Dubai Diaries: Elvis still loves us tender


David Light

Published: Sun 23 May 2021, 5:31 PM

Last updated: Sun 23 May 2021, 5:34 PM

Did he ever really leave the building? From the minute Elvis Aaron Presley shook his hips onto the burgeoning blues scene in late 1940s Memphis to the second you happened upon this article, The King’s enduring spirit continues to envelop global culture. Mention his name almost anywhere on Earth and you’ll be met with at the very least a nod of recognition, all the way up to those who enjoy donning a Vegas-style white jumpsuit, gold-rimmed sunglasses and black wig of a weekend. Personally I’d go, for the ‘68 comeback special look, but there’s no accounting for taste. Such perennial admiration was only reinforced this week with the sweeping positive reaction Netflix’s docuseries Elvis Presley: The Searcher has garnered. Just when we thought we’d pored over every shred of archival footage, eyewitness interview and long-lost recording session tape, the gold standard of streaming drops perhaps the final word in investigative reportage. Bordering on forensic direction, particularly when dealing with Presley’s early life, the picture is dispassionate storytelling at its finest and people have loved it. Myself very much included. The strange quirk is the two-parter was originally produced by HBO and opened in theatres three years ago. Yet if there were one artist who’d endorse a more popular purveyor of entertainment repackaging someone else’s work for better market penetration, it’d probably be Mr. P. (cheap shot, I now realise. Keep reading).

Penned by famed American music writer and my father’s namesake, Alan Light, the piece reportedly germinated from Elvis’ ex-wife Priscilla’s desire to have her former husband’s biography told through his music. Four years painstaking research later Light’s The Searcher debuted. Arguably its greatest instant success was destroying a lazy observer’s ability to make pithy comments such as the final sentence in the paragraph above. The widely accepted notion Elvis simply appropriated music from African-American artists mainstream audiences were deemed to find unpalatable at the time is nonsense. While it’s true tracks he put out in the early days were covers, predominantly penned by black performers who were unable to reach a wider listenership – itself undoubtedly a stain on US history -- the originality and towering musical ability Elvis had to display to scale fame’s heights so rapidly is clear for all to see. From the voiceovers various contemporaries such as Howlin’ Wolf and more modern commentators including Tom Petty offer, the idea of Presley possessing an antenna for popular trends and the capacity to amalgamate all he absorbed into the perfect prototype rock star is continually put forward. The greased hairstyle was modeled on those donned by traveling gospel quartets of his youth, his walk: brash Tennessee hustlers; the work ethic: a natural rage against the poverty into which he was born. Plus, let’s not forget, Presley achieved his dreams in the face of a sneering, puritanical establishment who never wanted rock and roll to thrive no matter who was singing it. In short, watch The Searcher for an enlightening three and a half hours sure to leave any preconceptions All Shook Up.

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