Daily Archives: October 8, 2006

VIRTUOSO of HOOTCHY KOOTCHY

Jack Gould was the king of TV critics during his 35-year career with the New York Times.  He was there when the new medium was born, and he was its most notable commentator for the next two decades.  Like the rest of America, he saw Elvis’ second appearance on the Milton Berle Show on June 5, 1956, the broadcast that freaked out the entire country.  The next day, Jack Gould’s pen dripped with condemnation of Elvis, and his comments set the tone for the huge national backlash that followed.  It’s fun to look at some of his statements, line-by-line, now that we have the historical perspective to make judgments on them.

 

“Elvis Presley is currently the entertainment world’s most astonishing figure.”  (So far, so good, but Mr. Gould gets no special credit for this statement.  Whether people liked or disliked Elvis in early June, 1956, nobody disputed he was the most astonishing figure in show biz.)

 

“Mr. Presley has no discernible singing ability.”  (This is the first indication that Mr. Gould just didn’t ‘get’ Elvis.  And, we can safely assume Mr. Gould never went out and bought any Elvis records.)

 

“His specialty is rhythm songs, which he renders in an undistinguished whine.”

(Oh come on.  Elvis’ whine is very distinguished.)

 

“His phrasing, if it can be called that, consists of the stereotyped variations that go with a beginner’s aria in a bathtub.”  (Say what???  Certainly not the simplest and clearest metaphor Mr. Gould ever wrote.  A lowly blog writer might say “like a kid singing in the shower.)

 

“For the ear he is an unutterable bore…”  (You want boring?  How about “stereotyped variations that go with a beginner’s aria in a bathtub”?  Maybe Elvis was a bore to Jack Gould, but he could make the girls cry at his concerts.  Elvis was anything but boring to them.)

 

“From watching Mr. Presley it is wholly evident that his skill lies in another direction.  He is a rock-and-roll variation on one of the most standard acts in show business: the virtuoso of the hootchy-kootchy.  His specialty is an accented movement of the body… identified with the repertoire of the blond bombshells of the burlesque runway.”  (At the end of “Hound Dog” on the Berle Show, Elvis sure did do some classic bump-and-grind.  Mr. Gould’s loquacious pontification took a long while to say that, but, you will note, he didn’t say he disliked it.)

 

“The gyration never had anything to do with the world of popular music and still doesn’t.”  (Boy, did Mr. Gould get that one wrong.  It’s a good thing he passed away before music videos showed up on MTV.  He’d probably roll over in his grave if he saw one now.  Today’s popular music is synonymous with sensual gyrations.)

 

Jack Gould was a middle-aged man when he watched Elvis perform on TV on June 5, 1956, so he can be excused for ‘not getting it.’  But millions of American teenagers saw it and got it.  Got it big time.  Elvis’ career shot into overdrive and all of the bad press from TV critics and others could not stop it.

 

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