Trying To Get To You

Showing posts with label Little Richard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Little Richard. Show all posts

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A Happy 74th To Elvis Presley!

Had he lived, Elvis Presley would be 74 years old today. He has long since passed into the realm of myth - a Rorschach test upon which people project their thoughts, opinions, desires, feelings, resentments and dismissals about almost any conceivable topic: Music, America, race, culture, materialism, decline and a few hundred subjects.

I've never cared much about any of that. The fact is that Elvis was a sublime singer and a singular presence as a performer and instigator of a cultural movement whose repercussions we continue to live with today. It's a common canard that Elvis won his acclaim because he was white and some of his other contemporaries (Chuck Berry, Little Richard, etc.) were black, and that he was just derivative of them. But Elvis Presley released his first singles in 1954, before Chuck Berry and Little Richard ever released a record. (And Elvis was more charismatic than Chuck, and prettier and more versatile than Richard.) He could sing anything - rock, country, r&b, gospel - and when he was at his best, during the 50's and his late 60's comeback, he wove together those various strands of American music to create something mythic in scope, a force which resounded all over the world.

Unfortunately, his music, like much early rock, gets far less respect and acclaim than it deserves; it’s been subsumed by the myth. To many, the songs sound like quaint period pieces. I think they are still stunning. “Hound Dog” remains explosive. “Mystery Train,” “Baby Let’s Play House,” “Milkcow Blues Boogie,” “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “Trying To Get To You,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” and “Jailhouse Rock” continue to provide joy, delight, and a far greater sense of risk, danger and sex than the most rebellious punk band you can find.

Happy birthday Elvis! For my money, you are still, and will always be, the King.

Buy Elvis Presley at Amazon (No record collection should exist without The Sun Sessions, his Greatest Hits, or the NBC-TV Special!)

Download: Bruce Springsteen "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You" 8/27/85, Toronto, ON (A very great version preceded by Springsteen talking about what Elvis meant to him - both as possibility and warning.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Blue Monday

I just finished reading Rick Coleman’s wonderful bio about Fats Domino, “Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock N’ Roll.” It’s one of the best music books I’ve read in years. It is exhaustive in its scope about Domino and post WWII New Orleans R&B, but more than anything, it is a book that sets the record straight.

If Elvis’ legacy as has been called into question by a strain of "cultural critic" that (foolishly) calls what he did cultural appropriation (i.e., ripping off blacks), then Fats Domino contribution to rock and r&b has often been left out of the story. This borders on travesty, as Domino was making music that could easily be identified as rock n’ roll five plus years before Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis ever set foot in a recording studio. My guess is that it’s due to Domino’s non-threatening image; we like our rockers to be overtly rebellious and sexy. Perhaps it’s due to him being a piano based rocker in a genre where the guitar became the main instrument. But however it went down, Domino, despite being a key influence on Elvis, the Beatles, countless others, selling over 100 million records and being an artist who truly shook the walls of segregation (one of the most fascinating threads of the book) has never seemed to get the full extent of the recognition that he deserves.

If the information revolution that we’re experiencing today creates micro-niches of fans interested in one thing, then the revolution began by Fats Domino and his generation of r&b and rock n’ roll musicians did something completely different; it brought vast groups of people together for the first time, often times in direct violation of the law (segregation). It may seem like a small thing now, but when you read “Blue Monday,” you understand both the enormity of the accomplishment (and the price paid for it) and how it altered the history of America forever.

This is required reading.

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