Elvis as myth

Elvis is American culture. There, in that tiny, seemingly innocuous sentence, you have the essence of Elvis, the creature of myth. Because the Elvis of myth is a creature that is certainly more than the sum of its parts. Elvis the man was a romantic, almost streamlined, product of American culture. A young man, born into poverty, yet hardworking and morally devout, whose natural talents lead him farther than he could have imagined in his wildest dreams. This is pure Americana; Horatio Alger with slapback bass, God-given talent combined with Puritan work ethic leading to success. But just as Elvis the man is a product of the American culture, so does Elvis the myth shape American culture. For good or ill, Elvis changed the American landscape, altered it irrevocably. So Elvis the man and Elvis the myth meet in an almost religious union, the Alpha and Omega. The Elvis of myth says "I am you that brought me here, I will be here after you are gone." And so the Elvis of myth has become deeply embedded the American zeitgeist. Elvis has become, (just as he was sprung forth from) the embodiment of the American ideal. Not the bright, shining ideal that America as a nation presents to world leaders and historians, but the seamy, tacky reality of the so called "American Dream" -- the polyester, trailer-park, used-car salesman sucess story.

America has an ingrained penchant for superlatives -- everything larger, more grandiose. The Elvis of myth will always be larger and wilder than anything the man-Elvis ever could have been, simply because the myth has been molded that way to fit the "American Dream." And the American Dream is highly intolerant of mediocrity. The American Dream wants no truck with the Elvis who spent his last days holed up in a darkened Graceland bedroom. The American Dream will only recall the Elvis who shook the nation with his gyrating pelvis. The American Dream will forsake the man-Elvis, whose lifeless performances in the waning years failed to draw capacity crowds at even small venues, for the omnipotent performer of myth who once drew 52 million Americans (or 1 in every 3 households) to the Ed Sullivan Show. Even in his vices, the American Dream will demand more of the myth Elvis. Forgotten will be the helpless addict who needed lackeys to administer his poisons to him, cast aside in favor of the angry, virile, man-of-action Elvis who stunned his hangers-on at the Las Vegas Hilton when, his request for a three-day dose of sedatives having been denied by his "physician", he suddenly produced two .45 automatics and began firing into the ceiling, shouting, "I'll buy me a whole god-damned drugstore!!" But first and foremost, the American Dream cannot, will not, tolerate the reality of Elvis' death -- found ignominiously sprawled on the bathroom floor, a fallen king beside his throne, a touch of black irony too campy to be anything but real.

The living, shake-rattle-and-rolling incarnation of the American culture was felled, at best, by a heart attack occurring while straining for a bowel movement, fer chrissakes; at worst, by a self-inflicted overdose -- a suicide. And this, kids, the American conciousness cannot tolerate. For if this flesh-and-blood offering of the American spirit -- the King -- if the King one day assayed his kingdom and, on balance, found nothing to entice him to remain on this mortal coil, where does that leave his subjects?? A kingdom whose leader has deemed it worthless is a very heavy concept to grapple with. No, that idea is better left in the shadows, playing second-banana to any of the mythical Elvis endings: he faked his own death, he was poisoned by the Commies, anything to deflect attention from the ugly truth. William Carlos Williams once wrote that "The pure products of America go crazy." Which may be true. It is a noted fact that the majority of "great" American writers have all been raging alcoholics, many going to an early grave. Hart Crane, Hemingway...Sylvia Plath took her life by sealing off her kitchen and placing her head in the gas oven. But if the pure products of America truly go crazy, than surely it can only be because the American culture is itself somewhat deranged. The purest products of our culture show us who we really are. Elvis shows us where we have been, and lights the path we are going down. Elvis matters. Believe it.