elvis can sweat it out but we cannot burn mick jagger!

Es­ti­mated reading time is 5 minutes.

SHINE A LIGHT is a doc­u­men­tary movie about the Rolling Stones di­rected by Martin Scorsese, and we were watching it for the second time. Like the first time, we bor­rowed the DVD from the li­brary and watched it with a late dinner. In the first few min­utes of the film, some­thing caught my at­ten­tion in a way it hadn’t the first time and sud­denly I was thinking about Elvis. 

I paused the movie and headed to my com­puter where I found what I was looking for—which can be found below. But first I need to re­turn to the Scorsese Stones movieShine A Light was filmed on Oc­tober 29 and No­vember 1, 2006, at the Beacon The­atre in New York City as the cul­mi­na­tion of the Stones’ A Bigger Bang Tour. 1

These Beacon The­atre per­for­mances ben­e­fitted the Clinton Foun­da­tion, a charity founded by Bill Clinton. The first fif­teen min­utes of Shine A Light takes place back­stage and shows us the ins and outs of set­ting up a stage for filming.

The mu­si­cians meet the Clin­tons, and we see Scorsese as a some­what neu­rotic per­fec­tionist (I know, are there any other kinds?) making sure every­thing is just so. And he makes sure he that he’s making a good doc­u­men­tary about the Rolling Stones.

Shine A Light had its world pre­mière at the 58th Berlin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­tival on Feb­ruary 7, 2008. The film cost ap­prox­i­mately $1,000,000 to pro­duce and grossed more than $15,000,000 in the­aters world­wide. It had lim­ited dis­tri­b­u­tion in most areas but is readily avail­able on DVD. 2


RollingStones ShineALight poster Imax 600

We cannot burn Mick Jagger

One of the things that have to be more than just so—in fact, has to be perfect—are the po­si­tioning and use of the over­heads lights that will be shining on the people on stage throughout the show.

At one point, Scorsese and mem­bers of his crew—many of them ac­com­plished cinematographers—were dis­cussing the lighting and how they could af­fect the mu­si­cians, es­pe­cially Jagger:

Crew #1: “If Mick stands in front of the light for more than 18 sec­onds, it’s going to burn.”
Crew #2: “You mean, like flames and that?”
Crew #3: “We cannot burn Mick Jagger!”
Crew #2: “But you want the effect?”
Crew #3: “We want the ef­fect, but we can’t burn him.”

And this is what caused me to pause watching Shine A Light: the fact that al­most every­thing uti­lized in per­forming live on stage has changed since the Stones barn­stormed across the United States in 1972, then the biggest and most prof­itable tour in en­ter­tain­ment history. 

Shortly after the tour, in Jan­uary 1973, Elvis per­formed at the Hon­olulu In­ter­na­tional Center in Hawaii. It was broad­cast live via satel­lite to sev­eral parts of the world and was even­tu­ally broad­cast to most of the rest of the world a few months later.

Elvis – Aloha From Hawaii Via Satel­lite was an even bigger suc­cess than the Stones’ tour in terms of au­di­ence. But as it was an event to raise money for a charity, there was no box of­fice take. 3


Elvis’s de­trac­tors ar­gued that his pro­fuse per­spiring in­di­cated he was heavily drugged during his per­for­mance, some­thing no fan believed.


This was also about the time when critics started talking openly about Elvis’s ap­pear­ance and his de­meanor in less than lauda­tory terms. One of the ob­ser­va­tions that was made about Elvis during this show was how freely and heavily he per­spired. De­trac­tors used this to argue that Elvis was heavily drugged during his per­for­mance, some­thing no fan wanted to believe.

Pres­ley’s drug use was by then known to fans who weren’t in de­nial; I had been hearing about his being a little loopy at times since 1970. But the ex­tent of his drug use wasn’t known to most of us. And exces­sive per­spiring is often a sign of chem­ical tox­i­city as the user’s body forces the chem­i­cals out of the pores. 

As I said, no fan of Elvis wanted to be­lieve he would show up for a tele­vised stage ap­pear­ance in front of tens of mil­lions of people . . . you know, f*cked up.


RollingStones ShineALight bluray 500

After the aloha

The fans who de­fended Presley pointed out that the sweating could have been caused by the strength of the lights fo­cused on the singer while he was on stage. And that’s what caused me to pause Shine A Light: if stage lights in 2006 could ac­tu­ally burn Mick Jagger, couldn’t stage lights in 1973 cause sweating in Elvis?

I thought I knew a way to see if this was so: I searched YouTube for videos of the Aloha From Hawaii Via Satel­lite show. But in­stead of looking for videos of Elvis during the con­cert, I wanted videos of him after the concert.

The Aloha From Hawaii con­cert was not broad­cast live in the United States but shown on April 3, 1973. As it was also a longer tele­vi­sion spe­cial, ad­di­tional ma­te­rial was needed. After the con­cert, Elvis and his band re­turned to the empty stage and recorded five more songs: Early Morning Rain, Hawaiian Wed­ding Song, No More, Ku-U-I-Po, and Blue Hawaii.

Presley is ob­vi­ously tired, so the record­ings are re­laxed. There are no at­tempts at drama or histrionics—just clean, simple read­ings of a few nice songs. Elvis looks calm and col­lected, if fa­tigued. I have in­cluded two of the videos to il­lus­trate my point:




No heavy spotlights 

These record­ings were placed throughout the Amer­ican ver­sion of the spe­cial. As the videos above show, Elvis looks good. In fact, he looks better than during the ac­tual per­for­mance be­cause he’s not sweating pro­fusely all over the stage!


Be­cause there are no heavy spot­lights on him. The stage is bare and he’s just standing there, in the dark, with empti­ness all around.

This doesn’t dis­prove that he was doing what­ever phar­ma­ceu­tical cor­nu­copia he was living on at the time. But the lack of per­spi­ra­tion and Pres­ley’s clam, con­trolled de­meanor does make the ar­gu­ment that he wasn’t over-medicated as many of his de­trac­tors claimed.

That is, Elvis didn’t show up f*cked up for one of the biggest events of his career!

The stage is bare and Elvis is just standing there, in the dark, with empti­ness all around—but not f*cked up on drugs. Share on X

Elvis Aloha closeup 1500

FEA­TURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is one of the most well-circulated photos of Elvis from the Aloha spe­cial on the In­ternet. What’s there to say but he looks good and he cer­tainly ain’t fat!



1   The movie is ti­tled after one of the group’s record­ings, orig­i­nally re­leased on the vaunted EXILE ON MAIN STREET album in 1972.

2   These fig­ures cour­tesy of Wikipedia. If cor­rect, they in­di­cate that the movie was mod­estly suc­cessful. The quoted box of­fice take does not in­clude rentals and sales of the DVD.

3   The sound­track album to Aloha From Hawaii Via Satel­lite was the last Elvis album to top the charts during Pres­ley’s life.


2 thoughts on “elvis can sweat it out but we cannot burn mick jagger!”

  1. I seem to re­call Elvis com­menting on that sad spe­cial Elvis In Con­cert that the lights were hot but by that time we all know he was in a pretty way and by God he sweated here.I have not watched this con­cert in full since it was aired on tv in 1978 as I find it too sad.


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