Thursday, May 05, 2005

Elvis was a hero to most….

Up here in Candidasa there is not a lot to do. Candidasa is a sleepy little fishing village on the east coast of Bali (Bali Timur, in the correct lingo), about an hour from the populated southern area around Denpasar. For about NZ$20 a driver will bring you up here. I’m not sure why we’re here actually. I came here for about two weeks four years back and ran out of things to do after three days. But we’re off to Yogyakarta again in a day or so and I guess it’s a way to pleasantly kill some time.

I went for a walk and found the local music shop..pirate dvds and Elvis. I guess the king must be big news here as the only things that had, apart from local pop cassettes, was a Marley greatest hits (30 tracks from the Island catalogue for $1.20…called “Bob Marly Big One”), about half a dozen Elvis movie soundtracks, and a copy of that appallingly remixed Elvis “Number Ones” with a poorly photocopied sleeve.

I wasn’t tempted

But I do have to admit (well I don’t have to, but I will) to a guilty pleasure, and that’s Elvis. I like, used to love ,(still do love his earlier stuff) Elvis Costello (and am loving the recent 10” EP, “The Scarsdale Sessions” however I’m now in the strange position of being the only person I know who likes EC…am I odd?) but I’m talking about the man mountain from Memphis, the man who, more than anyone else took one of America’s foremost contributions to global culture, dumb as fuck white trash, and helped spread it around the world. Take a bunch of convicts and mix it with Elvis….bingo….Australian popular culture (actually that’s not 100% fair but overexposure to middle Ozstralia in Bali does that to you…)

I’m fairly choosey about which Elvis I like. I grew up on the “Sun Sessions”. RCA put together a fantastic compile of all the early pre RCA stuff about 1975 and I thrashed it to death. Hillbilly punk funk, rough raw the perfect mashing together of the sounds of African and European musical traditions (I’m big on the country soul thing right now and really like the "Dirty Laundry" compilation I picked up at Real Groovy), but it might be an acquired taste.

Once Colonel Parker, and all those RCA staff producers took over it all went downhill, I own a box set of every song he recorded in the fifties. I have no idea where it came from as I know I didn’t buy it…BMG used to be generous with samples back in the day. I hate all the hits but love all the gospel stuff. He lost me until 69, until the comeback period, which I came to courtesy of a 1980 collection called Elvis 69 (how many times can they compile this man, and how many unreleased tracks can they continue to find…I picked up a four cd box of unreleased takes about two years ago for $25…I only play CD 4). Tracks like “Suspicious Minds” “Kentucky Rain” simply blow me away..massive soul music from that voice. From there I discovered the fat Elvis period and I’m a total sucker for it. Great songs, great, sometimes epic, production and far far more depth than he’d shown since 56. There is a scene at the end of some Elvis doco film (I’d love to own it but I don’t even know the name of the film..anyone?) where an incredibly overweight Elvis, shortly before he fell into the khazi, is doing a live rendition of “My Way”…bloated, sweating profusely, and still carrying that voice. At once its one of the saddest and most moving musical moments I’ve ever seen.

I remember the day Elvis died. I’m not old enough for Kennedy but I remember Martin Luther King, Sid Vicious, Marvin Gaye, John Lennon…and Elvis. I was living in Cotter Avenue, Remuera with Johnny & Ronnie from The Scavengers, when someone rang and said Elvis had died. I told Johnny who said “Good fucking job”….we thought we were punks.

The next day we went to Wellington. I’d booked the Suburban Reptiles into the Students Arts Festival Down there…after much persuading that my act had some musical merit. So, with a promise of beds and a $200 fee we jumped on a bus and headed south. We almost got biffed off south of Hamilton because Billy Planet took some girl’s Morro Bar and ate half of it…..we thought we were punks.

We got to Wellington and were told they’d changed their beds, no gig, no money…fuck off…eventually we were “billeted” by this drunken guy in Newtown…that is a whole different post-the story goes on and on. Suffice to say that The Scavengers had also arrived in a car, which had caught fire as they arrived, making the front page of the Dominion (one or other of us made the front page of a newspaper every day for a week). August 1977 and Wellington had never seen a punk, or, seemingly, had any comprehension about what one might be. That we were merely a bunch of art school fashion victims from Auckland made little difference, and a vigilante squad, supported it seemed by the local newspapers and the Police decided to run us out of town.

But back to Elvis..I came across a poster, the day after we arrived, for an Elvis memorial gig at a club called Ziggy’s Rock’n’Roll Heaven, just off Vivian Street and decided that might be a laugh and managed to convince the owner that The Suburban Reptiles were a rock’n’roll band from up north who were keen to pay tribute to the king. I’d learnt over the recent months that they only way to get a gig was to lie.

The big Elvis song at the time was “Moody Blue” (great song...actually the whole album is pretty good) but the crowd were the sad rockers..the greased hair, the bobby sox…seen American Graffiti too many times; and the older version of the same who where there twenty years ago but never got over it. They wanted “Hound Dog”.

They got The Suburban Reptiles. I’m not sure what Zero said about Elvis but it ended in a brawl on the floor..a whole lot of us and it was pretty ugly. We thought we were punks.

The guy who booked The Reps loved it! Simon Morris, from the band The Heartbreakers. He asked if the band would play before his band and talked the university people into a gig, so we didn’t need to write rubber cheques for Chinese food anymore (I actually went into that takeaway in Vivian Street about 5 years later on a Sceaming Meemees tour and gave the guy $20 to cover it).

I guess I owe Elvis that…..