I gave a talk at Ignite Liverpool this week. Held at Leaf Cafe on Bold St, the event takes place every three months. People are invited to come along and talk about things they are passionate about. I spoke about Elvis Presley. This is loosely what I had to say.
Elvis, he died 1977 when I was 9 years old. I’ve been a fan since I was five. That’s a long time.
When people find out I am an Elvis fan they act in two ways. The first is of embarrassment on my behalf, as if I’ve let a deep dark dirty secret slip out. To them I should be ashamed, hang my head low.
The second response is laughter.
They think I’m joking. I am not.
Some people are strange about Elvis, this working class boy from a background and childhood of grinding poverty miles and oceans away; they get aggressive about him. It’s odd, how he stirs such a reaction still, even after all these decades. They start challenging me on my fandom, try to convert me to proper music, whatever that is. The mansplanations on the error of my ways are plentiful and so often recited to me; the mansplainers, they must learn them by rote.
I’m told Elvis didn’t write his own songs. This is not news. (I’ve been a fan since I was five, remember?).
He was a manufactured artist. Apparently. Oh, and the Sex Pistols weren’t?
One person compared him to Justin Beiber. I’m still trying to work that one out.
Then there’s “he died on the toilet you know”. His wasn’t a rock n roll enough death for them. It lacks that needle in the arm authenticity.
For the mansplainers, I have a well-rehearsed speech of defence.
I talk about his influence. On other singers, fashion, the art of self-expression. How he mixed genres to make something exciting and new. His sheer power of performance.
My speech, it makes people back off and concede the “Sun Sessions are good, and erm, the 68 Comeback Special, but…” followed by a mumbled “yeah well, I’m not a fan but I appreciate what he did”, eyes toggling, searching for an escape route.
Then I say, you’re missing out on the country, gospel, the true quality Vegas era. The good films.
They like that! It tickles them, no end. They grin delightedly, smugly, think I’m a liar, or just stupid. I’m a sheep, following the herd. I need to listen to some Pink Floyd. That’ll sort me out.
This is why when I meet another fan I’m made happy. We are a broad church us Elvis fans, but have one fundamental thing in common. Him. There’s an Elvis impersonator where I live, I see him in Asda sometimes. Just before Christmas, I spied him. He must be well into his seventies. I never looked at him properly before but on this day, I followed him. I took in what he was wearing, the stonewashed denim jeans, distressed and bleached.
I thought, Elvis would not wear those.
He had these right white trainers on too, dazzling and bright and huge on the end of his legs.
I don’t think Elvis would like those either.
He wore a black blouson jacket.
Elvis died before they came out. Things weren’t looking up, at all.
Then I noticed he carried a long brolly, a long black one with a curved handle. He used it like a sceptre, brandished it as he walked. Like a king.
Oh yes, I thought. Elvis, he would love that.
So I’m following the Asda Elvis impersonator, notice he is smiled at and nodded at as he does his shopping. I start thinking people are laughing at him, see Elvis as a joke. They’re laughing at my Elvis, my boy! I want to punch them, give each a good talking to.
Then I realise no, that’s not it. People are smiling because the Elvis impersonator in Asda, he reminds them of Elvis, and Elvis makes people happy. He really, really does.
We live in very divisive times, where neighbour is set against neighbour. It’s employed vs unemployed, striver vs shirker, hardworking vs lazy bastards. Them vs us. Elvis, he brings people together. And that is bloody beautiful. We all need to look deeper than the lies spoon fed to us, about the stereotypes about people who use food banks, stereotypes about those who have to sign on, question every stereotype going. Or indeed stereotypes about Elvis Aaron Presley. Because stereotypes by rote, they are rarely any good.
I have a flash fiction GOOD TIMES in a new book Slim Volume: No Love Lost (Pankhearst), out this week.