21st Century Elvis Fan
A Survivor’s Guide
By Stephen Butler
The year is 2003. Elvis Presley died in 1977. That’s 26 years in anyone’s language. And in that time the Elvis Fan has had to evolve
and adapt, and do it quickly. The media has not been kind to Elvis since his death, and I’m sure that this is the primary reason behind his decision to remain dead (at the time of writing).
Thus, the Elvis Fan has developed skills to cope with the everyday stress of his condition. But he cannot do it without help. Hopefully
this article can serve as a guide to the skills needed to cope as an Elvis Fan in the 21st Century but also to give you an idea of some of the essential tools required.
First and foremost, the Elvis Fan must be resilient. Why? Because mention Elvis in casual conversation amongst friends, family or
colleagues and you can be sure that you will receive a volley of hysterical references to drugs, burgers, jumpsuits, movies, “thangyewverrahmuch”, those TCB shades, Las Vegas, Colonel Parker and other things you begin to wish Elvis
had never gone near. The more knowledgeable casual observer might even throw the monkey, the two-way mirrors, the Nixon visit and various gun-related incidents at you. But don’t despair. The Elvis Fan must realise that it is the
music that comes first, and that Elvis was primarily an entertainer. And in this regard, Elvis succeeded, because there are few people on this planet who do not find at least some aspect of Elvis entertaining.
Secondly, the Elvis Fan must be knowledgeable. This is vital. If you are out with friends, there is the distinct possibility that the
subject of Elvis may come up in conversation. You may be needed to provide basic facts, to correct errors, and to surprise people with trivia that they never knew before. What was the name of Elvis’ pet monkey? (You might notice
a theme running through this article.) What was the name of the airport in Scotland where Elvis spent an hour on his way back from Germany? That sort of thing. But don’t say, “I think it’s…” or “It might be…” and then come out
with the right answer, for then you will score quite highly on the Nerdometer. Be bold, be forthright, i.e. “Scatter was the name of Elvis’ chimp!” Onlookers will be astonished. They will gasp. They may even buy you a drink.
Thirdly, the Elvis Fan must be prepared to own every sound Elvis ever uttered and every image that he ever, er, imaged. That goes for
the dodgiest sounding bootleg to the latest BMG boxed set, Close Up. That’s right, it doesn’t matter that you cannot hear a word that is being said or a note that is being sung, as long as you know Elvis is in there
somewhere you are a true Fan. This is also true of video. It goes without saying that you must own every one of the 33 motion picture classics in which Elvis appeared. You must own them on video, and you must be now collecting
them on DVD. The same goes for the TV Specials and their various “out-take” bootlegs, including, and perhaps especially, the 1977 CBS Special. More about that one later.
Actually, I’m going to digress a little and talk about that unique element of the Elvis Fan’s armoury, the bootleg, or import, video.
There is an art to compiling one of these collections. Generally, such a video consists of largely amateur footage shot at Elvis concert by some bold individual who has got an 8mm camera past security, and is willing to dodge
flying fans in order to capture a fleeting glimpse of Elvis as he pops into view above the heads of the 20,000 or so fans sitting in front of the viewer. Then, home video is invented, and the aforementioned film is transferred to
this new format. At random intervals completely unrelated footage (Elvis being inducted into the Army, or some press conference or other) is inserted. The videotape is then chopped into pieces no more than a foot long each, and
thrown into a tumble dryer and left to spin for, oh, around 5 minutes. The tape is removed and stuck back together with Sellotape, and re-copied onto a new tape. A copies it for B, who then runs off copies for C, D, E and F, who
sells it at a car boot sale to W, who makes long play (slow speed) copies for X, Y and Z. Which is where you, the Elvis Fan, come in. You either buy a copy from a mate in the pub or bid a huge amount on some European auction
site. You buy it on the assurance that it is Indianapolis uncut, but it isn’t, it’s Las bloody Vegas August 1975 again, but you watch it nonetheless. Of course, the quality is so bad that it looks like you are viewing
through six inches of bubble wrap. And yet the power and magic of Elvis Presley kicks in because in spite of all the above, after watching it you feel better. You couldn’t see Elvis, you could barely hear him, and, even if
you could hear him, what you are hearing was probably recorded three years before what you are watching. Yes, it’s tough and confusing being an Elvis Fan, but, if you can’t cut the mustard, get out now.
One of the greatest things to happen to the Elvis Fan was, and remains, the Internet. There must be more websites dedicated to the man
his friends called, er, Elvis, than any other entertainer. Whether the site is in English, French, Norwegian, Dutch, Portuguese or Spanish, one word unites them all: Elvis. Countless message boards unite fans worldwide who may
never meet, but know each other well enough to be able to discuss the most trivial points in great detail (for the intellectually gifted), or to hurl abuse at one another (when intellectual discussion is just too much).
But inasmuch as the Internet is a Good Thing, it can also have its downside. The World Wide Web has changed consumerism irreversibly.
The consumer now expects to shop without leaving their home, and they expect goods, services and information instantly. Demand has moved completely out of step with reality. And the Elvis Fan is no exception to this.
The 1980s were not kind to the Elvis Fan. Releases were relatively few (although still far greater than any remotely comparable artist),
and largely consisted of the same old songs in different packaging. And, worse still, they were all on vinyl. The CD revolution of the mid to late Eighties brought about an incredible turn around in Elvis’ output so much so that
by the mid 1990s literally dozens of albums were being released every year. This culminated in the astonishing sales of A Little Less Conversation (a UK number one) and the 30 #1 Hits album in 2002. This was Elvis’
most successful year since 1977. Yet, for every dozen or so “official releases”, almost 10 times that number were being released on obscure European labels as “import”.
So, the combined factors of the Internet and the digital sound revolution have joined forces to place that final piece in the Elvis Fan
jigsaw: demand. What do you mean only 26 takes of Love Me, Love the Life I Lead have been released? I want take 27 with the false start and the bit at the end where Elvis says “Lunch, anyone?” They’d better release
Aloha From Hawaii in anamorphic wide screen with Dolby 5:1 sound and no split screen bits with all the dialogue and songs restored or I’m going to sue. And, of course, we come to the thorny issue of the CBS Special. Those
guardians of the Elvis Image, Elvis Presley Enterprises, have long since come to the decision that the release of this special, and the accompanying out-takes in particular, would do untold harm to the image of Elvis that they have
created. Like it or not, EPE are the ones that pull the strings of the Elvis puppet. But the Elvis Fan cannot rest on their laurels. Come on, they could release it through Follow That Dream records and nobody would be any the
wiser. It’s the old consumer adage: Because we want it, it must be there.
So the Elvis Fan must be in possession of resilience, knowledge, a huge amount of CDs and videos, and must have attended an Elvis concert
in person (preferred) or at the very least one of the Elvis The Concert tours. The Elvis Fan must possess at least basic IT experience. Better yet, some knowledge of web design so that they can put up their site devoted entirely
to Paradise, Hawaiian Style.
The confused ramblings you have just sat through only serves to highlight just how difficult it is being an Elvis fan
in the 21st Century. Elvis died in the 1970s it is true, so the jumpsuits and flares, shades and Las Vegas seasons will remain his lasting legacy. Britney Spears might look better with a snake wrapped round her neck,
and Michael Jackson might be just a little, well, crazier, but Elvis was the original after which all else followed, and this is the basic fact that the Elvis Fan should remember first and foremost. If anyone doubts this, get him
or her to watch the man perform Suspicious Minds in the re-vamped That’s the Way it Is. They will change their mind.