EXCEPT FOR A FEW IDJITS, there is near universal recognition and acceptance of the genius and wonder that was the Beatles from 1962 through 1970. Making a snide remark about the artistic and commercial achievements of John Paul George & Ringo, or saying something stupid about their place at the toppermost of the rock & roll totem pole, will guarantee that few will ever take your utterances seriously again!
There are only a few intelligent, insightful books on the music and records of Elvis Presley.
There are only a few intelligent, insightful books on the music and records of Elvis Presley.
Such across-the-board appreciation does not exist for the only other musician to sit atop that pole of large-scale (quantity- and quality-wise) artistic and commercial success with the Fab Four—Elvis Presley. Part of this may be that there are plenty of intelligent, insightful (and even humorous) books on the music and records of the Beatles—enough to keep an interested reader engaged for a year.
Alas, there are only a handful of such books about Elvis. What there is for interested parties is a seemingly endless supply of just plain dumb schidt written about Elvis here there and everywhere!
And this dumb schidt is scattershot schidt, insulting Presley as a person, as a singer, as a musician, or—if the writer wants to sink low enough—insulting his fans!
(Almost) everybody’s faveravest foursome, posing in 1969 at the same floor of the same building in the same positions as they had posed six years earlier for their first long-playing album cover.
And this has nothing to do with the countless black folk out there who believe that Elvis was a racist because they’ve heard the statement about “niggers only good for shining his shoes” that he never said. 1
This has to do with mostly white folk—journalists, critics, and (alleged) historians—who apparently pass as educated observers most of the time but just can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to opining about Elvis the Pelvis.
That is, this article is not about dumb people saying dumb things; it’s about reasonably smart people saying things that make them sound like reasonably dumb people.
So this is about plain dumb schidt said by plain smart people or, as Non-Disposable Johnny calls it, stupid stuff people say about Elvis.
Elvis with guest stars Anne Helm and Arthur O’Connell with brothers Gavin and Robin Koon in the backseat in Follow That Dream (1962).
Saying something stupid (1)
In 2012, the proprietor of The Round Place In The Middle website—who goes by the nom de plume Non-Disposable Johnny—was motivated by some of the dumb things said about Presley to start posting some of those statements and responding to them.
Said proprietor and I have since become buddies and I thought I would make a project out of reprinting the quoted remarks he chose, and follow with my own responses.
This kills three birds with one stone:
1. It allows me to address some of the never-ending stupidities said—and apparently believed—about Elvis Presley. 2
2. It allows me to do this without having to spend hours on research—Johnny’s already done the legwork!!
3. It allows me to give airplay to The Round Place In The Middle, my faveravest website that talks about rock music with intelligence and wit. 3
John titled his series of articles “Stupid Stuff People Say About Elvis” and his first quote came from Lee Siegel writing for Time magazine in 2001: “But the King will outlive his immortality also.”
It’s bad/sloppy writing, and Johnny takes care of it judoistically. But it’s not what I want to address here, in that it’s not really denigrating to Elvis.
Elvis with guest stars Alan Hewitt and Arthur O’Connell in Follow That Dream (1962).
Saying something stupid (2)
Things get better with Quote the Second, this time from Martin Amis, who believed that Elvis Presley was “. . . a talented hick who was destroyed by success?” Don’t know about you, I think of hick and hayseed and country bumpkin as synonymous. I also think they imply more than a mere lack of city-related sophistication, but actual stupidity. 4
The definitions of these words here are courtesy of Merriam-Webster:
• A hick is “an unsophisticated provincial person.”
• The lexicographers seem to have messed up their entry for hayseed, as they don’t offer a definition of the word when used to describe a human being, but they do offer a list of synonyms (see below).
• A bumpkin is “an awkward or simple person, especially from a small town.”
Not only do each of these words cross-reference each other, but they share similar synonyms, including hick, clodhopper, hayseed, hillbilly, rube, and yokel. These words are rarely used as compliments.
Martin Amis around the time he chimed in on the ongoing character assassination of Elvis Presley that was all the rage in the early ’80s. I was surprised to discover that a writer of Amis’s stature—he was a successful novelist even then—treated Presley with the callous contempt normally associated with Albert Goldman.
Saying something stupid (3)
Martin Louis Amis is a British novelist known for a string of highly successful novels starting with Money in 1984. He also writes essays, biographies, and reviews. He has received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his memoir Experience (2000), and served as the Professor of Creative Writing at the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester until 2011.
