Recently this blog space was devoted to Elvis’ 1970 Seattle concert, one I attended as a twenty-one-year-old college student. After admitting I had just a few vivid memories of Elvis’ show that evening 40 years ago, I gave the majority of the blog over to two reviews printed in Seattle newspapers the next day. A few days after that blog was posted, a female Elvis fan hauled me over the coals in an email message. “Honestly, Alan,” Petra began ominously, “there are times I really don’t get what your blog is about.” Seems my treatment of Elvis’ 1970 Seattle concert was one of those times.
Now, even though Petra battered away at me in that and a follow up email, I rather enjoyed the flaying she laid on me. You see, between the body blows, she brought up some relevant concerns about what it means to be an “Elvis fan.” Is that a designation that is often self-applied undeservedly? Let’s let Petra make her points, followed by my responses.
Petra: Instead of at least trying to give us your personal impression—which indeed would have been interesting—you give us two different concert reviews of the show in 1970, one quite positive and the other one by a disappointed reviewer. Big deal … what is your message here?
Alan: My message? I tried to cleverly insert my subtle message in the text, but let me state it directly. I was a huge Elvis fan in 1970, but although I was incredibly excited to see him for the first time in person, his show that night was short on memorable moments. As for the reviews, they’re what are called “primary sources” and, in my view, provided interesting, contrasting views. My personal impression of the concert would not have been interesting, since I don’t remember much about it.
Petra: So you attended the concert in 1970 but cannot remember how the show was? Why then do you take the time to write about it?
Alan: Well, honestly, the jumpsuit ’70s is not my favorite Elvis era. In fact, it’s my least favorite. I came to Elvis during the movie years of the sixties, and although I have to allow that most of his films from 1962 on were pretty dismal, I still have fonder memories of viewing those movies at local theatres and drive-ins than I do having watched Elvis perform on stage in the seventies. But, hey, surveys have shown that today more Elvis fans list the ’70s as their favorite Elvis era than list the ’50s or ’60s. If I going to be an Elvis blogger, then, occasionally I have to write about those seventies shows. I guess my lack of enthusiasm for Elvis on stage in the ’70 comes through in my blog entries. I’ll try to do a better job of disguising it in the future.
Petra: Why then did you go and see the guy another time in 1976 ? I mean, you could have saved the money instead …
Alan: Are you kidding? Pass up an opportunity to see Elvis in person? Never. I’d have gone to see him a hundred times if it had been possible. (The military made sure I had no chance to see him between 1971-1975.) The quality of his performance had nothing to do with it. I’d have paid to watch him stand still for 45 minutes. To simply be in his presence is something many Elvis fans never had a chance to do. I feel fortunate I was able to do it twice.
Petra: I get the impression that some fans prefer to hide behind “objective” views (as if such a thing even existed) to avoid under all circumstances to come across as an Elvis fan. This seems to be especially the case with male fans.
Alan: Could it really be that I’m a “closet Elvis fan,” one who is afraid to openly declare his true feelings about Elvis? Well, I have never shied away from calling myself an “Elvis fan.” I did so in my Elvis ’57 book and have done so dozens of times in my Elvis blogs over the past three years. I suppose it all boils down to one’s definition of an “Elvis fan.” I’ve met many kinds—music lovers, record collectors, movie lovers, historians, fantasy lovers, photo collectors, Elvis Tribute Artists. What ties us all together? Is it appreciation of the man’s talent? Is it unconditional loyalty to the man? Is it the joy he’s brought to all of our lives? Who’s to say? I’ve never questioned the sincerity of anyone who claims to be an Elvis fan.
Now, the difference between female and male Elvis fans—there’s something I’ve never understood. Petra wondered if I might be “one of the many male fans who has to distance himself in order to set himself apart from the many screaming female fans who dream of making love to the King.” Well, first of all, let me declare most emphatically that I have never dreamed of making love to Elvis. And I’ve never understood why so many female fans during Elvis’s life embraced such a fantasy. And I doubt that Elvis himself understood it either, although, by all accounts, he did his best to make that dream come true for as many of his female fans as possible.
No, as a male fan, I never loved Elvis. I loved his music and some of his movies. I still do. And perhaps, on some whimsical level, I wanted to be him. (In reality, though, who could seriously want to live in a bubble like Elvis did?) As a teenager and young man, I also saw Elvis as a kind of role model. While other rock stars, like The Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix, and Jim Morrison submerged themselves in excesses of all sorts, Elvis remained a paragon of virtue, an example of how to live a clean, spiritual life. Of course, that image was shattered by the revelations after Elvis’s death. And here Petra suggests a potential source for what she saw as an “underlying resentment” on my part toward Elvis in my Seattle blog.
Petra: Maybe my inability to relate to this is, as you assume, a generation gap kind of thing. In fact, I’m a fan of a younger generation. I became a fan after Elvis’ death … I discovered his music, which is not of my generation, all at once, in a kind of unorganized way, jumping back and forth from the 60s to the 70s to the 50s and back again.
Alan: When Petra became an Elvis fan after his death, all of the man’s personal failings had come to light and were there for her to consider in forming her relationship with Elvis. For Elvis fans like me, who bonded with Elvis in the sixties, it was very difficult to process all the revelations of his drug use, mistreatment of women, and irrational behavior in his private life, considering how completely we had come to believe in the virtuous image that Elvis had cultivated while he was alive.
Yes, I felt deceived by Elvis. For years I had defended his character in conversations with friends and relatives, and suddenly I had to deal with the realization that he was not as perfect as I had been led to believe. But I worked through it. If I hadn’t been able to, I wouldn’t have written a book about Elvis, created this web site, or written 150 weekly Elvis blogs. Whatever he did in his personal life, in the end it couldn’t erase all the enjoyment Elvis the entertainer has given me over the last 50 years. And despite the differences Petra and I might have as Elvis fans, I think we both can agree about that. I’ll give her the last word.
Petra: I really don’t care if he wears cat clothes, conservative clothing or gaudy jumpsuits while singing the songs. All of this is very remote to me, doesn’t count anymore. What’s left is his really amazing voice that he used very differently in the different eras of his career. | Alan Hanson (January 2011)