Recently I received a shipment of Elvis magazines from the United Kingdom. Elvis: The Man and His Music, edited by Trevor Cajiao, had a back issue sale, and I ordered a couple dozen issues from the early to mid-1990s. Of course, much of the information in those issues is dated now, but still they include articles, interviews, and reviews that make good reading for an Elvis fan like me.
In addition to EMM’s focus on the factual history of Elvis’s life and music, I enjoy its candor and honesty. If a reviewer thinks a certain book about Elvis is worth buying, he says so; if he thinks it isn’t worth the cover price, he’ll say that too. Elvis, himself, gets fair and balanced treatment in the magazine. Of course, EMM’s contributors are self-styled hard-core Elvis fans, and so they give the man his due credit most of the time. Still, EMM is not afraid to call Elvis out over mistakes they think he made.
A good example is Ger Rijff’s article, “Vegas ’76 Revisited,” which appeared in EMM issue #18 in March 1993. Although the article was written long ago, its content and the reaction of the magazine's readers to it is still relevant in Elvis fandom today. It reveals a continuing divide in the way Elvis fans view their favorite rock 'n' roller decades after his death.
Ger Rijff is a well-known Dutch Elvis fan, who has written and published quality Elvis articles and books through the years. His devotion to Elvis was questioned, however, after his “Vegas ’76 Revisited” article appeared in EMM.
• Elvis’s “real fans” seated in the back rows
In the article Ger gave his observations about six Elvis shows that he saw at the Las Vegas Hilton in December 1976. He started out by blasting the Hilton showroom employees (“creeps” he called them) for seating the “real fans” in the back of the showroom, while giving the seats up front to the big-tippers. Ger blamed Elvis, in part, for allowing his fans to be treated so shabbily.
“ … we wondered why Elvis and his management let this happen … did Elvis and his management really care about us as much as we have been made to believe over the years? You tell me. They sure didn’t show any pity when, back in the Summer of 1975, over two hundred fans from the UK and Europe got stranded in Las Vegas and had to find out by themselves Elvis had left Vegas the night they’d arrived! I was one of them.”
Of the six shows Ger saw in December 1976, five were good ones. “He’s got incredible stage presence. Charisma beyond words,” Ger wrote. However, the bulk of his article concerned the sixth show, which he characterized as “downright WEIRD!”
It was Sunday night, December 5th. Elvis was late getting on stage; something about a sprained ankle, the crowd was told. Finally, Elvis entered stage left, limping and leaning on Charlie Hodge. “He looks bad,” Ger observed. “His face is pale and bloated.” After his first song, Elvis addressed the audience. “His voice is slurred and he’s not in control of his body movements,” Ger wrote. “I’m now convinced he’s drunk … His voice sounds weak. His eyes are glazed.” Watching Elvis’s antics on stage made Ger cringe. “Seeing my hero making such an ass of himself makes me wish I could crawl under a rock.” Well, Ger went on to give other depressing details about the show, but you get the picture, I’m sure.
• Mrs. Robinson speaks for the “loyal” Elvis fans
Of course, Ger Rijff’s article didn’t sit well with that group of Elvis fans who don’t like to hear their idol criticized, and a Mrs. P.A. Robinson spoke for them in a long letter printed in the next issue of EMM. Of Rijff, she wrote, “The article would appear to reflect the bitterness and contempt which he feels for Elvis both as a performer and for the manner in which he believes Elvis treated his fans.” The fault for the poor seating arrangements belonged to Elvis’s management, not Elvis, she pointed out. He never let her down or her fellow “loyal” Elvis fans. “You ask, Mr. Rijff, if Elvis ever really cared about his fans,” noted Mrs. Robinson, getting to the point. “I would ask you, are you or have you ever been a true Elvis fan?” She concluded with a note to EMM’s editor. “I would definitely not be purchasing further issues until the cessation of Mr. Rijff’s articles.”
In his printed response below Mrs. Robinson’s letter, editor Trevor Cajiao was obviously miffed. However, he did clearly state the philosophy of his magazine. “In these pages we do our best to put forward a balanced view of things—and there’s times when the truth often hurts. Not every Elvis concert was wonderful. Likewise, not all of his records or films were wonderful. If ‘Elvis could do no wrong’ is your view of things, then you’re reading the wrong magazine. If you still feel the same way I’d be more than happy to refund your subscription.”
Of course, the next issue of EMM saw a number of letters supporting Ger Rijff. Various EMM readers labeled Mrs. Robinson “foolish,” “idiotic,” “ignorant,” “uptight,” “stupid,” “head in the sand,” and “a bozo.” Several suggested Mrs. Robinson stop reading EMM and subscribe to a different magazine more suitable for her and other like-minded, “so-called” Elvis fans. In other words, these incensed EMM readers were just as arrogant and intolerant about Mrs. Robinson’s feelings toward Elvis as she was to theirs.
Before commenting on the skirmish just described, I need to admit that my philosophy as an Elvis fan agrees more closely with the EMM crowd than it does with Mrs. Robinson. I’m an Elvis fan, but I also see the man through the dispassionate eyes of a historian. His entire life, both professional and personal, both magnificent and sad, is a uniquely American story. No part of it can or should be ignored, as there are historical lessons to be learned from all of it. I also believe that Elvis, like everyone else, bears the responsibility for his actions, both good and bad, during his extraordinary life. It’s unfair to credit him for all the great things he did, while blaming Colonel Parker and others around him for the poor choices Elvis made.
• Can’t all we Elvis fans just get along?
Having said that, though, I understand those fans (probably the majority) who look at Elvis through rose-colored glasses. Elvis is an uplifting, shining light in their lives. They know about the bad movies, the drugs, and the strange behavior; they just would rather not dwell upon that when there are so many positive things about Elvis—his beautiful voice, his generosity, and the good concerts (surely the vast majority).
As for that quarrel in the pages of Elvis: The Man and His Music back in 1993, when I read it recently, I felt both sides could have been a bit more open-minded. I’ve had Elvis friends in both camps, and we’ve always been able to find common ground in the wide shadow cast by Elvis Presley’s legacy. Maybe I’m making too much of a spat in the pages of an Elvis fan magazine many years ago. I hope so. | Alan Hanson (February 2009)
"I’ve had Elvis friends in both camps, and we’ve always been able to find common ground in the wide shadow cast by Elvis Presley’s legacy."