In 2008, The Times of London named him one of the fifty greatest British writers since 1945.
This is not a dumb man.
My intention was to reprint and respond to Johnny’s quotes only, but I wanted to check out the full statement as Johnny opened the quote with an ellipsis. And I’m glad I did: the quote of Amis’s about Elvis being a hick only scratches the surface of his nastiness towards Presley. Or at least as it stood in 1980 when he reviewed the book Elvis, We Love You Tender for The Observer.
And most of this dumb schidt said about Elvis is meant to insult Presley as a person, as a singer, as a musician, or—if the writer wants to sink low enough—to insult his fans!
The book tells the story of Dee Stanley (Vernon Presley’s second wife, technically Elvis’s stepmother) and her kids (Billy, Rick, and David) as told to writer Martin Torgoff. Amis doesn’t seem to have a kind word for Presley; here are a few of the standout statements he manages to insert into a book review:
1. “Elvis was a half-employed slum spiv when he did his first audition.”
Google defines spiv as British slang for “a man, typically characterized by flashy dress, who makes a living by disreputable dealings.” This is a tough one, as slang can mean different things to different groups, and the meaning and intention of slang words changes over time.
Martin seems to know that Presley held a menial job prior to his career change in 1954—that he worked for the Crown Electric Company in Memphis. Unless Amis thinks this is a disreputable occupation, I assume that he had a different meaning for spiv in 1980 than the one assigned the word by Google in 2017.
Amis does not seem to know that Elvis never “auditioned” for Sam Phillips, or anyone else in the record industry. Or perhaps the word audition also had a different meaning forty years ago.
2. “Elvis pondered on the afterlife, entertaining tasteless reveries of his coming reunion with his dead twin and much-lamented mother.”
I really don’t know how someone who is a reasonably devout Christian who believes in an afterlife and therefore looks forward to seeing his loved ones in Heaven is indulging in “tasteless reveries.”
But at least Amis is consistent in his modifiers: synonyms for tasteless include uncouth, uncultured, and unrefined, all of which would work comfortably with both “hick” and “slum spiv.”
3. “It is hard to image a character of more supercharged banality. Elvis was a talented hick who was destroyed by success: what else is new? All that distinguished him was the full-blooded alacrity of his submission to drugs, women, money and megalomania, and the ease with which these excesses co-existed with his natural taste for spiritual conceit and grandiose Confederate machismo.”
Well, at least Mr Amis acknowledged that Elvis was talented. The rest of the review serves up the lack of understanding and the staggering condescension we normally associate with Albert Goldman, who famously credited Elvis with an “ugly hillbilly pecker”—whatever the hell that is.
And we have to credit Martin for not insulting any of Elvis’s fans—unless, of course, you count the barbs he throws at the Stanleys. 5
The War Against Cliché – Essays And Reviews 1971-2000 contains Martin Amis’s diatribe against Elvis disguised as a review of the book Elvis, We Love You Tender by Dee Stanley & Sons. This is the attractive art on the just jacket of the first edition by Jonathan Cape.
The rest of the stupid stuff
Should you want to read all of the entries in the “Stupid Stuff People Say About Elvis” on The Round Place In The Middle, click here and head on over and read . . .
FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page was taken from the 1961 movie Follow That Dream. In that film, Presley portrays a genuine hick/bumpkin kind of person, but his simplicity is mistaken by the bad guys for simple-mindedness, much to their regret.
It is one of the few roles Elvis ever played where his character appears dumb—although by 1963, many of his movies had deteriorated to the point where their plots made every character in them look dumb . . .
1 And that’s another story I will address in the near future.
2 As I have been a fan for more than 55 years, I thought I’d heard them all, but NDJ found some doozies!
3 Aside from good ol’ rock & roll (especially the “girl groups”), Round Place also covers movies (mostly old, lotsa westerns), books (Johnny digs detective fiction), and even the occasional political aside (read and see).
5 If you want to read the review in its entirety, it was collected in the book The War On Cliché (2002) under the chapter “Elvis And Andy: U.S. Males,” which also contains a review of one of Andy Warhol’s diaries.
My working title for this article was “And Then You Go and Spoil It All by Saying Something Stupid like ‘I Love You’ (or ‘Elvis Was a Racist and a Dumb Hick with an Ugly Hillbilly Pecker Who Couldn’t Sing’)” but decided it was too long and didn’t . . .