Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977. It took greater than every week for Lester Bangs’s obituary to seem, however it was value the wait to observe the passionate critic zero in with trademark intimacy: “Where were you when Elvis died? What were you doing, and what did it give you an excuse to do with the rest of your day? That’s what we’ll be talking about in the future when we remember this grand occasion. Like Pearl Harbor or JFK’s assassination, it boiled down to individual reminiscences, which is perhaps as it should be, because in spite of his greatness blah blah blah, Elvis had left us each as alone as he was; I mean, he wasn’t exactly a Man of the People anymore, if you get my drift. If you don’t I will drift even further, away from Elvis into the contemplation of why all our public heroes seem to reinforce our own solitude.” (That final line fascinates by itself deserves, however much more so contemplating the serendipity of the Voice’s entrance web page that week, which featured two of the largest heroes of recent occasions, the fictional Superman and the all the time larger-than-true-life Muhammad Ali, who have been starring in an oversize comedian guide at the time. The King was in worthy firm.)
Bangs pulls no punches in regard to the contempt he felt Elvis confirmed his viewers: “Elvis was perverse; only a true pervert could release something like Having Fun With Elvis on Stage, that album released three or so years back which consisted entirely of between-song onstage patter so redundant it would make both Willy Burroughs and Gert Stein blush. Elvis was into marketing boredom when Andy Warhol was still doing shoe ads, but Elvis’s sin was his failure to realize that his fans were not perverse — they loved him without qualification, no matter what he dumped on them they loyally lapped it up, and that’s why I feel a hell of a lot sorrier for all those poor jerks than for Elvis himself now. I mean, who’s left they can stand all night in the rain for?”
Bangs opines that “Elvis was the last of our sacred cows to be publicly mutilated; everybody knows Keith Richard likes his junk, but when Elvis went onstage in a stupor nobody breathed a hint of ‘Quaalude’.… In a way, this was both good and bad, good because Elvis wasn’t encouraging other people to think it was cool to be a walking Physicians’ Desk Reference, bad because Elvis stood for that Nixonian Secrecy-as-Virtue, which was passed off as the essence of Americanism for a few years there. In a sense he could be seen not only as a phenomenon that exploded in the ’50s to help shape the psychic jailbreak of the ’60s but ultimately as a perfect cultural expression of what the Nixon years were all about.”
Writing in 1977, Bangs grapples with the place precisely the music Elvis was so recognized with has ended up: “As I left the building I passed some Latin guys hanging out by the front door. ‘Heard the news? Elvis is dead!’ I told them. They looked at me with contemptuous indifference. So what. Maybe if I had told them Donna Summer was dead I might have gotten a reaction; I do recall walking in this neighborhood wearing a T-shirt that said ‘Disco Sucks’ with a vast unamused muttering in my wake, which only goes to show that not for everyone was Elvis the still-reigning King of Rock ’n’ Roll, in fact not for everyone is rock ’n’ roll the still-reigning music. By now, each citizen has found his own little obsessive corner to blast his brains in: As the ’60s were supremely narcissistic, solipsism’s what the ’70s have been about, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the world of ‘pop’ (huh?) music. And Elvis may have been the greatest solipsist of all.”
Bangs continues on his trek by way of the Chelsea warrens, gathering provides for an impromptu wake on a pal’s hearth escape, stopping at a meat market the place the fiftysomething proprietor complains about seeing Elvis in Vegas: “He squatted on the stage and asked the band what song they wanted to do next, but before they could answer he was complaining about the lights. ‘They’re too bright,’ he says. ‘They hurt my eyes. Put ’em out or I don’t sing a note.’ So they do. So me and my wife are sitting in total blackness listening to this guy sing songs we knew and loved, and I ain’t just talking about his old goddamn songs, but he totally butchered all of ’em. Fuck him. I’m not saying I’m glad he’s dead, but I know one thing: I got taken when I went to see Elvis Presley.”
