Nike ads and remixes notwithstanding, the passage of time has not been kind to Elvis. Outside of the faithful, he’s still mostly considered a mockery. The problem is that he was never really a rock star. At least not in the post-1960s sense. A crop of early sixties acts (mostly British) changed our definition of the popular musician forever. Before the Stones (and the Beatles and The Who and The Kinks) a musician was an entertainer, an uncomplicated mouthpiece for song-writer, management and record label. Talent. After the Stones, a rock star was a different kind of creature all together: autonomous, self-directed, ironic, important.
Elvis was a working class kid who grew up in the era of the entertainer. He never shook off the limitations of the role and never aspired to exceed them. He never wrote a song, delivered a manifesto, challenged a convention. He never took up the new entitlement of the musical God to scare or affront or challenge. His excesses were all inward-focused, self-destructive, sad (there may have been 14 TV sets in his house but he never tossed one out the window). None of this compromises his brilliance as an artist. His funny, honest, human performance in the 1970 Las Vegas concert performance ‘That’s the Way It Is’ (DVD UK, DVD US, CD UK, CD US) is wonderful. He’s a magnetic, complicated, supremely engaging figure.