IT STARTED SIMPLY: someone posted a comment on my Elvis Facebook page: “I was going to subscribe to your Elvis web blog, but then started to read some of your posts. OMG if you mention drugs once!” Then it got worse. Actually, once is about the rate at which I mention Elvis and drugs on this site, but let’s save that for later, as this whole article addresses the Facebook comment.
So, I have a Facebook page titled Elvis – A Touch Of Gold. It’s linked to this website—each time I post something here, it appears there. Actually, a snippet of text with a photo and a link back to this site appears on the Facebook page.
Response to the Facebook page has been less than lukewarm, but that changed on July 28, 2016. I welcomed the confrontational tone of the comment, as that tone usually means some engagement from the speaker. 1
“From dawn to darkroom, from doll to doll, Elvis clicks with the chicks as a playboy photographer who leads a double-life!”
So, at 9:23 that morning, I read the comment. It was rather condescending. Since the article that follows can be read as a defensive put-down by me of the commenter, I have done three things:
1. I deleted the original comment from Facebook.
2. I replaced it with a link to this article.
3. I did not identify the commenter by her real name here or there. In fact, I will refer to her as Ms. Ward (which is not her real name) from this point on.
In May 1968, Elvis finished Live A Little, Love A Little, the last movie he would make prior to changing his life, his career, and his legacy. He did this when he stepped onto a stage in front of a live audience in Burbank, California, in June. There he confronted his demons and conquered them, which was then broadcast on the television screens of America by NBC as the Singer Presents Elvis special in December. (Note that all of the illustrations in this article are from this movie.)
If you mention Elvis and drugs once!
Below find the original comment with a few modifications to keep it stylistically akin to this site. Each statement is numbered. This will make it easier for the reader to follow my responses later in the article:
A. “I was going to subscribe to your web blog, but then started to read some of your posts. OMG if you mention drugs once—it just goes on and on! After nearly forty years since Elvis’s death, I’d have thought that subject had just about been exhausted and sincere fans were sick of hearing about it.
B. I can only assume that you guys—and, yes it’s invariably guys who bang on about it, without any compassion or understanding!—still think that Elvis was the only person in the entire history of the planet who, rightly or wrongly, ever used prescription drugs to excess. And there were reasons for that!
“I was going to subscribe to your blog, but then started to read some of your posts. OMG if you mention drugs once—it just goes on and on!”
C. Additionally, I see that you have found another stick to beat Elvis with: his hairstyles in the mid-’60s films. Not only did Elvis have his own look—and heaven forbid he should look like the mop-top Beatles!—but he resisted getting onto others’ bandwagons and was always unique, whether some people liked it or not. He altered his style over the years in his own way and is loved for that.
D. What a shame you are still stuck with the Wests, Fike, Goldman, Stanley brothers, et al, and refuse to see the magic of the man and his music.
E. His following is still immense and I’m sorry that you feel it necessary to try to bring the man down—he has survived these slurs for nearly forty years and will be forever!” 2
Addressed in “My point-by-point responses” below.
One of the great joys of Live A Little, Love A Little was Elvis’s co-star, Michelle Carey. She was a breath of fresh air in an Elvis movie: an adult woman who expressed an adult interest in men and sex. She also had a sense of wildness that Elvis rarely encountered in his leading ladies. These publicity photos for MGM are more blatantly sensual than anything we had come to expect in an Elvis movie in the ’60s.
Have you read a thing on my site?
I was immediately tickled that Ms. Ward was involved enough with my writing to be angry enough to respond with more than a few words! Alas, I was not pleased to discover that she did not appear to have read much of anything that I had written.
So within minutes of receiving the comment, at 9:28 I responded: “What the hell are you talking about? Have you actually read a thing on my site? If I mention drugs half-a-dozen times in tens of thousands of words, I’d be surprised.”
That’s all I have to say about that! 3
Lots of people in Hollywood knew that Elvis was playing with pills to get through the his movie projects. How else did anyone slog through the trivialness and boredom of scripts like Kissin’ Cousins, Harum Scarum, and Double Trouble? But no one was prepared for the psychedelicness of Live A Little, Love A Little! In this scene, Elvis appears to be under the influence of ayahuasca: the spirit of the vine comes to him as a giant dog instead of the glowing serpent so familiar to shamans of the Amazon River regions.
