The artefacts in the new exhibition “Elvis at the O2” in London are the silent witnesses of the ‘broadcasting’ of unforgettable moments of showbiz, and an eccentric public lifestyle. There you can see a massive golden solitaire ring with a logo forming three letters – T, C and B – in a golden flash. Other objects also display the miraculous golden TCB flash, and the labels will tell you that these initials stood for Elvis and his wife Priscilla’s personal business motto: “Taking Care of Business in a Flash”. Your attention might also be grabbed by a golden telephone, which is from the King’s bedroom in his Graceland home.
Thank God it’s Friday
Posted on February 20, 2015
Elvis: The first YouTuber
In the first weeks of this year we have celebrated both Elvis’s 80th and YouTube’s 10th birthday. While Elvis and YouTube certainly have nothing in common, both have played a game changing role in global popular culture. Youtube's first motto “Broadcast Yourself” perfectly matches Elvis's bombastic self-presentation – he broadcast himself to the world.
Elsewhere in the exhibition you can read a letter to President Richard Nixon, handwritten on American Airlines paper and demonstrating Elvis’s enormous self-confidence (we learn that Nixon saw him at the shortest notice because of this letter, and without the formal protocol). I admired the elegant logo design of the 60s and 70s, on menus and invitation cards from the Hotel “International” in Las Vegas; produced for the run of a series of triumphant Elvis shows. The exhibition’s movie poster collection also caught my eye, and I was hooked by a poster for “It Happened at the World’s Fair” – a 1963 Elvis movie set in Seattle. The poster features the “Space Needle”, the famous tower in the World’s Fair grounds in Seattle – such strong faith in the future in one movie poster!
Besides such bizarre curiosities, the exhibition captures the magical electricity of the King’s early years. Nothin’ But a Hound Dog. He invented a revolutionary musical language which was “a new transracial synthesis in American popular music”, as journalist Howell Raines said in a New York Times article.
The iconic silhouette of Elvis performing in his American Eagle stage suit is, I think, captured in our collective memory. The singer’s silhouette is a global image as strong as the death mask of King Tut, the Statue of Liberty or the opera house in Sydney. A superb costume selection is on display in London as well. As I stood in front of his costumes I thought of contemporary show stars such as Madonna, Lady Gaga or Björk; artistes whose costumes form an essential part of their artistic output. Elvis also mastered the art of such masquerades.
However, visiting an Elvis exhibition you cannot fade out what you have heard or read about his life, such as his post-fame incarnations of “fat Elvis” and “B-movie Elvis”. There’s also the complex relationship with his manager, and his dramatic death in 1977 at the age of just 42. The exhibition mentions no word of this, and there is absolutely no “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll” in this show. No wonder, since the exhibition came direct from the Graceland archives to London’s entertainment temple, the O2. Why should Elvis’s heirs paint a problematic picture of him, or showcase his sad life events in this exhibition?
I explained this to myself, but was still somewhat uncertain as to why the curators erased “sex and drugs” completely from this exhibition, when a couple, both in their 60s or 70s, crossed my way. The women made almost invisible, gentle dance moves to the Elvis background music of the show. The man had, also almost invisible, tears of joy in his eyes. The couple’s body language expressed their inner happiness. They were one with their youth idol. Elvis was flirting with them in this very moment, and they flirted with him. I said to myself: This is a “feel-good exhibition” and there is nothing wrong with that. Can’t help Fallin’ in Love with you.
For our SC Exhibitions Magazine 2015 (out next Friday, February 27!) we invited Chris Wild as guest photo editor. Chris Wild, better known as the “Retronaut”, curates historic photos on mashable.com and for his Twitter channel @theretronaut. In our forthcoming magazine he says in the interview: “For me, history is not what is fascinating. Alan Bennett described it as “just one thing after another”, and I agree. What is fascinating to me is the strangeness that there were other people alive in their version of “now” – just as much “now” as my “now”. The illusion that the past is separate from our present is a very hard one to overcome.”
The couple of Elvis fans that crossed my path in the London exhibition were experiencing their past “now”. This was very real, and very touching. And this was the point when I understood the concept of the exhibition makers. “He was youth culture’s first real star” said Entertainment Weekly in a recent feature about Elvis, and Time Magazine portrayed Elvis back in 1956 in their first feature as “Teener’s Hero”. I say Elvis was the first YouTuber. Happy Birthday, Elvis! Happy Birthday, YouTube. My birthday wish this year is the album “From Elvis from Memphis – American Sound Sessions”, a 1969 landmark recording.
Have a good day!
© Elvis at the O2 exhibition/Neil Reading PR
“Elvis at the O2”
runs until August 31, 2015
1958: Elvis Joins the Army
Private Presley reporting for duty by “Retronaut“ Chris Wild
“Here are five reasons why he still matters”
Miles Raymer contributed the best piece I read on the occasion of Elvis’s 80th birthday in Entertainment Weekly
“Taking the Train From Maine to Memphis”
Article by Howell Raines in the New York Times from September 2000:
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