Elvis Roustabout 1500 crop

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

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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