Count me among those who really dug the new Elvis biop. Yes, I was leery of Baz Luhrmann, and yes, I wondered what could they add to the mythology. But, somehow Baz’ style was perfect for the tale and Austin Butler was phenomenal as Elvis. His portrayal and the film as a whole, brought the humanity back to the King, after too many years of caricature, in my opinion. I’ve always felt for Elvis. I mean, he really invented an art form. Yes, I know there were folks playing some “kind” of rock before him, but he was the first to bring together this odd stew of country, blues, gospel, and R&B and turn it into what we know as rock and roll, and on a level that took it from roadhouses to stadiums. He turned the whole picture from black and white to color. Yet, I think in many ways, he just did it intuitively. And there was no playbook to follow, he had no bandmates (like the fabs) to help support him, no longstanding producer -no one. He was out there on his own. And, I think he suffered for it, ultimately.
I have to say, too, a lot of folks dismiss him or write him off as racist for “ripping off black music,” which also isn’t the case. The truth is he did a lot to open the doors, as sort of an unintentional civil rights pioneer, breaking barriers through the music, and in many cases, bringing attention and dollars to folks he admired. Back in the day, they said if a songwriter got an Elvis cut, the return would undoubtedly buy a house. But, also, music isn’t race based. Ray Charles did country music. Duke Ellington played classical music. The jazz cats loved Debussy. Today, everyone uses hip hop beats, it seems, while also, still borrowing from the Beatles and Dylan. It’s a melting pot, like what America is supposed to be. And, when Elvis hit like something from outer space, America became cool, all over the world. He encapsulated an intangible sense of possibility, although like the country, his later years would reveal the dark side of that dream.
I’ve had many Elvis moments myself, being fortunate enough to record at Sun Records with my ol’ band Bucket Number Six, and of course, many years later, taking my son to visit the important sites (throwback photos included). FINALLY, it was also great to see Jimmy Bowland, my brilliant sax playing pal, who played on my last couple records, on the soundtrack credits for the new tracks they cut right here in Nashville at ol’ Studio B. Jimmy said Baz was a peach.