Friday, January 08, 2010


Elvis Presley, the real King of Pop (or more specifically, rock and roll), was born seventy-five years ago today, in this humble abode in Tupelo, Mississippi. Tonight we take a look at two moments in Elvis' life.

The first clip below is an excerpt from a comeback special in 1968. The onslaught of the "psychedelic rock" threatened to make him seem passé, such that he probably wondered if anyone would be listening. The first clip is a lesson for all of us: it's always "cool" to be yourself, just the way the good Lord made ya.

And speaking of the good Lord, the second clip down below, shows at least one "Catholic moment" in Elvis' life, when he appeared in a 1969 movie with Mary Tyler Moore entitled "Change of Habit." Anybody remember that one? It would also appear that "Elvis" is a legitimate baptismal name: "There really was a Celtic saint called St Elvis, who was a bishop of the Irish See of Munster and may even have baptised St David, Patron of Wales ..."

When Elvis died in the summer of 1977, at the age of 42, I was an intern at the public television station in Huntington, West Virginia. The only available short term housing was in the dorms of Marshall University, where the station was located. So as a kid who commuted all five years at the University of Cincinnati, I still managed to experience "real" college life -- sort of. Fortunately, more often than not, I didn't have roommates.

But I made some great friends while I was there, some of them musicians. Among them was a bluegrass and country artist named "Smiley Joe" Baisden Originally from a place in West Virginia called "Ranger Ridge," he was once a backup musician for Mel Tillis, and in 1975 nearly had a hit with a tune that some other recording artist got first, or so I was told. When I knew Joe, he was a student at MU, and we spent evenings and weekends playing for ourselves or for parties off campus.

The day that Elvis died, we were on his front porch doing a medley of Elvis tunes, and other rockabilly favorites.

I got an e-mail from Smiley a couple of months ago. It was rather brief, but he remembered our Elvis moment. I miss him to this day. In an era when so-called "country artists" have never spent a moment behind the plow, he was no imitation, but the genuine article, a genuine human being, a gentleman. The closest I ever got to Elvis.

So, hey Joe, if you're out there, I found out where you live, and I just might come callin', ya hear?

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[UPDATE: Gary North has offered his thoughts on Elvis as an entrepreneurial phenomenon, in two pieces from 2002 and 2007.]

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