Elvis By Bono

By Bono in Rolling Stone magazineMar 26, 2004
Elvis By Bono
Memphis, Tennessee, came this green, sharkskin-suited girl chaser, wearing eye shadow -- a trucker-dandy white boy who must have risked his hide to act so black and dress so gay. This wasn't New York or even New Orleans; this was Memphis in the Fifties. This was punk rock. This was revolt. Elvis changed everything -- musically, sexually, politically. In Elvis, you had the whole lot; it's all there in that elastic voice and body. As he changed shape, so did the world: He was a Fifties-style icon who was what the Sixties were capable of, and then suddenly not. In the Seventies, he turned celebrity into a blood sport, but interestingly, the more he fell to Earth, the more godlike he became to his fans. His last performances showcase a voice even bigger than his gut, where you cry real tears as the music messiah sings his tired heart out, turning casino into temple. In Elvis, you have the blueprint for rock & roll: The highness -- the gospel highs. The mud -- the Delta mud, the blues. Sexual liberation. Controversy. Changing the way people feel about the world. It's all there with Elvis. I was barely conscious when I saw the '68 comeback special, at eight years old -- which was probably an advantage. I hadn't the critical faculties to divide the different Elvises into different categories or sort through the contradictions. Pretty much everything I want from guitar, bass and drums was present: a performer annoyed by the distance from his audience; a persona that made a prism of fame's wide-angle lens; a sexuality matched only by a thirst for God's instruction. But it's that elastic spastic dance that is the most difficult to explain -- hips that swivel from Europe to Africa, which is the whole point of America, I guess. For an Irish boy, the voice might have explained the sexiness of the U.S.A., but the dance explained the energy of this new world about to boil over and scald the rest of us with new ideas on race, religion, fashion, love and peace. These were ideas bigger than the man who would break the ice for them, ideas that would later confound the man who took the Anglo-Saxon stiff upper lip and curled it forever. He was "Elvis the Pelvis," with one hand on the blues terminal and the other on the gospel, which is the essence of rock & roll, a lightning flash running along his spine, electroshock therapy for a generation about to refuse numbness, both male and female, black and white. I recently met with Coretta Scott King, John Lewis and some of the other leaders of the American civil-rights movement, and they reminded me of the cultural apartheid rock & roll was up against. I think the hill they climbed would have been much steeper were it not for the racial inroads black music was making on white pop culture. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival were all introduced to the blues through Elvis. He was already doing what the civil-rights movement was demanding: breaking down barriers. You don't think of Elvis as political, but that is politics: changing the way people see the world. In the Eighties, U2 went to Memphis, to Sun Studio -- the scene of rock & roll's big bang. We were working with Elvis' engineer and music diviner, Cowboy Jack Clement. He reopened the studio so we could cut some tracks within the same four walls where Elvis recorded "Mystery Train." He found the old valve microphone the King had howled through; the reverb was the same reverb: "Train I ride, sixteen coaches long." It was a small tunnel of a place, but there was a certain clarity to the sound. You can hear it in those Sun records, and they are the ones for me -- leanness but not meanness. The King didn't know he was the King yet. It's haunted, hunted, spooky music. Elvis doesn't know where the train will take him, and that's why we want to be passengers. Jerry Schilling, the only one of the Memphis Mafia not to sell him out, told me a story about when he used to live at Graceland, down by the squash courts. He had a little room there, and he said that when Elvis was upset and feeling out of kilter, he would leave the big house and go down to his little gym, where there was a piano. With no one else around, his choice would always be gospel, losing and finding himself in the old spirituals. He was happiest when he was singing his way back to spiritual safety. But he didn't stay long enough. Self-loathing was waiting back up at the house, where Elvis was seen shooting at his TV screens, the Bible open beside him at St. Paul's great ode to love, Corinthians 13. Elvis clearly didn't believe God's grace was amazing enough. Some commentators say it was the Army, others say it was Hollywood or Las Vegas that broke his spirit. The rock & roll world certainly didn't like to see their King doing what he was told. I think it was probably much more likely his marriage or his mother -- or a finer fracture from earlier on, like losing his twin brother, Jesse, at birth. Maybe it was just the big arse of fame sitting on him. I think the Vegas period is underrated. I find it the most emotional. By that point Elvis was clearly not in control of his own life, and there is this incredible pathos. The big opera voice of the later years -- that's the one that really hurts me. Why is it that we want our idols to die on a cross of their own making, and if they don't, we want our money back? But you know, Elvis ate America before America ate him.
