Death of a King

I submit that Elvis Aaron Presley is the most famous and recognized entertainment figure in the history of the world. More than The Beatles and Michael Jackson.

What are your thoughts?

Either way, Elvis was huge, and remains such.

Today, August 16, 2010, marks the thirty-third anniversary of his untimely passing at his home in Memphis: Graceland.

From Elvis’ official website,

It is estimated that Elvis Presley has sold over one billion record units worldwide, more than anyone in record industry history. In America alone, Elvis has had 150 different albums and singles that have been certified gold, platinum or multi-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), with more certifications expected as research into his past record sales continues and as current sales go on. Research is also underway to document his record sales achievements in other countries. It is estimated that 40% of Elvis’ total record sales have been outside the United States.

To learn more about Elvis’ record sales, jump to this page from his site.

There was something so extremely special, so “it” factor about this guy, that it really is somewhat ridiculous when you start comparing him to others. Unfortunately, his name has been drug through the mud far too oft via well-intentioned, but horrendously executed, impersonations, life rumors and wedding chapels.

Elvis’ family moved from Tupelo to Memphis in 1948, putting him in proximity to Sam Phillips and Sun Records.

Presley was at the right place at the right time, but consider the cumulative history of early 1950s United States. Think about that World War that had ended not too many years prior, the racial situation, the state of music, and television was still very new.

The U.S. was at an enormous turning point, as was most of the world.

Then comes along this guy named Elvis.

Not alone, but he did set the bar. Actually, he established the canon of Rock and Roll.

Elvis Presley changed the world.

I leave you with video of The King performing Kris Kristofferson’s classic, “For The Good Times,” on April 9, 1972 in Hampton Roads, Virginia.

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Kristofferson

I’m not really old enough to say “if only things today were more like…[insert whatever you think was perfect about your generation],” but I do pay enough attention to history (and current events) to know that I wish we were seeing more Kris Kristofferson-types in today’s spotlights.

On the February 26, 2009 edition of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” Stephen Colbert brilliantly asked Kris Kristofferson how he could be both a country musician and a liberal at the same time. Seeming contradictions in the often facile minds of today’s media sponges, mostly obsessed with credential-less celebrities. (by the way, the aforementioned labels can co-exist)

Kristofferson’s backstory is absolutely ridiculous. Trying to tell it all here would be superfluous, so I’ll just hit a couple of highlights of this enormous presence.

Ethan Hawke wrote a killer 14(!)-page story in Rolling Stone 1076 (April 16, 2009). Read a large section of that article on Rolling Stone‘s site here. Below are two excerpts that really stood out to me.

Kris Kristofferson is cut from a thicker, more intricate cloth than most celebrities today: Imagine if Brad Pitt had also written a Number One single for someone like Amy Winehouse, was considered among the finest songwriters of his generation, had been a Rhodes Scholar, a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger, a boxer, a professional helicopter pilot – and was as politically outspoken as Sean Penn…He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Pomona College, studied William Blake and Shakespeare at Oxford, became a U.S. Army captain, was assigned to teach literature at West Point and then abruptly dropped out of the Army to become a songwriter.

Kris had sung “Bobby McGee” [which he wrote] for her [Janis Joplin], but he didn’t know she had recorded the song in 1970 until after she died, when the producer from her label played it for him after a party held in her honor. Kris went off by himself and listened to it over and over. He couldn’t believe that she had recorded it, how f**king brilliant the track was and that Janis was gone. Soon the song was a Number One single and the anthem of a generation.

Are you sure this is what you want?

In Rolling Stone 1076 (April 16, 2009), actor/writer/director Ethan Hawke shares an intriguing take on fame, amid his amazing 14-page piece on Kris Kristofferson.

“Staring at the tabloids, people wonder why celebrities spin off into eccentricity and madness. (As someone who encountered fame at the age of 18, I’ve given this phenomenon considerable reflection.) It has to do with isolation – if you put a human being into any isolation chamber, they will hallucinate. Celebrity is a form of isolation. You are cut off from your community, people react and respond to you in an altered fashion. They give you exemptions from the normal rules of social engagement, they indulge you – and then they resent you for it. You live behind a glass wall – the more people stare, the more alone you feel. Then a snake of madness and megalomania creeps into even the most stable mind. The more fame, the more poison you swallow.”

Culminating a career

Cash. An amazing, amazing individual.

John R. Cash was born in Arkansas, in 1932. He participated, and flourished, in arguably one of the most important eras of recorded music history – the 1950s-60s. Johnny Cash went on to become one of the most iconic musical artists in America’s history. The dude is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and earned multiple Grammy, CMA and AMA awards during his career.

He is amazing, for reason upon reason. But I want to look at the way his career/life ended. 

Society is quick to forget that these types of figures actually feel human feelings. They have families. They have worries. They have issues. They have struggles. They doubt – in lots of things – even themselves.

Cash was very much human.

I read a book called The Man Called Cash, by Steve Turner. The sub-title is “The Life, Love and Faith of an American Legend.” It really gets in to the spiritual side of the man, but sugar-coats nothing. There are some remarkably inspiring stories and I highly recommend it.

Kris Kristofferson wrote the forward, and I love this part:

“John never lost his sense of humor. When June slipped away from us without warning, he was devastated. At the funeral home where people were paying their last respects to her, I was sitting next to John near her casket as people filed by to offer their condolences. One of the mourners spoke with John, then noticed me and proceeded to tell me what a great singer he thought I was. When he left, John leaned over to me and said, “Well, that’s one.”

The moment I became a Johnny Cash fan was the moment I saw the music video for his version of Trent Reznor’s, “Hurt,” a song about the pain of heroin addiction. I can honestly say that changed my life, because it made me rethink my approach to the entertainment business. It made me rethink what really mattered. 

If you haven’t seen the “Hurt” video, please do. You can view it here. Johnny truly made the song his own and I can’t think of a better piece of art to symbolize the end of his career. It’s not hard to imagine him writing the words he’s singing.

In the video, years of life show on Cash’s face, especially in his eyes, while footage from earlier in his life is juxtaposed with a man who is clearly near his end.

There’s an image of a gold record on the floor (Johnny Cash at San Quentin), leaned against the wall in the now defunct House of Cash Museum (Hendersonville, Tenn.), and the glass is shattered.

This is the chorus from “Hurt.”

What have I become / my sweetest friend

Everyone I know / goes away in the end

And you could have it all / my empire of dirt

I will let you down / I will make you hurt

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