My first love wasn’t the boy who I stalked through primary school to secondary school when he finally gave in and gave me my first kiss – that was just a project (and in the end just proof of stamina.) It wasn’t AJ from the Backstreet Boys, though that did turn into a strange obsession ( I personally blame youth). It also wasn’t John Lennon whose music and writing I grew to love. No, my first love was Elvis Presley. If you don’t believe me, you should see my childhood bedroom and admire the pictures and the calenders on the wall.
This Friday Elvis would have been 75. There is 49 years and 11 months between us, which would have complicated a relationship as well as the fact that when my infatuation started he had been dead for over 20 years. Still I loved his voice, the way he laughed ( I had a CD with outtakes that never made it to previous records because he started having hilarious laughing fits) and the way he sang. I had never seen him on film when I first heard his voice and I was sold.
Because first love never dies I decided to watch the special that the BBC broadcasted earlier this week: Elvis, by the Presleys. It was an interesting and very candid portrait pictured by his friends and family; specifically his ex-wife and his daughter. Priscilla who still looks scarily young, which she is – yes mother I agree 65 isn’t old- and Lisa-Marie who is just the spitting image of her dad in female form discussed the part that Elvis played in their lives.
What struck me most is how unlikable the husband Elvis was, especially to a 21st century woman. He was old-fashioned, liked his women pretty and quiet; he very much controlled his wife, whilst hanging out with the boys enjoying the bachelor life. Priscilla was still in her teens when she came to live with him and he was ten years older. She clearly adored him, very much stepped into his life and had to go with his flow. There is one part where Priscilla explains that Elvis also had his vulnerable side away from the crowds and his friends, the so-called Memphis maffia, and it was that side she loved. ( The fact they had baby-talk and she wanted to mother him really was a little TMI – somebody should have talked to the editor.) Overall their life at Graceland was described as one big party: his party.
A portrait is made of a nice young man, who did well and who shared his wealth generously with people he cared about. He could be silly, vulnerable, searching for the meaning of life but he mostly hid it behind the tough guy exterior – hanging with his boys and seeking new thrills in speed, guns and other women. He was also constantly looking for reassurance from his fans. He wanted or needed to be top dog.
According to Priscilla, the lack of her own life – she pretty much led his, Elvis’ selfishness, defensiveness and lack of responsibility for his actions led to their divorce, even though she still loved him. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone and Elvis came back to her, calling her, visiting her at ungodly hours of the night telling her he missed her and his daughter but…. This is where you have to admire the woman who spent most of her adult life adoring this superstar, married him, who gave birth to his daughter, who probably did everything she could to keep him happy, even she admitted: Nothing changed. He didn’t change. Nicely illustrated by a clip of Elvis laughing mockingly ( dude- it is you who is wearing the jumpsuit!) when asked what he thinks of women’s liberation on a 1970’s pressconference and he has ‘no comment on those kind of social issues.’
So did this program leave me crestfallen to see a man from a different angle? Not really, it made him more human. No man, no person is black and white; personally people can be different than professionally and things that initially attract you to someone can turn into the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The program did show me a different side to Priscilla who always seemed a bit of a push-over and who is still kind of syrupy sweet. I guess being married to Elvis and divorcing him cannot have made you very popular so to still protect his name and legacy with love is admirable. Cynics might say calculating, keeping her image up and her in the money. Sometimes I do wonder if she doesn’t have a little bitchiness behind her very smooth pokerface- come on, how do you keep all the other women out and you as the one he comes home to?! – and the fact that she has made her own career, making her a very successful entrepreneur. Still I like to give her the benefit of the doubt. For me Priscilla managed to paint something recognisable, despite all the flashy cars, the superstar whims and tantrums: they had a relationship, a life together and they loved each other in all its complicated ways. I want to believe in that, plus I mean it is not like she split up the Beatles or something…
Anyway moral of the story: Don’t do drugs kids – they are bad for you.