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Reactions

macuser (profilecontact) wrote on Jul 12, 2004report abuse
I think first of all that all those socalled die-hard Elvisfans should hush for a while cause they are without a doubt--and yes that may sound strange- responsible for Elvis his cavement inside Graceland while he lived.Oh yes they may defend it that didn't do anything wrong but just love the guy for what he was worth, but that is just the point!
Because of that admiration and willingly to be with him ya all prohibited him from beeing a regular guy who couldn'walk anymore freely on the road or have a simple night at the movie with his friends.That is called choking someone's life to death.Then is there that * i know more then you as a fan and therefore i have more rights to talk about Elvis his legacy blabla *comment one reads on several fansites. Please...we are ALL Elvis fans nothing more nothing less and NOBODY is a bigger fan then the other.It is also ridicilous that certain Elvisfans are becomming almost racist or even hostile towards other fans cause their opinion is not only *Hail to the Chief* based like one cannot say anything bad about Elvis the person or Elvis the entertainer.
Elvis wanted first and foremost that folks liked him for his MUSIC cause THAT is what he wanted to GIVE THE WORLD and to be known about.Elvis disliked fans who attacked other fans who critized his music cause he felt like that at least he was getting the real story out instead what was fabricated for him that everything he did was sooooo fantastic that he was without a fault.
Regarding Bono's comment: Here is the *John Lennon of the modern age* who, besides the wellknow author Dave Marsh, describes excactly what Elvis was all about!And to ridicule that only shows what kindda fans Elvis didn't like to have!
King Of Western Bop (profilecontact) wrote on May 1, 2004report abuse
Maybe this is a cliche but a true one nonetheless. No one is in the same league as Elvis!
Return To Sender (profilecontact) wrote on Apr 23, 2004report abuse
Fantastic that an artist in the same league as the king should write such an article. Bono is the Modern day Elvis, and he is a man who i know does not talk crap,(despite what some un'educated music lovers think).Elvis died in 1977, great to see that a world icon such as Bono are is keeping his memory alive.
Rev. Gerhard (profilecontact) wrote on Apr 16, 2004report abuse
It'n not necessary to be a so called "saint" to expect the respect from anybody not being criticized for something which one cannot judge. Of course you can say what you want about his music. Cause this had been made for everybody. But daring to judge critically his relationship to God makes that person trying this to a very poor one.
