Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Flashbacks 1: The End

Listening to the Doors just now I was brought back to London in the late Sixties. Clanricarde Gardens in Notting Hill, mid-afternoon in the summer of 1967, to be specific. It's a gloriously sunny day. I call to visit some Irish acquaintances. Despite the sun the room is in semi-darkness - the light excluded by heavy velvet curtains. A few dim lights provide glimpses of the occupants and the disarray of the room. The Doors are playing 'The End', Morrison's Oedipal masterpiece - just released, my first time hearing it. Very trippy, heavy atmosphere. The air is pungent with hash. Coughlan (or Blue), Martin and Batt are lying around - too stoned to do more than nod and smirk. Batt (suave, plausible, cold, a natural con man, elegant, beret wearing, a Garda sergeant's son from Clare) died in a Montreal hotel room from a heroin overdose in 1970. Martin (strikingly good-looking, wasted, nihilistic, damaged) died in a London bed-sitter in 1973 - choked on his vomit. Blue (paranoid, Christian Brothers victim, permanently agitated, heart-breakingly vulnerable) was last seen begging on King's Cross station in the mid-80s - before that he dwelt in the Salvation Army hostel off Stephen's Green and could regularly be seen disporting himself around the Green in a demented fashion. Casualties of peace man.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Fintan Nods - Elvis Rules - Chuck Berry

I bow to none in my admiration for Fintan O'Toole, considering him the foremost journalist of his generation and his study of the beef tribunal, in particular, a master class in investigative writing. However his half-baked assault on the myth of Elvis in last Saturday's Irish was a shoddy effort.

He got it wrong on any number of counts. Here are a few of them:

1. Colonel Tom Parker was never Elvis's "Svengali" - in the true meaning of that term. He was certainly his nemesis though. And no one can deny his culpability for the tragic trajectory of Elvis's career.
2. It's unfair to say Elvis ceased to exist after 1955 when he left Sun records. Has Fintan never heard of the Memphis album recorded in 1970 containing many classics including "Suspicious Minds" and "In the Ghetto".
3. The idea that Elvis in some way stymied the careers of black artists like Chuck Berry is nonsense. The success of Elvis singing black music (including his wonderful gospel recordings) opened the way for a more general acceptance of black artists.
4. His citing of Chuck Berry as some kind of wronged paragon was particularly unfortunate. Aside from his underage bother and tax problems, Berry was more recently prosecuted for spying on female visitors to his restaurant's bathroom. Berry's creative period was even shorter than Elvis's Berry is also notorious for his high-handed treatment of those unfortunate enough to play with him.

Finally, if you want to discover the real Elvis, read Peter Guralnick's masterful "Last Train to Memphis", rather than the vapid abstractions of Greil Marcus.