How many times had I used drugs?
After I posted those three sentences, I wondered about two things: first, had I been too harsh with Ms. Ward? And second, just how many times had I used the word drug(s) in A Touch Of Gold. So I immediately set out to:
• count how many times I used drugs(s) in my articles, and
• count how many words I had written in those articles!
The first was easy: I went to my Posts page (a table of contents) and typed “drug” and then “drugs” into my Search application.
For the second task, I downloaded the WP Word Count plugin onto my site, activated it, and the plugin did its job.
I had my figures.
I take these things seriously
The math was simple and one hour later (10:22), I posted a second response on Facebook:
Since I take these things seriously, I added a word-count plugin to my Elvis site. Here are the stats for Elvis – A Touch Of Gold:
Number of articles: 62
Number of words in articles: 148,590
Number of times the word “drug(s)” used: 10
Number of times the word “drug(s)” refers to Elvis using them: 5
Percentage rate of use of the word “drug(s)”: 0.00006729927%
I have gone out of my way NOT to talk about Presley’s drug use and I am rather pleased with a rate of less than one-half of one-half of one-half of one-half of one percent!
That said, drugs killed Elvis Presley! 4
In another possibly psychedelic sequence, Elvis and Michelle share a bad trip, possibly from a batch of brown acid produced in Woodstock. Hallucinating, Elvis sees a tiny flying saucer buzzing him indoors, which he has to fight off. Michelle is oblivious to Presley’s situation as she is pre-occupied with levitating herself to a higher plane. Like most Elvis fans in 1968, I didn’t get this at the time because I was not ‘experienced’ myself.
On the edge of reality
That was all I wrote because I was focused on Ms. Ward’s first point. So please take note that if I count only the number of times that I used the word drug in reference to Presley’s Olympian intake, then my rate of usage drops precipitously to less than one-half
of one percent.
That’s all I have to say about that. 5
In yet another scene that can be interpreted psychedelically, Elvis appears to be in the early stages of tripping, with the anxiety of the rush getting the better of him. Here he mistakes the hotel cleaning woman for Zsa Zsa Gabor in The Queen Of Outer Space. He sees the woman’s vacuüm-cleaner as a giant alien crossbow, from which he must protect Michelle!
My point-by-point responses
Here are my considered responses to the five basic points made by Ms. Ward above. Each response is directed and addressed to her. (And Ms. Ward, if you read this, I am responding in a tone somewhat similar to yours, if not quite as dismissive and condescending. This tone can be changed at any time . . .)
A. This point has been adequately countered above. I tend to ignore the private lives of creative people (alcohol, drugs, sex)—unless it manifests itself in their creative process. Negatively or positively.
Had Elvis started doing LSD in 1968 and recorded an album full of music like Edge Of Reality, I would be writing about his LSD use in a positive light. Elvis Presley’s drug consumption certainly manifested itself in his creative life, and not at all positively.
Despite it being nearly forty years since Elvis’s death, I think that many fans are still in denial about the amount and the toxicity of the drugs that he consumed.
B. With a few notable exceptions, almost all of the serious, meaningful writing about Elvis as an artist has been done by us “guys.” That includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. Without us, the history of Elvis Presley would be an endless supply of books by an endless string of women claiming to be the mothers of an endless line of Elvis’s illegitimate progeny. 6
“Watch the birdie and the fun fly with Elvis as a playboy pin-up photographer who doesn’t want to get pinned down!” 1968 was the year of the Tet Offensive, Nixon, riots in the ghettos, the police riot in Chicago, Nixon, the assassinations of MLK and RFK, Nixon. Elvis could not have appeared less relevant to the members of a generation demanding relevancy!
