Elvis Is In the Building

This image provided by the Charleston County Sheriff's Office Detention Center shows Cecil Stephen Haire, 51, of Douglas, Ga. Haire, who has a limp from childhood polio, has been dubbed the "limping bandit" after being seen limping away from banks after allegedly robbing them. He faces charges in 23 bank robberies around the Southeast.
AP Photo
With the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, CBS Sunday Morning's Bill Flanagan examines the legacy of the man called "the King."

At the Greenberg art gallery in New York City, Elvis Presley — the young Elvis, the middle-aged Elvis and the interpretive Rorshach idea of Elvis - is everywhere.

This summer, in fact, Elvis is everywhere. There is a new DVD collection of his great performances, a CD box set of dozens of unreleased alternate tracks, and a remastered collection of his number one hits.

The excuse for all this hoopla is that it has been 25 years since Elvis died. Hard to believe, but he has been famous dead longer than he was famous alive.

It's almost half a century since Elvis Presley made his first record. Maybe that's long enough to look at him as history, too. And maybe that means it is finally possible to evaluate Elvis with some kind of historical detachment.

Elvis has been sainted and Elvis has been slandered; he's been made out to be both a natural genius and a lucky fraud. The writer Martin Amis described him as "a talented hick destroyed by success: what else is new?"

RCA Records is preparing a new CD collection of Elvis' number one hits to be released this fall. They've re-mastered the music from the original tapes and when you hear it on a good system, it sounds remarkable. What strikes you first is what a skilled singer Elvis was.

We tend to remember the mannerisms, the hiccupy style everyone does when they imitate him, but when you go back and listen to the records, you realize how little of that there really is. He could navigate the scales effortlessly. He made even demanding melodies sound easy and conversational. As a pure vocalist, he was the best of the early rock 'n' roll singers.

But, he was also a transformative figure. This is what's really important. He entered the mainstream and reached the top because his gifts were the gifts the mainstream celebrated — singing, performing and record-making. But by introducing rock 'n' roll, a mix of hillbilly and R&B, to the mainstream, he changed the definition of popular music forever. Elvis opened the door for musicians from the blues, folk and country traditions to get on the Top 40 radio charts and TV.

Elvis redirected what the mainstream was. He took styles of music from way off in left field and planted them in the middle of the road. It's been so long, you can't blame people for getting a little mixed up, but this has to be said - Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry did not pave the way for Elvis.

Elvis paved the way for Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry. After Elvis changed the rules, radio stations and record companies went looking for more rock 'n' roll singers. Perkins and Berry and Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis got their shots because of Presley. Now, each of them was greatly talented, and each could do things Elvis could not do. But the reason we know their names today is because Elvis created the environment in which they could be widely heard.

The only one who could have done what Elvis did was Elvis. He arrived at the midpoint of the 20th century and he became the hinge between the way everything was before and the way it would all be later. He stood at the intersection of old and new worlds of racial integration, sexual liberation, and mass communication.

Did he know what he was setting off? How could he? Neither did Edison or Henry Ford or Walt Disney. We don't deny them credit for their innovations, just because they could not foresee all the ramifications. Elvis was the one the lightning struck. That's accomplishment enough. That's plenty.

For More Information

The exhibit:
"Where Is Elvis? The Man and His Reflection"
The Howard Greenberg Gallery
120 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10012

The DVD:
"Elvis: The Great Performances"
This Rhino Home release is a three volume dvd collection containing more than 40 renowned performances, rare interviews, intimate video clips and additional in-depth footage that spotlights the legendary rock and roll idol.

Rhino Home Video:
The box set
Elvis: Today, Tomorrow and Forever
'Elvis: Today, Tomorrow & Forever' (BMG Heritage), a 4-CD anthology of 100 previously unreleased Elvis Presley music, offers serious fans and collectors stellar new insight into the great singer's music and artist.

RCA/ BMG Heritage:
For more information visit: www.buddharecords.com

The CD:
ELV1S :30 #1 HITS
This is a highly anticipated re-mastering of Presley's 30 chart toppers on one CD. In additio,n the collection includes Presley's "A Little Less Conversation" re-mixed by progressive DJ JXL, the song is currently shooting up the charts.