Reserve your seat now for ELVIS: THAT’S THE WAY IT IS – SPECIAL EDITION, coming to US theaters in August

Elvis in THAT'S THE WAY IT IS: SPECIAL EDITION

Elvis in THAT’S THE WAY IT IS: SPECIAL EDITION

As hoped, Warner Brothers is bringing a newly restored version of Elvis: That’s The Way It Is – Special Edition to theaters across the United States in August. Playing in 40 states, the limited engagement promotes the August 12 release of the documentary on Blu-ray.

Elvis: That’s The Way It Is was a 1970 MGM documentary that captured Elvis on stage and off during his third concert series at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. In 2000, the “Special Edition,” a completely new edit of the film, made its debut in Memphis. It hit stores the following year on VHS and DVD. The Special Edition used elements of the original movie as well as previously unseen footage. In some ways, it was an improvement upon the theatrical version, while in other ways, it was inferior.

For the purposes of this 2014 theatrical screening, Elvis: That’s The Way It Is – Special Edition is admittedly the best choice for sharing with the “general public” and even casual Elvis fans. After the previously announced August 16 premiere at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis, other US theaters will begin showing the film the week of August 17.

This will mark the third time I have seen Elvis in theaters, dating back to an edit of the ELVIS “Comeback Special” in 2004 and Elvis On Tour in 2010. Each of those previous times, I remember thinking, “This is great, but I really wish I could see That’s The Way It Is like this.”

For me, That’s The Way It Is represents Elvis Presley at his very best. I was only two when Elvis passed away, so he was gone before I ever had a chance to see him in concert. This is a dream-come-true, next best thing for me. I can’t wait! Accept no imitations. This is the real deal.

Be sure to check out the brand-new trailer below or over on USAToday.com.

ELVIS RECORDED LIVE ON STAGE IN MEMPHIS Legacy Edition out today, with bonus Richmond concert

Before we begin, a reminder that there are less than 13 hours left to lock in your predictions bracket for Elvis Mania 2014. The person with the highest score will receive a Sony Legacy Edition CD of an Elvis title, courtesy of The Mystery Train Blog. See yesterday’s post for more details. [Update: Predictions are now locked.]

* * *

Forty years ago today, on March 18, 1974, Elvis Presley rocked the Richmond Coliseum in Virginia. A live recording of the concert features on the second CD of a new Legacy Edition of Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis, in stores today from Sony.

The first CD features a complete version of the March 20 Memphis concert at the Mid-South Coliseum that RCA first released in an edited form in 1974. Elvis earned his third and final Grammy Award for his performance of “How Great Thou Art” in Memphis on that original 1974 album.

The Follow That Dream collectors label for Elvis fans restored the missing tracks from the Memphis concert and removed unnecessary audience overdubs in a 2004 Classic Albums CD release of the title, including a new mix. The same label also issued the expanded show in vinyl format as a 2-record set last year. This new 2014 Legacy Edition features yet another new mix of the Memphis concert.

The Richmond concert made its debut in 2011’s Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis on the FTD label. This new release features the same mix of the Richmond show as on the 2011 collectors CD.

The Elvis Presley Show crisscrossed back and forth from Virginia to Tennessee on that leg of his tour. Tickets for a March 12 appearance at the Richmond Coliseum sold out so quickly that Elvis’s management re-routed the tour to accommodate a second show there on March 18. Elvis performed four shows in Memphis on March 16 and 17, hit Richmond, Virginia, again on March 18, and then returned to Tennessee for concerts in Murfreesboro and Memphis on March 19 and 20, respectively.

RCA professionally recorded the March 20 Memphis concert for the album project. It is a 16-track recording (audio elements recorded on separate channels) that can be tweaked for optimum sound quality. The Memphis show is presented in stereo.

Though the background story remains mysterious, the March 18 Richmond concert was supposedly captured as a 16-track recording, too. If so, it remains missing from the Sony vaults – lost, stolen, or erased.

