On May 31, Elvis.Com had a news item and link to Conan O’Brien interviewing Peter Guralnick. Well, I’ve got three of Guralnick’s Elvis books, and he knows more about Elvis than anybody, so this was something I wanted to watch.
However, once it got going, I was very impressed with the knowledge Conan exhibited and the quality of his statements and questions. For example, I was curious how Conan became an Elvis fan.
“When I was in college, and it’s the 80s, and I had sort-of come of age with 60s and 70s music. Elvis wasn’t a big interest of mine. And, then, I want to say, 1983, I listened for the first time to The Sun Sessions, Elvis’ earliest work that he did with Sam Phillips.”
“It blew my mind. It was like a drug. I couldn’t get enough. It made me go out and buy a guitar. It made me try and play that music. And, in a sense, I’ve never gotten past that music. I can’t get past early Elvis. I can’t get past Jerry Lee Lewis. I can’t get past Carl Perkins. I appreciate other music, but I’m always drawn back. It’s just this energy.”
Even better was Conan’s concern about Elvis putting up with all the crummy songs in the later movies:
“What I’ve always noticed about Elvis that bothers me to this day is there’s nobody more talented. There’s nobody who’s better looking. He’s a rare example of the complete package and he is at the right time. He’s got it all — and he’s passive. He doesn’t like the songs they give him in the movies, but he sings them. He doesn’t like the movies, but he does them. Why was he so passive? Why did he sing the song “Clambake?”… These songs are dreadful. And you think, he was Elvis Presley. Why couldn’t he stand up and say, ‘I’m not doing this! Get me Leiber/Stoller. Get me real songwriters. Let’s make a real soundtrack”
Conan makes a good point. With his stature, why didn’t Elvis insist on better movie songs? The answer to the question takes Guralnick some time to explain, and as you might imagine, it partly involves Col. Parker.
The most profound thing Conan said was about the unfair treatment Elvis and his fans sometime get these days:
”I listen to Elvis nearly every night on Sirrius. I love it. But, every once in a while, they’ll say, ‘Now we’re going to the Movie Soundtrack Show… I switch the channel. I can’t take it, because it’s Elvis digging a ditch. It’s not something he wants to be doing. He’s doing his best.”
“But, the artists like Elvis who survived into the 80s and 90s got a chance to work with real [bands]… They’re redeemed. They get to work with great producers. Johhny Cash had this whole resurgence. Roy Orbison gets a resurgence. They’re taken seriously. They are treated appropriately – as icons and heroes. And their work is refurbished… There’s always part of me that’s very sad that Elvis couldn’t have lived to see how great his work was. He was someone who was revered. To see that whole generation come out and play with him and support…. And let him know that his work meant something in the American tapestry, but he never got that chance.”
Conan got a little wobbly at the end of that quote, so some was edited out for clarity. However, Peter Guralnick agreed with Conan one this point, and so do I.
If Elvis had lived into his fifties, he may well have had an event like Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night, playing with a bunch of contemporary musicians. It would have changed the perspective of those Elvis detractors out there, and proved that you and I are right.
I highly recommend you watch the entire Conan O’Brien and Peter Guralnick interview by clicking here. It is seventy-two minutes of excellent Elvis information by two genuine, knowledgeable Elvis fans.
Next Week – Conan Sings Elvis
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