Sunday, April 21, 2002

There was a kind of sad/funny front page story in the Sunday New York Times today about the terminal demographics of visitors to Graceland. "The King may be immortal, but his fans are not," goes David M. Halbfinger's wonderul opening. In other words, the people who revered Elvis are dying off, and kids today don't know anything about him, except that he was some fat guy who took drugs.

Noting that this summer (August 16) will mark the 25th anniversary of Presley's death, corporate America is desperate to continue cashing in on Elvis' legacy. An executive from Presley's label, RCA Records, stated shamelessly, "For us it's about taking a property and figuring out, how do we make him hip, young and irreverent--into a brand that's relevant to this younger demographic." I don't know, do a duets thing with Britney Spears, Moby, Jay-Z, and the Backstreet Boys adding tracks to Elvis's master tapes? This is quite a challenge especially for RCA Records, which since stumbling unto good fortune by buying Presley's recording contract from Sun Records' cash-stapped Sam Phillips in 1956, has itself defied all attempts to make itself hip and relevant. (RCA couldn't even make David Bowie the cash cow he could have been for the label in the 1970's, and lacked the vision to hold on to the rights for his compact disc reissues).
The label is planning two new Elvis CD packages: one with 30 hit singles, and another with what the Times says has "100 previously unreleased tracks." Since RCA has spent the last 25 years (if not more) scraping the bottom of the barrel for vacuous Elvis repackages, it's hard to imagine that the package will provide anything more interesting than the 63rd outttake of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?," the other 62 having been previously issued on earlier compilations.

The greed gets worse, as there are Disney movie, America Online, and McDonald's Happy Meal tie-ins. The latter makes sense, of course, since Elvis was a junk food junkie as well as the prescription drug kind.

In fact, there was something spectral about the fact that Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy's burger chain, died on January 8, which would have been Elvis' 67th birthday. The way I figure it, the night before, Dave Thomas had a dream. In the dream, Elvis, reunited gratefully with his beloved momma Gladys, was asked by his mom what he wanted for his birthday.

"Well, I dunno, momma," Elvis replied. "Here in heaven I get everything I want, pretty much like I did on Earth." He pauses and thinks, "You know, the one thing that kind of disagrees with me here is the food. I mean, it's great that I've got cats like James Beard, and that French feller Escoffier cooking for me every night, but I get tired of all those fancy sauces. What I'd really like for my birthday is a big double cheeseburger with bacon, and a ton of fries." In his dream, Dave Thomas delivered that birthday gift to Elvis personally. And of course, he never woke up.

(c) Wayne Robins, 2002. All rights reserved. Feedback? E-mail me at

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