Bangs understands; he’s onerous on Elvis up till this level, after which he tells his personal story of seeing Elvis in individual, writing with an honesty that lesser critics wouldn’t dare: “He was the only male performer I have ever seen to whom I responded sexually; it wasn’t real arousal, rather an erection of the heart, when I looked at him I went mad with desire and envy and worship and self-projection. I mean, Mick Jagger, whom I saw as far back as 1964 and twice in ’65, never even came close.”
The complete textual content of Bangs’s farewell to the King follows the scan under. However in case you’re so inclined, learn it in the unique, yellowed newsprint. And, when you learn nothing else, learn the final paragraph, as succinct a summing up of this bizarre, flawed nation — which gave the world rock ’n’ roll — as you’ll discover anyplace this aspect of Steinbeck, Baldwin, or Didion. There are two massive typos in the unique conclusion that we’ve fastened in the reside textual content, artifacts of the Voice’s all the time hectic Monday night time closes and no matter drug du jour was fueling the copy editor — however you’ll determine them out.
The primary factor is, Bangs nailed us 41 years in the past, and if something, he’s much more on the cash as we speak.
By Lester Bangs
August 29, 1977
Where have been you when Elvis died? What have been you doing, and what did it offer you an excuse to do with the remainder of your day? That’s what we’ll be speaking about in the future once we keep in mind this grand event. Like Pearl Harbor or JFK’s assassination, it boiled right down to particular person reminiscences, which is probably correctly, as a result of regardless of his greatness blah blah blah, Elvis had left us every as alone as he was; I imply, he wasn’t precisely a Man of the Individuals anymore, in the event you get my drift. For those who don’t I’ll drift even additional, away from Elvis into contemplation of why all our public heroes appear to strengthen our personal solitude.
The last word sin of any performer is contempt for the viewers. Those that bask in it’s going to finally reap the scorn of these they’ve dumped on whether or not they stay ceaselessly like Andy Paleface Warhol or die fashionably early like Lenny Bruce, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Charlie Parker, Billie Vacation. The 2 issues that distinguish these deaths from Elvis’s (he they usually having drug habits vaguely in widespread) have been that each one of them died on the outdoors wanting in and none of them took their viewers as a right. Which is why it’s just a bit bit more durable for me to see Elvis as a tragic determine; I see him as being extra like the Pentagon, this big armored establishment no one is aware of something about besides that its energy is known.
Clearly all of us appreciated Elvis higher than the Pentagon, however take a look at what a paltry assertion that’s. In the finish, Elvis’s scorn for his followers as manifested in “new” albums filled with beforehand launched materials and one new track to ensure all us suckers would purchase it was mirrored in the scorn all of us secretly or not so secretly felt for a person who got here nearer to godhood than Carlos Castaneda till army conscription tamed and revealed him for the dumb lackey he all the time was in the first place. And ever since, for nearly 20 years now, we’ve been ready for him to get wild once more, fools that we’re, and he in all probability knew higher than any of us in his coronary heart of hearts that it was by no means gonna occur, his coronary heart of hearts so clearly not being our collective coronary heart of hearts, he so clearly just a few poor dumb Southern boy with a Massive Daddy supervisor to display the world for him and filter out something which could erode his standing as massive strapping child bringing house the bucks, and eventually being type of perversely celebrated at the very least by rock critics for his utter contempt for his viewers.
And Elvis was perverse; solely a real pervert might launch one thing like Having Enjoyable with Elvis On Stage, that album launched three or so years again which consisted totally of between-song onstage patter so redundant it will make each Willy Burroughs and Gert Stein blush. Elvis was into advertising boredom when Andy Warhol was nonetheless doing shoe advertisements, however Elvis’s sin was his failure to understand that his followers weren’t perverse— they liked him with out qualification, it doesn’t matter what he dumped on them they loyally lapped it up, and that’s why I really feel a hell of quite a bit sorrier for all these poor jerks than for Elvis himself now. I imply, who’s left they will stand all night time in the rain for? No one, and the true tragedy is the tragedy of a whole era which refuses to surrender its adolescence even because it feels its menopausal paunch start to blossom and its hair recede over the horizon — together with Elvis and the whole lot else they as soon as thought they believed in. Will they care in 5 years what he’s been doing for the final 20?