The Richmond concert audio source on both the 2011 and 2014 releases is a tape copy of a mono mix-down of the 16-track recording, with artificial reverb applied. In other words, no further changes can be made to the Richmond mix or reverb since the 16-track original is unavailable.

While Elvis’s sound engineers often made informal reference tapes of his shows from the soundboard mixing console, the Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis liner notes in 2011 only speculated about why RCA apparently recorded the Richmond concert in multitrack. The 2014 Legacy Edition refers to the Richmond show as a “test run concert” for the subsequent Memphis recording.

Five selections from an August 16, 1974, rehearsal at RCA Hollywood for an upcoming Las Vegas engagement round out the second CD of the release. Captured on a personal cassette recorder, the rehearsals are in comparatively poor sound quality. The five tracks were among twenty from the rehearsal included as part of the 2009 FTD release From Sunset To Las Vegas.

In addition to participating retail stores, the 2014 Legacy Edition of Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis is also available from Amazon and other online outlets.

ELVIS RECORDED LIVE ON STAGE IN MEMPHIS (2014 Legacy Edition)

ELVIS RECORDED LIVE ON STAGE IN MEMPHIS (2014 Legacy Edition)

Tracks

Disc One

Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis, March 20, 1974
01. Also Sprach Zarathustra/
02. See See Rider
03. I Got A Woman/Amen
04. Love Me
05. Tryin’ To Get To You
06. All Shook Up
07. Steamroller Blues
08. Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel
09. Love Me Tender
10. Long Tall Sally/Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On/Your Mama Don’t Dance/Flip, Flop & Fly/Jailhouse Rock/Hound Dog
11. Fever
12. Polk Salad Annie
13. Why Me Lord
14. How Great Thou Art
15. Suspicious Minds
16. Introductions By Elvis
17. Blueberry Hill/I Can’t Stop Loving You
18. Help Me
19. An American Trilogy
20. Let Me Be There
21. My Baby Left Me
22. Lawdy, Miss Clawdy
23. Funny How Time Slips Away
24. Can’t Help Falling In Love/
25. Closing Vamp

Disc Two

Recorded Live At The Coliseum, Richmond, March 18, 1974
01. Also Sprach Zarathustra/
02. See See Rider
03. I Got A Woman/Amen [edited with Memphis, March 20, 1974]
04. Love Me
05. Tryin’ To Get To You
06. All Shook Up
07. Steamroller Blues
08. Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel
09. Love Me Tender
10. Long Tall Sally/Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On/Your Mama Don’t Dance/Flip, Flop & Fly/Jailhouse Rock/Hound Dog
11. Fever
12. Polk Salad Annie
13. Why Me Lord
14. Suspicious Minds
15. Introductions By Elvis
16. I Can’t Stop Loving You
17. Help Me
18. An American Trilogy
19. Let Me Be There
20. Funny How Time Slips Away
21. Can’t Help Falling In Love/
22. Closing Vamp

The August 1974 RCA Rehearsals
23. Down In The Alley
24. Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues
25. Softly, As I Leave You
26. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
27. The Twelfth Of Never

ELVIS RECORDED LIVE ON STAGE IN MEMPHIS Legacy Edition to include Richmond, Virginia concert

ELVIS RECORDED LIVE ON STAGE IN MEMPHIS (2014 Legacy Edition)

ELVIS RECORDED LIVE ON STAGE IN MEMPHIS (2014 Legacy Edition)

One of my favorite CD releases on the Follow That Dream collectors label for Elvis Presley fans is 2011’s Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis, which captures a March 18, 1974, concert that Elvis performed at the Richmond Coliseum in Virginia.

The confusing album title reflects that Elvis closed out his tour two days after the Richmond concert with a show in Memphis at the Mid-South Coliseum, portions of which became the 1974 album Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis. Elvis earned his third and final Grammy Award for his stellar performance of “How Great Thou Art” in Memphis on the original 1974 album.

