector magazines, which I looked at constantly. We listened to his last album Moody Blue on eight track so much we probably drove my father insane. He preferred Charlie Rich, who he used to see play in a bar on Getwell Street when he lived in Memphis.

Now it's been 28 years later and RCA's busy promoting Elvis to yet another generation. Millions will be spent and millions will be made and it leaves me ambivalent on the whole parade. I dig Elvis. I play his music to my children and love it, especially "Hound Dog". There is something about that tune that just gives it timeless appeal, I suppose it's the simplicity of it coupled with the canine epithet that does it. So I don't mind new people getting exposed to quality entertainment, but I do wonder about what this says about the promotion of new music. I didn't need the record company promoting Elvis. I did a fine job myself.

This stubborn adherence to selling what has always sold gets to me. Elvis had a smash hit just in the past few years with "A Little Less Conversation", but even so, the appeal of Elvis is dying out as his original fans die, their kids age.... that would be the group I'm in...the last group able to remember him alive, which leaves the adults who grew up in our wake that were sold on Elvis in a post death marketing binge by Tom Parker and RCA. I know I left out the hippies, but they spurned the King since they had no taste. Time might eventually make of Elvis what it did to all of the pop-tops littered in parking lots all across America. It never seemed to me that pop-tops could disappear. Sure they were replaced, but the sheer volume of them lying in parking lots made it seem like their aluminum sparks would exist perpetually.

Elvis is an American icon and he'll never completely vanish from the landscape, but some day when we're dead and long gone he may become as little heard as the Paul Bunyan myth is in today's world. No amount of RCA's money will stop that.

And in some garage, there's a band with a dragging beat bashing out something that will never be heard because of such endless promotion of an aging product. I love Elvis Presley, the music, the movies, the image, the town he lived in. He was the King of Rock and Roll!! But there will come a day when he should join the out of date cans. Then only the true believers and seekers will listen


Rex L. Camino said...

Well said, Wally (though I must say that I prefer the original of "Hound Dog" to Elvis' take).

Lance said...

Iraq has enough discarded pop tops to last a decade. They are ubiquitous. Once the Iraqi Army finishes of the Iranian, Syrian and Saudi Arabian terrorists I imagine the King can be marketed pretty successfully over here as well.

Anonymous said...

I remember the day when he died too, we were sitting in front of the TV watching Gomer Pyle when they made the announcement. Remember - I saw Elvis perform twice at Murphy Center which I can still remember today. Ironic that this is as close as he came to performing in Nashville. He refused to play in Nashville since he bombed on the Opry. I think that Elvis fan base is on a decline but will come around again someday as the retro again becomes hip and another generation discovers the music. All it would take is another Happy Days type craze. On another note - you minutemen suck ( I used to play on the Sounds in the Carter league )I still smile when I think of those green shirts with the big toothed Jimmy C. on the front. The Older I get, the more I realize that the 70's were a time and place that will probably never happen again. Whether you view that as good or bad is up to the individual.

Wally Bangs said...

The Jimmy Carter Moose League is a story in and of itself. I was on the Minutemen in 77 and the Bears in 78. The Minutemen were a good team. I think we finished third. I was one of the best players on the Bears so you know we sucked.