Positive, Elvis’s dying is a comparatively minor ironic variant on the futureshock mazurka, and maybe the most vital factor about Elvis’s exit is that the complete historical past of the ’70s has been retreads and brutal demystification; three of Elvis’s ex-bodyguards just lately obtained along with this hacker from the New York Submit and whipped up a ebook which dosed us with all the filth we’d yearned for for therefore lengthy. Elvis was the final of our sacred cows to be publicly mutilated; everyone is aware of Keith Richard likes his junk, however when Elvis went onstage in a stupor no one breathed a touch of “Quaalude…” In a means, this was each good and dangerous, good as a result of Elvis wasn’t encouraging different individuals to assume it was cool to be a strolling Physicians’ Desk Reference, dangerous as a result of Elvis stood for that Nixonian Secrecy-as-Advantage which was handed off as the essence of Americanism for a number of years there. In a way he might be seen not solely as a phenomenon that exploded in the ’50s to assist form the psychic jailbreak of the ’60s however finally as an ideal cultural expression of what the Nixon years have been all about. Not that he prospered extra then, however that his ardour for the privateness of potentates allowed him to get away with virtually literal homicide, definitely with the symbolic rape of his followers, which means that we’d all do higher to consider waving goodbye with one upraised finger.
I obtained the information of Elvis’s demise whereas consuming beer with a pal and fellow music journalist on his hearth escape on 21st Road in Chelsea. Chelsea is an effective neighborhood; regardless of the undeniable fact that the insane lady who lives upstairs retains him awake all night time each night time together with her rants at nobody, my pal stays there as a result of he likes the sense of group inside variety in that neighborhood: old-time Card-Carrying Communists stay in his constructing alongside individuals of each persuasion popularly lumped as “ethnic.” When we heard about Elvis we knew a wake was so as, so I went out to the deli for a case of beer. As I left the constructing I handed some Latin guys hanging out by the entrance door. “Heard the news? Elvis is dead!” I advised them. They checked out me with contemptuous indifference. So what. Perhaps if I had informed them Donna Summer time was lifeless I may need gotten a response; I do recall strolling on this neighborhood sporting a T-shirt that stated “Disco Sucks” with an enormous unamused muttering in my wake, which solely goes to point out that not for everybody was Elvis the still-reigning King of Rock ’n’ Roll, in reality not for everybody is rock ’n’ roll the still-reigning music. By now, every citizen has discovered his personal little obsessive nook to blast his brains in: as the ’60s have been supremely narcissistic, solipsism’s what the ’70s have been about, and nowhere is that this higher demonstrated than in the world of ‘pop’ (huh?) music. And Elvis might have been the biggest solipsist of all.
I requested for 2 six-packs at the deli and advised the man behind the counter the information. He seemed 50 years previous, greying, huge stomach, life nonetheless in his eyes, and he stated: “Shit, that’s too bad. I guess our only hope now is if the Beatles get back together.”
Fifty years previous.
I advised him I assumed that might be the largest anticlimax in historical past and that the neatest thing the Stones might do now can be to interrupt up and spare us all additional embarrassments.
He laughed, and gave me instructions to a meat market down the road. There I requested the counterman the similar query I had been asking everybody. He was in his fifties too, and he stated, “You know what? I don’t care that bastard’s dead. I took my wife to see him in Vegas in ’73, we paid $14 a ticket, and he came out and sang for 20 minutes. Then he fell down. Then he stood up and sang a couple more songs, then he fell down again. Finally he said, ‘Well, shit, I might as well sit singing as standing.’ So he squatted on the stage and asked the band what song they wanted to do next, but before they could answer he was complaining about the lights. ‘They’re too bright,’ he says. ‘They hurt my eyes. Put ’em out or I don’t sing a note.’ So they do. So me and my wife are sitting in total blackness listening to this guy sing songs we knew and loved, and I ain’t just talking about his old goddam songs, but he totally butchered all of ’em. Fuck him. I’m not saying I’m glad he’s dead, but I know one thing: I got taken when I went to see Elvis Presley.”