The link between the two shows continues, for Sony announced last week that it will reissue the Richmond concert on the second disc of a Legacy Edition of Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis. While the FTD collectors label has very limited distribution, this new 2-CD release on the main Sony label hits mainstream retail stores on March 18, the 40th anniversary of the Richmond concert. Amazon and other outlets are accepting pre-orders now.

The Elvis Presley Show crisscrossed back and forth from Virginia to Tennessee on that leg of his tour. Tickets for his March 12 appearance at the Richmond Coliseum sold out so quickly that the tour was re-routed to accommodate a second show there on March 18. Elvis performed four shows in Memphis on March 16 and 17, hit Richmond, Virginia, again on March 18, and then returned to Tennessee for concerts in Murfreesboro and Memphis on March 19 and 20, respectively.

Elvis Presley's March 1974 tour schedule (partial)

Elvis Presley’s March 1974 tour schedule (partial)

For space considerations on the original LP, RCA edited several songs out of the March 20 Memphis concert for the 1-record release in July 1974. The album also featured overdubbed audience reactions that detracted from the sound quality. FTD restored the missing tracks and removed the unnecessary overdubs in a 2004 Classic Albums CD release of the concert, including a new mix. The same label also issued the expanded show in vinyl format as a 2-record set last year.

It turned out that RCA chose well in 1974 which performances to use on the original record, though. The performance quality of many of the excised songs was underwhelming, with the exception of a fine rendition of “Steamroller Blues,” first released on Platinum: A Life In Music over two decades later. The energetic Memphis version was superior to his live recording of the song in Hawaii that served as a single in 1973.

This new Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis Legacy Edition will also include the previously omitted songs, but whether a new or an existing mix will be featured is unclear.

In fact, Sony’s press release for this album is riddled with errors, an issue far too common these days in the marketing of Elvis music releases, so it is difficult to trust any of its statements. For that reason, I am not even including Sony’s alleged track listing at this point. Suffice it for now to say that Disc 1 will contain the Memphis show, while Disc 2 will contain the Richmond show and some low-fidelity bonus tracks recorded on a personal cassette player of Elvis rehearsing a few months later for yet another Las Vegas stint.

RCA professionally recorded the March 20 Memphis concert for the album project. It is a 16-track recording (audio elements recorded on separate channels) that can be tweaked for optimum sound quality. Though I enjoyed the 2004 FTD mix over the original 1974 version, another new mix could be revealing. The Memphis show is presented in stereo.

Though the background story remains mysterious, the March 18 Richmond concert was supposedly captured as a 16-track recording, too. If so, it remains missing from the Sony vaults – lost, stolen, or erased.

The Richmond concert audio source on both the 2011 and 2014 releases is a tape copy of a mono mix-down of the 16-track recording, with artificial reverb applied. In other words, no further changes can be made to the Richmond mix or reverb since the 16-track original is unavailable. The Richmond concert is not likely to sound very different from Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis on this reissue, if at all.

While Elvis’s sound engineers often made informal reference tapes of his shows from the soundboard mixing console, the Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis liner notes in 2011 only speculated about why RCA apparently recorded the Richmond concert in multitrack.

However, the 2014 Sony press release refers to the Richmond show as a “test run concert” for the subsequent Memphis recording. Some have theorized that the test copy is in mono due to Elvis’s preference for that format over stereo, though his previous live albums had been stereo releases. Perhaps the accompanying Legacy Edition booklet will reveal new information.

Elvis at the Richmond Coliseum, March 18, 1974 (FTD)

Elvis at the Richmond Coliseum, March 18, 1974 (FTD)

In the years leading up to 1974, many of Elvis’s concerts were superior to this particular show in Richmond. However, as with the Memphis show, the fun concert features Elvis in a fantastic mood interacting with fans. Music highlights in Richmond include “Steamroller Blues,” “Polk Salad Annie,” and “Suspicious Minds.”

Over the course of 21 years, Elvis performed 15 concerts in Richmond. The 14th of these shows was captured on Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis and, from what I have read, this was Elvis’s last great concert in Richmond. He performed in Richmond one final time in 1976, but, by that point, his rising prescription drug addiction and abuse had diminished the power of his shows. Therefore, I consider the March 18, 1974, appearance to be Elvis’s true “last hurrah” in Richmond.