C. Lo and behold: this is the first bit of evidence that you did more than skim through an article on my site! Alas, your comments don’t seem to indicate that you actually read “the haircut pictures sleeves of the sixties,” just made some negative assumptions about its content. It’s actually a discography and price guide for Elvis collectors. 7
The term haircut sleeve is not of my coinage. I first heard it thirty-six years ago when I was selling Elvis records through the mail via ads in Goldmine magazine.
As my article stated, the ghastly “do” was done for one photoshoot in 1966 and used on several picture sleeves and promotional items into 1967. Elvis didn’t actually appear with that shellacked-and-banged bouffant in any of his movies.
There were two singles from the movie: A Little Less Conversation was one of several interesting singles in 1967–1968 that didn’t get the attention it needed. Released in September, it peaked at #53 on Cash Box but only reaching #69 on Billboard. The pseudo-psychedelic Edge Of Reality was relegated to the B‑side of If I Can Dream, where it was unheard by all except those who bought the single.
D. Pardon me here, ma’am, but I’m about to be crude: Are you f*cking kidding me? I have a website devoted to Elvis Presley’s music and his records! If you read the intro to A Touch Of Gold, you’ll find that I have been a fan for sixty years.
That’s an active fan and record buyer who paid for tickets for those gawdawful movies in the ’60s and bought the soundtrack albums, too.
Unlike the majority of johnny-come-lately Elvis fans who began collecting after he died.
Which probably describes every other Elvis fan you know.
E. First, stating that Elvis Presley did drugs is not a slur, it’s a statement of fact. Doncha think it’s time you looked things up?
Second, nowhere on my site—nowhere in 62 articles with 148,590 words—do I “bring the man down.”
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was taken from the dream sequence for Edge Of Reality in the movie Live A Little, Love A Little. Because it’s not a still photo, it’s slightly out of focus, especially Michelle Carey. Here is the dream sequence, courtesy of YouTube:
POSTSCRIPTUALLY, I have to repeat myself: first, Elvis Presley died at the tender age of 42 by taking massive quantities of prescription drugs over a period of at least six years. Nothing anybody can do about that except tell it like it is.
Second, I just increased the percentage of times that I’ve used drug(s) in discussing Elvis and drugs on this site.
Third, I have not heard back from Ms. Ward since posting the two responses on Facebook above.
1 Since she had posted her comment on the world’s most public platform, what the hell, right?
2 Entry D refers to bodyguards Red and Sonny West, long-time friend and confidant Lamar Fike, and step-brothers Billy, David, and Ricky Stanley. All people who suffered with or through Elvis’s drug abuse, all of whom said their piece in public, all of whom are loathed by Elvis nuts. Ms. Ward’s including the despicable Albert Goldman was a low blow. (Ever wonder how many Elvis fans have actually read Goldman’s book?)
3 Yes, I am quoting you-know-who.
4 It’s probably more accurate to say that Elvis killed himself with the drugs he took, but that implies a slow suicide and no Elvis fan wants to even think about that.
5 Perhaps I should place a disclaimer at the top of this website: CAUTION! Readers should be prepared to see the word ‘drug’ used once every 15,000 words.
6 See Kevin Costner as Elvis’s psychopathic love-child in 3,000 Miles To Graceland.
7 Guess what? With few exceptions, every serious collector of Elvis records in the world is . . . get ready . . . a guy!!!
8 Most hip critics did NOT live through this era, so do NOT have the actual experience of experiencing the changes of habit that these films entailed. Also, said critics also tend to dismiss the music without ever really listening to it. A very interesting album could be assembled from the songs recorded for these six movies!
Mystically liberal Virgo enjoys long walks alone in the city at night in the rain with an umbrella and a flask of 10-year-old Laphroaig who strives to live by the maxim, “It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know that just ain’t so.
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a college dropout (twice!). Occupationally, I have been a bartender, jewelry engraver, bouncer, landscape artist, and FEMA crew chief following the Great Flood of ’72 (and that was a job that I should never, ever have left).
I am also the final author of the original O’Sullivan Woodside price guides for record collectors and the original author of the Goldmine price guides for record collectors. As such, I was often referred to as the Price Guide Guru, and—as everyone should know—it behooves one to heed the words of a guru. (Unless, of course, you’re the Beatles.)