Sunday, January 13, 2013

Elvis: American David. A poem by Bono

Elvis Presley and Bono. Photograph: Arnaldo Magnani (Bono)/Corbis/Getty Images

Elvis: American David. A poem by Bono

The following tribute to Elvis Presley was written by Bono in 1995.
elvis son of tupelo.
elvis mama's boy.
elvis the twin brother of Jesse who died at birth and was buried in a shoe box.
elvis drove a truck.
elvis was recorded at sun studios by the musical diviner sam phillips.
elvis was managed by colonel tom parker, an ex-carnie barker whose last act was a singing canary.
elvis was the most famous singer in the world since king david.
elvis lived on his own street.
elvis liked to play speed cop.
elvis had a monkey named scatter before anyone.
elvis wore a cape at the white house when he was presenting nixon with two silver pistols.
elvis was a member of the drug squad.
elvis wore eye make up, just hangin' out.
elvis wore a gold nudie suit and trained his lip to curl.
elvis was macho, but could sing like a girl.
elvis was not a big talker.
elvis was articulate in every other way.
elvis dyed his hair black to look like valentino.
elvis held a microphone the way valentino held nitanaldi in blood and sand.
elvis dressed black long before he dressed in black.
elvis sang black except in lower registers where he was a student of dean martin.
elvis admired mario lanza.
elvis delivered the world from crooning.
elvis was a great crooner.
elvis had a voice that could explain the sexuality of america.
elvis was influenced by jim morrison in his choice of black leather for the '68 comeback special.
elvis invented the beatles.
elvis achieved world domination from a small town.
elvis was conscious of myth.
elvis had pharoah-like potential.
elvis was made by america, so america could remake itself.
elvis had good manners.
elvis was a bass, a baritone, and a tenor.
elvis sang his heart out at the end.
elvis the opera singer.
elvis the soap opera.
elvis loved america, God, the bible, firearms, the movies, the office of presidency, junk food, drugs, cars, family,television, jewellery, straight talkin', dirty talkin' gameshows, uniforms, and self-help books.
elvis like america, wanted to improve himself.
elvis like america, started out loving but later turned on himself.
elvis body could not stop moving.
elvis is alive, we're dead.
elvis the charismatic.
elvis the ecstatic.
elvis the plastic, elvis the elastic with a spastic dance that might explain the energy of america.
elvis fusion and confusion.
elvis earth rod in a southern dorm.
elvis shaking up an electrical storm.
elvis in hollywood his voice gone to ground.
elvis in las vegas with a big brassy sound.
elvis the first rock'n'roll star with scotty moore, bill black, and dj fontana.
elvis with james burton and ronny tutt.
elvis the movie star made three good films: viva las vegas, flaming star, and jailhouse rock.
elvis the hillbilly brought rhythm to the white race, blues to pop, and rock'n'roll to where ever rock'n'roll is.
elvis the pelvis, swung from africa to europe, which is the idea of america.
elvis liberation.
elvis the kung fu would come later.
elvis hibernation.
elvis built a theme park he later called Graceland.
elvis woke up to whispers.
elvis thought of himself as a backslider.
elvis knew guilt like a twin brother.
elvis called God every morning then left the phone off the hook.
elvis turned las vegas into a church when he sang "love me tender".
elvis turned america into a church when he sang "the trilogy".
elvis was harangued by choice; flesh vs spirit, God vs rock'n'roll mother vs lover, father vs the colonel.
elvis grew sideburns as a protest against tom jones' hairy chest.
elvis would have a president named after him.
elvis was one of the boys.
elvis was not one of the boys.
elvis had an acute intelligence disguised as talent.
elvis broke pirscilla's heart.
elvis broke lisa marie's heart.
elvis woke up my heart.
elvis white trash.
elvis the memphis flash.
elvis didn't smoke hash and woulda been a sissy without johnny cash.
elvis didn't dodge the draft.
elvis had his own aircraft.
elvis having a laugh on the lisa marie in a colour photograph.
elvis under the hood.
elvis cadillac blood.
elvis darling bud flowered and returned to the mississippi mud.
elvis ain't gonna rot.
elvis in a memphis plot.
elvis didn't hear the shot but the king died just across the lot from.
elvis vanilla ice cream.
elvis girls of 14.
elvis memphis spleen shooting at the tv reading corinthians 13.
elvis with God on his knees.
elvis on three tvs.
elvis here come the killer bees head full of honey, potato chips and cheese.
elvis the bumper stickers.
elvis the white knickers.
elvis the white nigger ate at burger king and just kept getting bigger.
elvis sang to win.
elvis the battle to be slim.
elvis ate america before america ate him.
elvis stamps, elvis necromance.
elvis fans, elvisp sychphants.
elvis the public enemy.
elvis don't mean shit to chuck d.
elvis changed the centre of gravity.
elvis made it slippy.
elvis hitler, elvis nixon, elvis christ, elvis mishima.
elvis marcus, elvis jackson, elvis the pelvis.
elvis the psalmist, elvis the genius, elvis the generous.
elvis forgive us.
elvis pray for us
elvis aaron presley (1935-1977)
Copyright: Bono 1995