Legacy Questions

I am looking forward to the reissues of both the Richmond and Memphis concerts. Despite my personal enthusiasm as an Elvis fan, I find myself wondering whether these two concerts are appropriate choices for mainstream release in 2014.

I fear that the repetitive nature of these shows compared to other recent Sony releases will use up some of the goodwill shown by music critics in reviews of Elvis At Stax, Prince From Another Planet, and certain other titles released in the last few years.

Will mainstream critics and listeners understand Elvis’s sense of humor? For instance, will some misinterpret his joke in Richmond about it being a pleasure to be back in Hampton Roads as an out-of-it singer not knowing which town he was playing?

By following up 2012’s As Recorded At Madison Square Garden reissue with 2013’s Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite reissue and now 2014’s Elvis Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis reissue, is Sony simply committing the same release blunders in the 2010s that RCA made in the 1970s? Has locking into an “anniversary” theme for release choices doomed them to repeat history’s mistakes going forward?

Keep in mind that the 40th anniversary of Having Fun With Elvis On Stage is later this year as well.

From 1956 to 2012: Follow Elvis’ journey through Richmond

Despite his enduring popularity, Elvis Presley is rarely given his due as an artist. Though this has improved considerably over the last ten to twenty years, the general public still tends to latch on to things like wacky souvenirs, bad impersonators, and “alive” hoaxes.

My favorite Elvis writer of late has been Sheila O’Malley of the Sheila Variations blog. With a fresh voice, she presents new perspectives on Elvis the artist. Rarely fluff pieces like you might see on other blogs (including this one), Sheila’s posts tend to be demanding reads. Invest the time and there are always insightful payoffs.

I discovered the Sheila Variations not through Elvis but through baseball. A few years ago, I was writing a post about baseball movies for my now-extinct pop culture blog. One of my favorites is Field Of Dreams, adapted from W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe. While researching the film, I came across Sheila’s blog and a number of extremely helpful posts.

When I find a new blog I love, I tend to search it for other topics of interest. Though it was only one post, I was delighted to find a reference to Elvis there as well. The 2005 post promised of more to come, eventually. “I’ll know when I’m ready,” she said at the time.

I bookmarked the blog and checked it every now and then. Always finding something to enjoy while patiently waiting for the topic of Elvis to return. It took over six years for Sheila to know she was ready to write about Elvis, but when she was, the resulting series of Elvis Essays that began last August 16 and continue to this day have been nothing short of astounding. I’m hoping that she will eventually compile her observations into a book, a documentary, a multi-media experience, or all of the above.

I was quite happy, therefore, when Sheila last month posted a short preview of a future Elvis post centered around Richmond, Virginia. Inspired by the excellent “In Search Of Elvis In Richmond, VA” posts on the Smithsonian’s Elvis At Twenty One blog, Sheila took a road trip from New Jersey to visit some of Richmond’s Elvis sites in person – as well as take in the Elvis At 21 exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. This turned out not to result in just one post, but four.

The Sheila Variations: The Richmond Saga

Part I June 30, 1956: Elvis Presley in Richmond, Virginia – Moment By Moment

Part II The Jefferson Hotel

Part III The Mosque and The Monuments

Part IV The Train Station, the Water Tower, and “Elvis at 21″ at VMFA

Sometimes, I’ll read something and think, “I wish I had written that.” This is definitely one of those times.
The Sheila Variations
My favorite random moments:

  • “I showed the really nice guy at the front desk the things I wanted to see. […] I asked him if it was ‘walkable’. He said, ‘Oh, no. It’s about two miles.’ Just one of the many cultural differences between living in NYC and living somewhere else which is more of a car culture.” (from Richmond Snapshots)
  • “Peter Guralnick, in his introduction to his second volume of Elvis’ biography, says that the years from 1958 until 1977 were all about ‘the disappearance’ of Elvis Presley, a sentiment I disagree with entirely. He did not disappear. He was always there. It’s just we didn’t get to see him anymore, unless we went to the movies, or, in the 70s, saw him in concert. […] I know Guralnick means “disappeared” on another level, but I disagree with THAT level as well. How you can say that someone who put out the two gospel albums he did in the 60s […] disappeared is a mystery to me. How you can feel he disappeared when you consider his record-breaking appearances in Vegas [and] at Madison Square Garden, the albums from the 70s, especially Promised Land […] the continued innovation in his music, the continued personal aspect of it […] The nerve of that Elvis guy to follow his own path.” (from Part I) [This segment, which should be read in context in its entirety in the original post for full effect, literally left me wanting to cheer. –Ty]
  • “The Jefferson Hotel certainly isn’t hurting for customers, but they do say on their website: ‘Stay where Elvis stayed!'” (from Part II)
  • “New York often doesn’t honor its history, architecturally anyway. I never even saw the original Penn Station, but it is like a wound in my soul to think of what was torn down. […] But there the Mosque stands, now called The Landmark, with a giant Lion King banner, and the ghosts of Duke Ellington and Ethel Barrymore and Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley literally shimmering in the foreground.” (from Part III)
  • “What would Elvis at 21, strolling down that hallway, have thought if he knew that one day an entire exhibit devoted to his time in Richmond would be on display at the Museum there? It’s all so strange. And beautiful. And perfect. Elvis couldn’t know, he couldn’t predict. He could just believe in himself, and keep launching himself out there into the spotlight. That is what he did.” (from Part IV)

* * *

Today was the final day of the Elvis At 21 exhibition here in Richmond. Though I regret not being able to make it out to see photographer Alfred Wertheimer when he visited the museum for an Elvis panel discussion in January, I did at least have the opportunity to take in the exhibition one more time a couple weekends back.

For my return visit, I brought along my Mom, who became an Elvis fan in 1956. It was nice to walk through the exhibit without having to worry about writing a review this time. We followed the museum visit up by watching Elvis ’56 and my Mom’s all-time favorite, Aloha From Hawaii. It was a perfect day.

Elvis At 21 is not over, though. The tour continues at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas, starting April 7 (more info here).

From an art museum to a Presidential library . . . maybe Elvis really is starting to get his due.

Presley wins clash of cultures in Elvis At 21

There are over 23,000 works of art in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, spanning some 5,000 years. There is so much to see there, in fact, that it cannot be adequately covered in a single day.

Yesterday, though, my mission was to explore only 56 of those works, all created just over 55 years ago. In VMFA time, 55 years is but a second.

The traveling Elvis At 21: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer exhibition covers March 17, 1956, and June 30 through July 4, 1956, in the life of Elvis Presley. The images capture the young singer on the brink of fame, in the midst of a nation on the brink of change.

By March 17, “Heartbreak Hotel” is at number 15 and still rising on Billboard‘s sales chart. That evening, Elvis is to make his fifth of six appearances on Jackie Gleason’s Stage Show – a CBS variety program hosted by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Initially hired by RCA to take publicity photos, Alfred Wertheimer is along with Elvis in New York City.

Entering The Warwick shows Elvis in a moment of freedom between rehearsals and the actual show. On the sidewalk, he is alone, unrecognized, unbothered – making it one of the exhibition’s most striking photographs.

Later, in his hotel room, Elvis reads fan mail and then rips it to shreds, according to one of the exhibition notes accompanying the photos. Wertheimer asks him why. “I’m not going to carry them with me. I’ve read them and seen what’s in them. It’s nobody else’s business,” Elvis tells him.

With Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and DJ Fontana behind him, he performs “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Heartbreak Hotel” on television that night. Though Wertheimer’s images are stills, there is no doubt that Elvis is very much in motion. In Jump, his feet are not even touching the ground.

