McCartney Times

Editorial: What if Elvis had lived? | Opinion |

Editorial: What if Elvis had lived? | Opinion |

Editorial: What if Elvis had lived? | Opinion |
August 16
11:59 2017

Those of a certain age can remember exactly where they were 40 years ago today when televisions and radios across the country interrupted their afternoon programming with a breaking news bulletin: Elvis Presley was dead.There are still people in Roanoke who hold onto the ticket they had for the concert he had scheduled eight days later at what was then called the Roanoke Civic Center.Roanoke always felt a special affinity for Presley, a good, Southern boy who made good. It wasn’t just that he played in Roanoke a lot in his early days — his first show here was in 1955 at the old American Legion hall, when he was an opening act for the country singer Hank Snow.Geography made us close in other ways besides Southerness. When Presley was discharged from the Army in 1960, the Norfolk & Western train carrying him back to Memphis stopped in Roanoke for 15 minutes. Some 250 fans were waiting, hoping to catch a glimpse of The King.Even in what turned out to be his later years, when the music scene of the 1970s had passed Presley by, Roanokers still turned out by the thousands. Roanoke Mayor Roy Webber gave Presley the key to the city in 1972; the crowd of 10,436 that night set a record for the venue we now know as the Berglund Center. He was back in 1974 and drew an even bigger crowd then — 10,640. To this day, that remains the record crowd there. Presley was back yet again in 1976, just a year before his death, and still drew 10,594. Three times in five years, almost four times in six; Elvis was a regular in Roanoke.For decades after his death, people trooped to a home in Southeast Roanoke to see the Epperly family’s backyard re-creation of “Mini Graceland.”Forty years on, it’s still worth asking a question that many others have asked before us: What if he hadn’t bulked up and started taking too many pills? What if he’d stayed in shape, or gotten back in shape? What if Elvis had lived?He’d have been 81 now. Chuck Berry, one of his contemporaries, lived a decade longer. Elvis might still be among us, and not just as a conspiracy theory customer at Burger King.Would he have been vital, though? Elvis in 1977 was already a man out of time. When the news of his death broke, the announcer at the University of North Carolina’s student radio station couldn’t find a single Elvis record on file. The book “When Elvis Died” relates the rest: “He frantically called fellow students, only to hear them say that Elvis was before their time; they did not own any of their records.”The reality is that Presley’s time had been in the ’50s. He made records long after that and even had some hits, but he was no longer shaping the music scene the way he had before. Elvis in 1977 was a Las Vegas lounge act. His fans in the ’50s had given birth to kids who by then were rocking out to Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd. “Heatbreak Hotel” was a long way from “Stairway to Heaven.”In 2011, the Houston Press laid out four possible paths that Elvis might have taken if he had lived. One of those — perhaps the most plausible —was “Elvis, Vegas Rat.”The key thing to keep in mind, though, is that Elvis was only 42 when he died. For comparison purposes, Billie Joe Armstrong, the leader of the punk band Green Day is now 45 and he’s still pumping out hits. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones just turned 74 and he’s still on tour (and romancing a ballet dancer in her 20s). Elvis was not too old to rock and roll. The question is not could he have, but would he have?The thing to remember is that Elvis wasn’t a songwriter — though he did get some songwriting credits anyway. That would have made the post-1977 Elvis better suited for country music, where stars often don’t write their own material. Elvis might have become the American version of Rod Stewart — once a sexy, even dangerous rock star who now sings standards by George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. Perhaps they might have even teamed up for a duet.It’s worth looking at the other three members of what were once termed “The Million Dollar Quartet” — Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.Perkins never again had a hit as big as “Blue Suede Shoes” but he kept playing right up to his death. His final album featured duets with an all-star cast of music royalty — three surviving Beatles (Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr), Bono, John Fogarty, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty and Paul Simon.Lewis had legitimate hits into the ’70s and is still putting out records — including the obligatory all-star album of duets.A better model might be Cash, who in his later years teamed up with famed producer Rick Rubin and produced a series of six highly-acclaimed albums that had Cash re-interpreting songs by artists as diverse as Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. Some of those songs were as vital as anything Cash ever produced in his younger days. If you don’t believe that, go take a listen to the haunting cover of “Personal Jesus.” It’s easy to imagine Rubin and Presley doing the same. Cash was often sought out for cameo

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About Author

Martin Nethercutt

Martin Nethercutt

Martin A Nethercutt is a writer, singer, producer and loves music. Creative Director at McCartney Studios Editor-in-Chief at McCartney Times Creator-in-Chief at Geist Musik President (title) at McCartney Multimedia, Inc. Went to Albert-Schweitzer-Schule Kassel Lives in Playa del Rey From Kassel, Germany Married to Ruth McCartney

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