It’s true, Elvis was never the same after he came back from the Army in 1960. There was a knowing in the famous lopsided smile, a restlessness fueled by something other than youth.
The songs came and were forgettable; the films even worse. The hippies didn’t even wears shoes, let alone blue suedes.
Eight years passed by. He dyed his hair blue/black and became an eccentric relic, more a novelty than an entertainer.
For reasons known only to a Robert-Johnson-Cross-Roads shaman, the gods handed Elvis one last chance and he didn’t even know it.
A television special would have been unthinkable before. But this was not ‘before’. The producer noticed that Elvis liked to sit with his buddies and just play the old songs. So why not do some of that?
And it became the first unplugged segment in pop music.
It didn’t take long for Elvis to go off script. In a way, he was always off script, something all the others (Bobby This or Frankie That) never really got.
|Off the grid. No auto-tune. Full bore.|
Watch him. He slides off the grid and swings a trapeze up to his long dormant talent. Suddenly he has hold of an electric guitar with no strap. Doesn't stop him. Deep in his Memphis soul he must know this could be it, the Final Performance, no matter how long he lives.
Clad in black leather, with no vocal overdubbing and no auto-tune and no reverb and no backup singers, he becomes what he always was - among the best rock singers of the twentieth century, and one of a few genuine pop culture icons.
Today, it is impossible to hear him sing ‘Trying to Get to You’ and not notice how careful superbowl-style pop music has become. This is the mother-lode. The high-water mark. Pre-punk. The gold standard.
Whatever rock was supposed to be, it doesn't get better. Rock critic Greil Marcus watched the show that night with a friend, who at one point turned to him and said, shocked, "He's doing all this with just three chords? Impossible."
And then, he leaves the stage forever. Just like that. Resigned to bedazzled white jumpsuits and ill-health, going through karate-kid motions and praying for an early release.
|Savage. Mindless. Real.|
Later, he writes a note to himself (to what he was and what he is to become) not to be shared, but discovered after his death:
- “I feel so alone sometimes. The night is quiet for me. I'd love to be able to sleep. I'll probably not rest. I have no need for all this. Help me, Lord.”