When Elvis arrives in Richmond, Virginia, 15 weeks later for two concerts at the Mosque Theater (now the Landmark Theater) on June 30, his life is already changing.

He has made a final appearance on Stage Show and appeared twice on The Milton Berle Show. The second Berle appearance has proven controversial, due to his exaggerated hip movements on “Hound Dog” – a song only recently added to his stage act. In that brief time, he has also given over 85 concerts in tours criss-crossing the country (including two other shows at the Mosque on March 22). He has even cut a new record, “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You.” “Heartbreak Hotel” has now sold a million copies and hit number one. After a series of screen tests in Hollywood, he has been signed to a multi-movie deal. Production has not yet begun on his first film. Elvis does not plan to sing in his movies.

Most Elvis fans have seen Wertheimer’s images at least a dozen times over. It is striking, though, to see them within the context of an art museum. Who in 1956 would have ever believed Elvis would end up here? The prints vary in size, are framed in black, and fill two small halls. The exhibition is crowded with people, but there is plenty of time to examine each picture. Visitors talk softly to each other. In the background, though, I can hear that unmistakable voice:

“Welll, since my baby left me…well, I found a new place to dwell…well, it’s down at the end of Lonely Street…”

It’s true that I have seen these pictures before, but there is always something new. For instance, until this exhibition pointed it out, I never noticed in the image Elvis Leaving Richmond Train Station (AKA Elvis Did Have A Pelvis) that he is actually carrying and playing a portable radio as he walks out of Richmond’s Broad Street Station (now the Science Museum of Virginia).

Elvis Leaving Richmond Train Station (Detail)

Elvis Leaving Richmond Train Station (Detail): Elvis went to Richmond for two shows at the Mosque Theater. Getting off the train, he turned on his RCA portable radio. Richmond, Virginia, June 30, 1956 © Alfred Wertheimer. All rights reserved. Original image courtesy of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Used with permission.

Several other Richmond images are included, including two at the Jefferson Hotel and six backstage at the Mosque. Of the Richmond images presented, one stands out among the rest. It is Elvis on stage in the magnificent Kneeling At The Mosque – used as the (unfortunately colorized) cover for the Close Up boxed set, among other projects.

After the welcome detour to Richmond, it is back to New York, this time for the Steve Allen Show. Wertheimer captures rehearsals for Elvis’ July 1 appearance.

“I went to the Steve Allen Show,” Elvis recalled in 1969. “They were going to tame me down, so they told me to stand still. They had me dressed in a tuxedo and singing to a dog on a stool.”

Much worse than singing to a dog, though, Elvis is also forced to perform with Allen in a “Range Round-up” skit. Andy Griffith and Imogene Coco also appear during the nearly unwatchable Western parody. “Allen signified his own importance by wearing the biggest white hat,” states Wertheimer in a note accompanying one of the rehearsal photos.

Allen’s attempts to embarrass Elvis and put the singer in his place, of course, have the opposite effects. The legend of Elvis only grows.

The next day, July 2, he records 31 grueling takes of “Hound Dog” and 28 more of “Don’t Be Cruel” at RCA’s New York studio. The single would prove to be one of his most popular. Included in the exhibition is RCA Victor Studio I, a shot of Elvis rehearsing “Hound Dog” with his band and the Jordanaires. It is literally history in the making.

Elvis Screams is a Wertheimer photo that has always jumped out at me. I’m pretty sure the first time I saw it was back in the 1980s on the old Cinemax documentary Elvis ’56. The shot goes by quickly, as part of a montage. At the time, I thought the documentary producers had made a glaring error.

To me, the photo looks for all the world like an image of Elvis singing in the 1970-1973 era. It is not often that a 1956 image of Elvis can be confused with one from 1973, yet the only mistake was, of course, mine. According to Wertheimer, the image captures the moment that Elvis accepted take 31 of “Hound Dog.” I still find it fascinating, because my eyes still see the “Aloha” Elvis in this image, despite what my brain tells me.

