Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The King’s Birthday


Had he lived, today would have been Elvis Presley’s 77th birthday.  Am I the only one who has a hard time picturing him at 77?  Though I’ll admit to a certain fondness for the conspiracy folks who think his death was staged and that he’s living in some kind of peaceful seclusion, growing old while laughing at the world.  I can picture that easier than him still being the King of Rock and Roll as a septuagenarian.  I’ve written about Elvis before, but as this is Tube Day Tuesday, let’s visit his television history just a bit. 

Elvis TV

Elvis had a few television specials, beginning with the one commonly known as The ‘68 Comeback Special, though its official name was simply Elvis.   I was five at the time of its release, so it seems unlikely to me that I have true memories of watching this program live, though it seems highly likely that I actually did, given that the King was always a big part of our household.  But I have seen it, and even now, it’s hard for me to think of it as a “comeback”, because he was never gone from my life.  Still, in reality, I know that his career was slowly dwindling at this time, and that this TV special played a big part in putting him back on the upswing, so I’m glad that his handlers and some television producer-types had the good sense to make it happen.


Image courtesy Wikipedia

Then, in 1973 came the concert special I actually do remember, Elvis: Image courtesy WikipediaAloha From Hawaii.   Basically, the special was designed as a publicity stunt to take advantage of the newish satellite television capability.  Broadcast live, it was marketed as a chance for the world to see a Presley concert—an opportunity many might not otherwise have.  But, while the concert took place in January, those of us here in the good ol’ USofA had to wait a few months for the television broadcast.  Apparently you didn’t counter-schedule against the Super Bowl, even back then.

The final television concert is actually composed of footage from Elvis’ final tour, Elvis in Concert.  Again, this is not one that I remember watching, though, again, it seems very likely that I did.  It was broadcast in the fall of 1977, only a couple of months after Elvis has passed away.  It seems sort of creepy and sensationalist, but I’m guessing we were tuned in.  But by all accounts, those final few concerts were nowhere close to the best Elvis had to offer, and—based on footage I’ve seen subsequently in various documentaries—not even as polished as he had been when we saw him perform, less than six months before his death.  I understand the network had already invested money in the special, and I’m guessing it brought in some decent ratings, but maybe respect for the legacy he left behind could’ve made them re-think using it.

Of course, Elvis had other television appearances in addition to his concert specials, including American Bandstand, The Steve Allen Show, and his much talked about appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.   In the early days he was seen as incredibly raunchy and not quite appropriate for television, but there’s no denying he was always a popular guest. 

So, whether it was radio, movies, or television, Elvis Presley was destined to be a force in our culture.  It’s sad to think he’s been gone so long, and there are generations that have not been greatly exposed to his talent, and I feel lucky to have had him as part of the world I grew up in.  And, if those conspiracy theorists are correct, and he really is hiding away on an island somewhere, I wish him a very happy birthday.