saying something stupid like “elvis was a dumb hick”

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!

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!

 

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.

 

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.

 

Saying Something Stupid: photo of Elvis, Anne Helms, Arthur O'Connell, and the Koon twins from FOLLOW THAT DREAM (1961).

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.

 

Saying Something Stupid: photo of Elvis, Alan Hewitt, and Arthur O'Connell from FOLLOW THAT DREAM (1961).

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).

• 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.

 

Saying Something Stupid: photo of Martin Ames as hip young novelist in 1980.

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

 

Saying Something Stupid: cover of Martin Ames's book THE WAR AGAINST CLICHE (Jonathan Cape, 2000).

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.

There are few in­tel­li­gent, in­sightful books on the music and records of Elvis Presley. Click To Tweet

Elvis Roustabout 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: In Feb­ruary 1964, Elvis filmed Roustabout in a couple of lo­ca­tions out­side of Los An­geles. This is a photo graph of the set with E in the middle. By this time, a typ­ical Elvis Movie was dumb, with little plot and less char­ac­ter­i­za­tion sup­porting an LP alum’s worth of anemic songs, usu­ally per­formed with less than com­plete devotion.

 


FOOTNOTES:

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).

4   Sev­eral broadly stereo­typ­ical char­ac­ters from Dog­patch, May­berry, and the Oke­fenokee Swamp leap to mind.

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.

 

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In the words of a very in­cred­u­lous man, but ‘wise be­yond most’……”Baby, it never ceases to amaze me”! The depth of the mud slung, every which way at Elvis. It pains me, but you have en­light­ened me even fur­ther on the fact. Wow! TCB Neal

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