Another series of images are striking. Elvis returns to Memphis after the “Hound Dog” recording session and departs the train on July 4. He walks alone through a field and then down a sidewalk. No bodyguards, no hanger-ons, no fans. Just Elvis.

The impression is not completely “normal,” however, He has just left the train from a multiple-day trip. He holds only his acetates of “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Any Way You Want Me” from the recording session. No bags or other luggage in sight.

Next, we see Elvis with his father (Vernon looks positively annoyed with Wertheimer, with a “back off” look) and then with his mother. He has just moved them into a new home. Not Graceland, which is still a year away.

One of the largest images in the exhibition, Elvis plays the rebel on his Harley in No Gas In The Tank – an image which inspired one of my favorite album covers, Return of the Rocker. Surely, there is a best-selling poster to be made here.

Finally, the photo exhibition concludes with images of Elvis on stage that same night at Russwood Park in Memphis. The image that stands out most to me from the entire exhibition, perhaps because it is one I do not recall seeing before, is Elvis Onstage: Russwood. As far as the eye can see are fans. Scotty Moore is picking away on guitar, and Elvis is turning around with a look of intense joy back at the crowd behind them. You can hear the screams. You can hear the music.

“He would listen respectfully backstage to criticism from agents that wanted him to contain his movements on stage. But once Elvis got on stage, he always did it his way. He really did it his way,” states Wertheimer. His text narrative throughout the exhibition is interesting, for it reveals what the photographer thought of his subject and those around him.

It could be argued that Wertheimer spent more time with and was allowed greater access to Elvis than any other “outsider.” For all of their spectacular moments, for instance, the 1970s documentaries That’s The Way It Is and Elvis On Tour are but illusions in terms of revelations about Elvis beyond his music.

Here, in 1956, Wertheimer is able to capture everything with his lens. No one would ever get this close to the real man again. That is what makes the Elvis At 21 collection and Wertheimer’s many other Elvis photographs significant.

* * *

Feeling almost like an afterthought, though at least providing an appropriate soundtrack that can be heard throughout the experience, there is a little television and bench in the exit alcove at the end of the exhibition. The short video, licensed by Jackie Gleason Enterprises for Elvis At 21, features three complete performances of Elvis on Stage Show:

  • “I Got A Woman” (January 28, 1956)
  • “Blue Suede Shoes” (February 11, 1956)
  • “Heartbreak Hotel” (February 11, 1956)

The audio and video of the performances breathe additional life into the Wertheimer photos just witnessed.

Elvis At 21 is a simple exhibition, and that is all that is required. The works and the subject stand alone. The short video, though, leads me to wonder about the possibilities of future Elvis exhibitions benefitting from complete audio-visual integration.

* * *

I am an American, so I must admit that I looked forward to seeing what Elvis items would be available in VMFA’s gift shop almost as much as I did seeing the exhibition itself.

As we all know, Elvis merchandise can range from the sublime to the chintzy. Fortunately, most of what VMFA had to offer was closer to the former category. No Elvis potato heads, thankfully. I picked up Elvis 1956: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer (2009), a terrific hardcover that presents all of the photos and information from the exhibition.

I also splurged on Elvis At 21: New York To Memphis by Alfred Wertheimer (2006), a massive, coffee-table sized volume that explores even more of his photographs.

Jerry Hopkins’ consolidated Elvis biography and Sonny West’s Still Taking Care Of Business were available there as well, as were some lesser titles. Anachronistic considering the theme of the exhibition, the omnipresent aviator-style Elvis sunglasses that he wore in the 1970s were also available – in both gold and silver plastic, of course. There was even a stuffed “Steve Allen” style hound dog. For this occasion, I stuck with the Wertheimer books.

* * *

For anyone who is ever near Richmond, Virginia, I can always recommend the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. If you are an Elvis fan, though, then you really should try to make it out while this exhibition is still there. Elvis At 21 will be available through March 18, 2012. Museum admission is always free, while tickets for the exhibition are $8 for adults and $6 for seniors, students, and youths. There is no charge for museum members.