Burninglove (profilecontact) wrote on Apr 3, 2004report abuse
I think Bono wrote a great article on Elvis. Maybe we are too inclined to worship Elvis like a God. Bono wrote wonderful things on what Elvis meant to the world but someone tends to underline just the "criticism" (I would'nt call it like that.. I'd rather call it a fact) that can be found in the article. I'll just give you a few examples of the passages I loved the most: "In Elvis, you have the blueprint for rock & roll: the highness -- the gospel highs. The mud -- the Delta mud, the blues. Sexual liberation. Controversy. Changing the way people feel about the world. It's all there with Elvis." "His last performances showcase a voice even bigger than his gut, where you cry real tears as the music messiah sings his tired heart out, turning casino into temple." We should thank Bono for saying this, for explaining to young people the true meaning of Elvis' legend. I can say this because I'm 22 and I know that an article like that on a magazine such as RS can only be judged as a truly positive thing. It doesn't matter if Elvis is at third place. What is important is that he's there with all the music greats. Then peolple can decide by themselves who is going to be their #1. We should think that Elvis was no saint... Now don't get me wrong. I absolutely LOVE ELVIS AND HIS SONGS and I believe he was a wonderful and sensitive man but he made a lot of mistakes during his life. WE ALL DO and Elvis was no different from any other human being. Once he said: "I ain't no saint, but I've tried never to do anything that would hurt my family or offend God...". This was in the 50's... but we all know that a lot of things changed. Now imagine... we're in the 70's and Elvis is left alone in the darkness of his room at Graceland. His so-called friends are not with him because they couldn't care less about their friend and his health and Priscilla had left. We know that Elvis believed in God but sometimes he wouldn't show it. Self-distruction behaviour (in Elvis' case) as well as suicide are condamned by the Bible. Now we can't condemn Bono for saying the truth... We must face it... in the later years Elvis was really not in control of his own life even though it's hard for die-hard fans like us to admit that. Now don't tell me that Bono makes fun of the Vegas years. Instead he revaluates them. Just read this carefully : "I think the Vegas period is underrated. I find it the most emotional. By that point Elvis was clearly not in control of his own life, and there is this incredible pathos. The big opera voice of the later years -- that's the one that really hurts me".
.....'nuff said.... :-))
Dan The Man (profilecontact) wrote on Apr 3, 2004report abuse
Hey Jim! Bono's a truely fan, he loves Elvis But he see's where he'd went wrong. So give him some credit!
Jim Semple (profilecontact) wrote on Apr 2, 2004report abuse
I wouldn't worry too much, 99% of what Bono says is unadulterated crap.
jill20scotland (profilecontact) wrote on Apr 2, 2004report abuse
"Elvis clearly didn't believe God's grace was amazing enough" Thats Classified Bull .... Any ELvis fan knows Elvis was the most spiritual person to ever live on this planet and he taught us, To have faith and never give up hope. How can bono say this....Elvis sweared by the holy bible.
Rev. Gerhard (profilecontact) wrote on Apr 1, 2004report abuse
"Elvis clearly didn't believe God's grace was amazing enough." Little Bono has no right to caricature the King's faith.
King Of Western Bop (profilecontact) wrote on Mar 31, 2004report abuse
It wouldn't do too much good to tell RS that they're still living in the sixties in regard to putting Elvis in third place. After all, every era that Elvis featured in while living are also in the past. Unfortunately it comes down to the regard that is given to Elvis' music these days. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, etc, are admired for their psuedo-intellectual lyrics, etc. At best Elvis music is regarded by them as no more than '50s bubblegum music, and anything of influence ended when he signed with RCA. In other words they regard the likes of the Beatles and Bob Dylan as the day pop music grew up and matured. Being an Elvis fan I think Elvis has a much higher standing than that! Thank heavens that Elvis didn't believe in shoving his own brand of politics down our throats. When Elvis bothered to record a message song at least it stayed apolitical.
O (profilecontact) wrote on Mar 30, 2004report abuse
I have to agree with Joe C., RS is really off the mark. I just wish there was something us fans could do to get the message to RS. They seem to forget it is 2004, not 1964. Their brians are fried from to many drugs, and they are still living in there 60's coccoon.
Elvisss (profilecontact) wrote on Mar 27, 2004report abuse
Bravo Bono!
Dan The Man (profilecontact) wrote on Mar 26, 2004report abuse
Second to the King is: Bono. I think he has the same kind of carisma as Elvis and he sings and speaks from the gut. Elvis lead the way so that stars like Bono can learn from E's mistakes and speak out their minds.
Joe Carnevale (profilecontact) wrote on Mar 26, 2004report abuse
Though I like the writeup from Bono the fact that RS picked Elvis third and not 1st is a load of crap. What's an even bigger insult is that Bob Dylan is ahead of him, what a frickin joke.

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