Elvis Presley seemed like a caricature in his last few years, but a caricature of what we didn’t know.
After a lifetime of not getting it, I finally experienced my very own Elvis epiphany, and the mystery of why he is considered one of the great pop performers of all time was revealed to me.
Presley’s innovation wasn’t that he sounded either black or like a hillbilly; it was the brilliant way he drew on all strains of pop music.
If there is a split between Presley and what came before him, it is mainly in the sense of demographics. Presley represents a point of demarcation in that his music was directed almost exclusively at kids.
What made rock ’n’ roll different from all other earlier kinds of pop was not the music itself but the marketing.
Somehow, a kind of radical, extreme purism has become the norm with regard to their music. Certain puritans apparently can’t stand the idea that Louis Armstrong made music other than jazz or that by 1960 Presley, tired of doing one rehash of "Don’t Be Cruel" after another, was similarly broadening his horizons ... gospel albums represented probably his greatest work.
The two central expressions of African-American music are the blues and gospel, and they are flip sides of each other. In their purest forms, blues deals with the darkness and gospel with the light, blues with the flesh and gospel with the spirit, blues with the earth and gospel with the sky. Presley unfailingly said that gospel was his favorite music.
Perhaps to stick to your standards in Hollywood, you had to be something of a gangster.