Professor John Sutherland gives his interpretation

This poem was written by Bono in 1995
"1995" suggests this "poem" was inspired by the release in January of that year of Elvis Gold The Very Best Of King. The royal-kingly linkage around "David" is clear. Very few monarchs in recorded history have played the guitar. Nero, who strummed while Rome burned would not be appropriate for Elvis (even though it is said later in the poem that Elvis has eaten America – at least Nero just barbequed Rome). Henry VIII is supposed to have written Greensleeves, but whether he accompanied himself on the royal banjo is not recorded. The obvious (the only) royal choice is David – he who plays his harp so sweetly to Saul in the cave, before going on to become the King of Israel and Judah. There is also a plausible allusion here to Michelangelo's Florentine statue – the body beautiful (much imitated by Bono himself). As the poem progresses "King David" gives way to "Saint David", a favourite intercessionary ("pray for us") of Celts like Bono. It would have been no favourite of Southern Baptists, like the Presleys, for whom saints are down
there with the serpents.

twin brother of Jesse who died at birth and was buried in a shoe box
Annotation is probably unnecessary for one so famous. Elvis Aaron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, 8 Jan 1935. A twin brother, Jesse Garon, was still born a few minutes before. The ultimate warm-up act. The Presleys were shack-poor. No gravemarker, no coffin could be afforded. Presley's mother, Gladys, was traumatised throughout life by the loss of Jesse. "Twinless twins", such as Elvis was to be, carry through life a strange psychic burden – a sense of doubleness denied but always sought for. Another famous TT, was Philip K Dick. A PhD thesis awaits.

drove a truck
Indeed he did, on his first job, as did his father before being sent off to the pokey. But I suspect the poet is thinking here of the irruption of Elvis on to the screen, driving his truck, in Jailhouse Rock, 1957

musical diviner
”Musical diviner” is good. But pedants (me for example) will note that Bono used this metaphor differently, in a 2004 interview in Rolling Stone. In the 1980s, he recalls, U2 went to Memphis, to Sun Studios, where they worked "with Elvis's engineer and music diviner, Cowboy Jack Clement. He reopened the studio so we could cut some tracks within the same four walls where Elvis recorded Mystery Train." So who, precisely, is the diviner? Sam or Cowboy Jack?

colonel tom parker
Bono has read The Colonel by Alanna Nash.

monkey named scatter
It is true that Presley had a notably incontinent and (by some accounts) drunken and libidinous chimp, named Scatter by its previous owner. But what does "before anyone" mean? And what precisely does bono [sic] have against capital letters?

presenting nixon with two silver pistols
An error. On his 21 December 1970 visit to the White House Elvis gave the President one Colt 45 in a wooden case, a memorabilia of the second world war (in which Nixon served). The President gave Presley a DEA badge. Hence the next line.

elvis was macho
This seems the point at which to ask, what the hell is Bono doing? What is he telling us that we don't already know? And why is he telling us it in this way? The parataxis – disconnected sentences – clearly intends some effect, but what? My hypothesis is that Bono wants to give the impression of a sculptor's chisel, carving out a definitive statue of his King and Saint. Does it work? I have my doubts.

ie Rudolph Valentino, the "Sheik", star of the silent screen whose premature death in 1926 inspired mass hysteria and a death cult. I can find no evidence for the suggestion that Presley dyed his hair to look like the hero of the silent bullfighter movie, Blood and Sand. Perhaps he did. But Tyrone Power, in the remake of the film, would seem a more likely model.

Nita Naldi. Bono is thinking of the Paramount Poster, in which the male star is arched, like a striking cobra, over the passively eager heroine. Or like Bono in that TV ad

mario lanza
Indeed he did. "I had records by Mario Lanza when I was seventeen, eighteen years old", Elvis said in a 1972 interview. Both singers were cruelly corseted in their later appearances and both ate themselves to death. Elvis paid hommage to Lanza's hit version of O Sole Mio with It's Now or Never.

a great crooner
I'm getting really fed up with this so-called poem

elvis had a voice that could explain the sexuality of America
Blah, blah, bloody blah

68 comeback special
Bono, born in 1960, records this TV programme as his own, epiphanic, first encounter with the King. It was, he tells us, life-changing

elvis invented the beatles

Beats the shit out of me what this could mean. "Potential"?

elvis is alive, we're dead
Yeah, sure.

You might have been able to use the word "spastic" (ie one suffering from cerebral palsy) in 1995: it won't wash in 2009, Bono – this is already the focus of spitting protest against your poem

elvis in las vegas with a big brassy sound
Rhyme comes, rhyme goes. Why?

james burton and ronny tutt
Do we really need discography?

elvis the movie star made three good films
Ditto: filmography

elvis grew sideburns
Apocryphal, I believe. Sideburns are so named in honour of the Civil War general, Ambrose Burnside, who sported the facial fungus.
elvis would have a president named after him

Beats the shit out of me who President Elvis is. Me and Professor Google.

elvis vanilla ice cream
Has someone informed the Presley franchise department?

elvis girls of 14
I do not believe it. Bono is surely thinking of Jerry Lee Lewis.

corinthians 13
This I can do. "If I speak in the tongues[a] of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."

potato chips and cheese
Ho hum. hum. hum.

bumper stickers
I think the awkward plural "bumper stickers" is there to rhyme with knickers.

white nigger
More trouble. You can't use that word today, Bono; even if Col Tom Parker did say something along those lines. Best go with Norman Mailer's "The White Negro"

elvis necromance
No such word, Bono. Even if you do want to force another rhyme

elvisp sychphants

Yukio Mishima, fascist Japanese novelist who disembowelled himself. Elvis's bowel problem was different – constipation killed him, one is told

elvis marcus
Greil Marcus?

elvis pray for us
See: TS Eliot, Ash Wednesday. Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death Pray for us now and at the hour of our death. You may be out of your league in this company, Bono.

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