THE NEW YORKER
Las Vegas is more like Hollywood than Hollywood, because the money is changing hands right in front. Committed to veneer as an art form, over-thirty and relentlessly white is essence if not always packaging, Vegas is the antithesis of the cultural revolution. Its hopelessly reactionary nature is best exemplified not by the fountains in front of Caesars Palace, or even by the ethnic comedians, but by the existence of-yes-prominent citizens who want to Make Las Vegas Beautiful, which means toning down the neon on Fremont Street and creating vest-pocket parks. Andy Warhol, tolerant as he is, would have a hard time justifying that. Yet the metaphor of the crap game does have it’s application to rock: “Just give me the money, That’s all I want.” The crass determination to get rich has been one of the great unsung forces behind the cultural evolution.
Of course, it has also worked the other way. In the past fifteen years, Hollywood and it’s variants have bought off plenty of rock performers: the Paul Anka types, who used rock as detour until the nightclubs were ready for them; black people-like the Supremes-who identified success with whiteness; and, most important of all, Elvis Presley.
Elvis, the very destination of rock ‘n’ roll for it’s vociferous defenders and detractors, became the first rock-and-roller to switch to ballads for the whole family, and a pioneer (here he had some competition from Annette Funicello and friends) of the unalienated youth movie. You couldn’t blame Elvis. In those days, everyone kept speculating about what would happen to punks like him when the rock-and-roll fad was over. It took the Beatles to affirm the first principle of the cultural revolution: the kids have money, and kid music equals kid capitalism. Colonel Parker meet Brian Epstein.
In 1969, the pelvis isn’t stilled and neither is the adulation. But the controversy is. Young people have liked him right along, going to his movies, watching his TV specials, buying his records. Kids who were babies in 1956 like Presley now. Rock has been through a lot of phases and once again, for the kids, Presley’s rock is where it’s at.
But why have adults, once anti-Presley, become fans? Presley says, “They learned they can move around like that, too.” Rock music no longer gives cultural shock to the middle-aged. And neither does Elvis Presley. Presley still makes those ‘suggestive’ movements. But the shocking of 1956 can be the nostalgic of 1969.
And Presley’s personal reputation hasn’t hurt him with the over-thirties. There haven’t been any storied of scandals with girls, or boys, or drinking or drugs. Instead of becoming a hippie or a revolutionary, Presley has enjoyed a life of prosperity, spending half the year in Hollywood, where his home is on the movie-star maps, and half at Graceland, a $1 million mansion and grounds near Memphis. He sold a farm in Mississippi, because he seldom visited it and moved the horses to Graceland. Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, but has been living in Memphis since he was fifteen.
He doesn’t go to Hollywood parties, which he says he never has liked. He makes no political endorsements and rarely gives interviews, though his wit is quick enough for answering questions. He quietly makes a good public impression by staying largely out of the public eye.
Since 1967, he has been married to a petite blue-eyes brunette named Priscilla, a daughter of an Air Force officer from Memphis, whom he met in Germany. They have a baby, Lisa.
The older generation began to accept Presley during his two years in the Army, 1958-1960, when he served without asking for special favors and passes up an entertainment assignment. He drove a jeep in Germany and rose from Private to Sergeant . Elvis came out of the Army, plunged into making movies and rolled over thirty-one pictures- all making money, all loaded with songs. Some of the plots were so thin and some of the songs reasons for singing them so inane that Presley says “sometimes, I felt like I was singing to a turtle.”
He’d like to make movies with stronger plots, taking dramatic parts in which he doesn’t sing. And he wanted to get back in front of a live audience as a break from the movies. He’d like to do more live singing. “After all, performing for people is how it all started,” he said, “I’ve really missed it. It became harder and harder to perform for a movie camera. The inspitation wasn’t there.”
Presley has sold more than 250 million records all over the world and RCA Victor Records claims that he has been heard by more people in the world than any other singer in the history of recording. He has fifty-eight gold records, eleven of his long playing records have sold more than $1 million wholesale, and forty seven of his singles have sold more than a million copies. Hound Dog sold more than seven million. But lately LP’s of songs from the movies haven’t been selling a million.
NOT ALL GOOD
“When you get ten songs in a movie, you can’t have all good songs, man,” the singer says. Presley had a million-selling record this summer, In the Ghetto, which wasn’t from a movie, and his new single, Suspicious Minds, also not from a movie, was one of the nineteen songs in his Las Vegas show. Presley insists that he didn’t return to live performing because of movie box office receipts were down. “That’s possible, but that’s not the reason. It was the thing I wanted to do for a long time. I’ve never been any more excited about anything in my life,” he said.