Talent in a Previous Life

Because It's Never Just About the Music

Friday, May 21, 2004

Gracelands of Make Believe 

The power of pop celebrity has differing levels of magnitude illustrating the reach of the star and their position in the music cosmos, much like a gigantic Venn diagram encompassing the entire world. Right at the very centre you have acts like D-Side and Triple 8, acts who have barely made an impression on their own families, let alone the outside world. The rings spread out and out, including more and more bands at first, but gradually thinning out as the reach gets wider until we finally get to the outer edge and the one pop star that everyone, even the musically ignorant Chris Moyles, has heard of; Elvis Presley.

Elvis, or The King - a title which doesn't seem to be recognised by Debretts - is one of the few people who can genuinely claim to have changed music, even though it's an honour that's somewhat cheapened by the tendency of music journalists to claim it for virtually every two bit indie act who does something slightly askew of the guitar/bass/drums/vocals template, such as add a keyboardist. While the seed of Rock 'n' Roll was certainly planted before the young Presley cut his first record, it took his lip curl, swinging hips and general sexuality to fertilise it and help it grow into a monstrous flower that still casts it's shadow over the popworld today. It's a flower that would stand a good chance of winning Blue Peter's annual giant sunflower competition. If it were actually a flower, that is, and not just an extremely dodgy and poorly thought out analogy, but that's by the by. Everyone knows what Elvis achieved in his lifetime, so we won't go into all that. Instead, lets take a moment to celebrate his legacy, and what better way to do that than by traipsing through his home, leaving muddy footprints everywhere?

So, off we went to Gracelands in Memphis, Tennessee. Located on Elvis Presley Boulevarde, which must have saved the city the hassle of naming a street after him once he'd died, with convenient access by bus - a factor which no doubt influenced Elvis' purchase - it's an impressive mansion above whose entrance hangs, by some kind of miracle, a glitter ball. After paying for your entry in the visitor's centre across the street you're handed your audio tour and left to get on with it. While you're not allowed to freely wander around the house - upstairs is forbidden, so you don't get a chance to see the world's most famous toilet - you do get a pretty good insight into the life and tastes of the most famous man to wear a white jumpsuit. Though with Justin Hawkins star rising in the US, Elvis well never have to worry about being in contention for the title of Biggest Twat Who's Ever Worn a White Jumpsuit.

The rooms you do get to see include his TV Room. This is decorated in a bright blue and yellow plastic theme and contains three television sets side by side., which Elvis had done because he'd heard that Lyndon B Jonson had this arrangement in the Oval Office. The TV's that is, we doubt that any president has felt they primary coloured plastic blocks are the best way to symbolise the dignity of the office, except possibly the current incumbent, who would no doubt like to be reminded of his Lego set.

You also get to see the Jungle Room, where Elvis would jam with his friends and no doubt indulge himself in dubious practices, the most obvious sign of this being the interior decoration, which features green shag pile carpet on the ceiling. The Dining Room is comparitively austere, compared to other rooms in the building and the Games Room which features a torn pool table and a pinball machine, all kept in the same state as when Elvis left the building for the final time.

After wandering through the rooms, his office and a couple of museum exhibits, all the while accompanied by the rememberances of his family and those close to him, you finally end up at the most visited tomb in the US; Elvis' grave. While there are many theories, mainly put about by idiots and bored Sunday tabloid editors, regarding whether Elvis is still alive or not, seeing the resting place certainly makes things final. We took a moment to ponder upon the nature of celebrity and who it's changed since Elvis' day and the oddity of the fact that a rockstar's palace of excess has somehow become a place of church-like reverence. Oh, and also to resist the temptation to prise open his tomb and dangle his skeleton from a chain while singing All Shook Up.

So, Hooray! then for Elvis. We can only hope that one day our current crop of popstars reach the dizzy heights of stardom achieved by him and end up opening their houses to the public in years to come. We're certainly holding onto the dream that Nicola Roberts' house becomes availiable for public viewing. Naturally we've already visited it, but we'd quite like the opportunity to do it without having to first search desperately for an unlocked window, and we still don't feel that the "arrest and restraining order" package, which we somehow found ourselves with, really offers the best deal for the interested punter.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Ring the Belle 

Does America need Belle and Sebastion? After all, this is the land of super-confidence. A land of cheerleaders and jocks. A land where anything is possible. A land where even a simple President's son can rise up and become President. So do they really need a bunch of introverted Scots and their outsider ways?

Well, yes, as it turns out, partly because if not for B&S, the target audience will have to resort to the piss-poor world of Emo, but mainly because, whisper it, Belle and Sebastian have gone pop and are more than happy and comfortable in their new role.

Since suprising everyone, including themselves, by winning the Brit award for Best Newcomer from under the noses of Steps in 1999, B&S have accepted the psuedo-mainstreamness that this gave them and have taken on the role of a chart band now. After the misstep of Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, which was essentially them trying to be Belle and Sebastian, they returned with Dear Catastrophe Waitress a Trevor Horn produced pop album. OK, they're unlikely to be troubling Britney and Justin yet, but with songs like I'm a Cuckoo and Step Into My Office, Baby they've found a sound that's as comfortable on Top of the Pops as it is in the hearts and sould of indie boys and girls around the country.

Nowhere is this more evident than tonight at the Spreckels Theatre in San Diego where on stage they're quite clearly, cover your ears indie kids because this might hurt, having fun. This is a band that's having a ball and sliding into it's new role with much less discomfort than may have been expected. There's a light show, crowd participation (an audience member is allowed on stage to give an impromptu rendition of Sweet Caroline (Bam-bam-bum)) even dancing from Mr Murdoch. Admittedly not the high octane, super-choreographed moves you might expect from Girls Aloud, but the happy, joyful, I-might-look-like-an-arse-but-I-don't-care kind of dancing which is what music should be about and what all bands should be striving to bring out in people.

By the time, and we kid you not, an electro-beat kicks in and spotlights dance across the stage, the band have proved that they're more than ready for the big time and the unknown terrors of the top ten. They're no longer the whiny victims of the school bullies, they've grown up and they don't care what people think of them any more. This time next year it'll be costume changes and hydraulic platforms, but for now let's just revel in the simple joy of them just being themselves. After all, that's what they're doing.