I obtained taken too the one time I noticed Elvis, however in a completely totally different approach. It was the autumn of 1971, and two tickets to an Elvis present turned up at the workplaces of Creem journal, the place I used to be then employed. It was determined that these employees members who had by no means had the privilege of witnessing Elvis ought to get the tickets, which was how me and artwork director Charlie Auringer ended up in almost the entrance row of the largest area in Detroit. Earlier Charlie had stated, “Do you realize how much we could get if we sold these fucking things?” I didn’t, however how valuable they have been turned completely clear the immediate Elvis sauntered onto the stage. He was the solely male performer I’ve ever seen to whom I responded sexually; it wasn’t actual arousal, fairly an erection of the coronary heart, once I checked out him I went mad with want and envy and worship and self-projection. I imply, Mick Jagger, whom I noticed way back to 1964 and twice in ’65, by no means even got here shut.
There was Elvis, dressed up on this completely ridiculous white go well with which seemed like some studded Arthurian fort, and he was too fats, and the buckle on his belt was as massive as your head besides that your head just isn’t made from strong gold, and any lesser man would have been the spittin’ picture of a Neil Diamond damfool in such a getup, however on Elvis it match. What didn’t? Regardless of how awful his data ever obtained, regardless of how intently he pursued mediocrity, there was nonetheless some trace, some flash left over from the days when…properly, I wasn’t there, so I gained’t presume to remark. However I’ll say this: Elvis Presley was the man who introduced overt blatant vulgar sexual frenzy to the common arts in America (and thereby to the nation itself, since placing “popular arts” and “America” in the similar sentence appears virtually redundant). It has been stated that he was the first white to sing like a black individual, which is unfaithful when it comes to exhausting information however completely true when it comes to cultural impression. However what’s extra essential is that when Elvis began wiggling his hips and Ed Sullivan refused to point out it, the whole nation went right into a paroxysm of sexual frustration resulting in abiding discontent which culminated in the explosion of psychedelic-militant folklore which was the ’60s.
I imply, don’t inform me about Lenny Bruce, man — Lenny Bruce stated soiled phrases in public and obtained a type of consensual martyrdom. Plus which Lenny Bruce was hip, too goddam hip in case you ask me which was his undoing, whereas Elvis was not hip in any respect, Elvis was a goddam truckdriver who worshipped his mom and would by no means say shit or fuck round her, and Elvis alerted America to the undeniable fact that it had a groin with imperatives that had been stifled. Lenny Bruce demonstrated how far you might push a society as repressed as ours and the way a lot you might get away with, however Elvis kicked “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” out the window and changed it with “Let’s fuck.” The remainder of us are nonetheless reeling from the influence. Clearly sexual chaos reigns presently, however out of chaos might stream true understanding and concord, and both means Elvis virtually singlehandedly opened the floodgates. That night time in Detroit, an evening I’ll always remember, he had however to ever so barely transfer one shoulder muscle, not even a shrug, and the women in the gallery hit by its ray screamed, fainted, howled in warmth. Actually, each time this man moved any a part of his physique the slightest centimeter, tens or tens of hundreds of individuals went berserk. Not Sinatra, not Jagger, not the Beatles, no one you possibly can provide you with ever elicited such hysteria amongst so many. And this after a decade and a half of crappy data, of creating some extent of not making an attempt.
If love really goes out of trend endlessly, which I don’t consider, then together with our nurtured indifference to one another shall be an much more contemptuous indifference to every others’ objects of reverence. I assumed it was Iggy Stooge, you thought it was Joni Mitchell or whoever else appeared to talk in your personal personal, completely circumscribed state of affairs’s many pains and few ecstasies. We’ll proceed to fragment on this method, as a result of solipsism holds all the playing cards at current; it’s a king whose area engulfs even Elvis’s. However I can assure you one factor: we’ll by no means once more agree on something as we agreed on Elvis. So I gained’t hassle saying goodbye to his corpse. I’ll say goodbye to you.
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