I grew up listening to Elvis songs from a very young age. My mother and step dad loved dancing to Rock n’ Roll, watching them dance is one of the happy memories I keep from my childhood. The Beatles, Billy Haley and his Comets and Jerry Lee Lewis were also staples playing in the background at my house. I remember taking my first steps on the dance floor tapping to the tune of “Jailhouse Rock”, I was only 12 and had already caught the dancing bug. Born in Argentina, I didn’t understand the lyrics, I just found myself moving my feet, while mumbling some words that barely resembled English. Little did I know how transgressive the lyrics of this song were. Having a party in Jail? Makes crime and jail time sound like a walk in the park. Why obey the law when you can have so much fun breaking it? I always thought Elvis had a great voice, but I never understood what the big deal was about his looks. In my view he didn’t look that hot to make women scream his name and throw their undies on the stage 🙂
The new Elvis movie got me curious to learn more about the legend, the back story that was only known by true fans. Elvis’ father went to jail for check fraud and it affected Elvis even into his later years (the Hero Syndrome caused by severe trauma and neglect, makes children feel responsible for saving their parents). The movie shows how he coped with being the only white kid living in a black neighborhood after his dad’s incarceration, and his infinite capacity to forgive and appreciate his parents for doing the best they could, even in the face of hardship and pain. Elvis showed an aptitude for singing and music from a very young age. He attended the local Baptist church services where song and gospel were daily staples. In there, he found his true passion and purpose in life. These, however, were shocking facts for me, I never imagined that Elvis and Rock & Roll had such deep rooted ties to the African American community, but it did. Just like Jazz, Rock n’ Roll was born in small clubs in the South of the United States. Chuck Berry, James Brown and Ray Charles had important influences in the birth of this genre and in the overall pop music culture today.
It is fair to say that while Chuck Berry was the genius behind the hypnotizing tunes, Elvis was the ambassador that trespassed segregation laws and not only popularized the genre but opened up the door to greater compassion and the later dissolution of these laws. After watching this movie I realized that it was not only his looks that made him famous, but the fact that his moves represented the desires of an entire generation that had been hyper repressed. Elvis simply carried the passion and connection that the African American community felt for music into the hearts of mainstream youth. Giving America and the world, permission for self expression and an outlet for aspirations and sexual desires, after a long period of austerity and pain left over from WWII. Elvis represented the feeling of war hardships truly being over, the world felt safe again to have fun, be human and let go a bit. It is no surprising then, that 20 years later America observed the hippie movement, where people dared to veer very far from society to make alternative communities, where people refused to conform providing room for all kinds of hedonistic experimentations.
One of the saddest highlights of the movie, is how lonely Elvis felt despite his fame, that he spent most of his money paying for an entire entourage of friends and family traveling with him while on tour and even while living in Las Vegas. It wasn’t drugs that bankrupted him and ultimately killed him, but rather people who took advantage of his generosity and Hero Syndrome that haunted him since childhood. Everyone from his agent to his family willingly conspired to keep him going on stage long after his body was showing alarming signs of distress. Elvis took drugs to calm his anxiety (a feeling you can can pick up on his early moves), he took drugs to keep going when he was too tired to perform, he later took drugs to sleep and so on. Everyone around him knew he needed rest, and instead of advising him to slow down and take time to heal, they were too worried about what would happen to them if they had to go back to living by their own means. So everyone, turned their back to his drug dependency. Elvis was left to prove his value by giving more and more, even while his body could not take it anymore. After watching the movie, his death at such a young age comes as no surprise. His addiction was not the product of a wreck-less self absorbed man but the consequence of a man who didn’t want to disappoint the people he loved as he felt that he had a responsibility to save them. There are so many things that Elvis wanted to do that were cut short by the obligation he felt towards his loved ones, and the limitations of being born into poverty. For instance, he taught himself to play piano, guitar and bass by ear. Imagine what he could have accomplished if he ever had the space to learn how to write his own music. He wanted to travel the world, but his obligations prevented him from doing so. Surprisingly, despite his vast fortune, Elvis never traveled outside the country except while serving in the Army.
Justin Butler’s portrayal of Elvis was epic! He captured his spirit and voice so well that is is like looking at two stars being born. Overall, this was a really good film that humanizes the man behind the legend. What did you think?
Extra clip of Austin Butler being interviewed by Jimmy Fallon talking about his experience behind the scenes.
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