No particular place to go

All right, this will be one of those off-the-top-of-my-head posts – so who knows what you’re gonna get out of reading this.

I’m just sitting here on a rainy Saturday afternoon listening to Elvis.

Blue HawaiiI’m getting back into vinyl after pretty much being all CDs all the time for the last twenty years. I pulled out my old collection, and the first one I played was Blue Hawaii.

I couldn’t believe how incredible it sounded on record. I sense a new obsession coming on.

The good thing is, I already have about 25 LPs and 25 45s from the old days before I had a CD player, so those should tide me over for awhile.

* * *

So, there were a bunch of great posts around the web for Elvis Week 2012. My favorite was probably Indisposable Johnny’s “When Elvis Moved On” over on The Round Place In The Middle blog. If you haven’t already, be sure to read it.

One post that I didn’t want to read because I knew what was coming was “Treat Me Nice”, a farewell of sorts by Thomas Melin over on his Elvis Today Blog. After five years and 500 posts, he’s taking an indefinite break from blogging about Elvis in order to spend more time with his family. It’s hard to fault him for that. I’m sure gonna miss his posts, though. Best wishes to Thomas.

While Thomas’ absence leaves a huge void, all is not lost. For instance, Sheila O’Malley continues her excellent series of Elvis Essays on The Sheila Variations blog. Meanwhile, artist Joe Petruccio just began a brand new blog called My Elvis Journal. Petruccio’s unique posts are definitely worth checking out.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

* * *

August 28 Update: I’ve just found that there is yet another new Elvis blog, and it’s one I definitely want to mention. Elvis audio expert and frequent For Elvis CD Collectors Forum poster elvissessions recently began elvissessions.net, which will cover “Elvis Presley in the studio — and beyond.”

I love his informative FECC posts, so I’m looking forward to following elvissessions’ blog. Here’s a recent entry about obtaining Ernst Jorgensen’s autograph on his copy of A Boy From Tupelo during Elvis Week 2012.

Speaking of FTD’s mammoth SUN project, my copy will supposedly be in the mail this week. No autographs, though. I guess that’s one of the many perks of being in Memphis during Elvis Week. Either way, I can hardly wait for this release.

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.

The Audition (The Edge Of Reality #5)

Witness one anxious singer as she enters her final audition, in a place located just north of… the edge of reality.

When was the last time she had truly auditioned for anything? She could not remember. As she sat in the little lobby, waiting her turn, someone continued pounding the piano in a bombastic style in the next room, just beyond a closed door.

Over the piano, she could also hear a male voice. “I need your love,” the captivating voice sang. He sounded so familiar, but she could not place him. “God… speed your love… to… me,” he finished on a high note and added a flourish of piano keys.

No trace of doubt. No trace of strain. Every note perfect.

Was this her competition?

How could she top that?

She hated that she had to ask those questions. At one time, it would not have mattered. Her voice would have carried her well beyond any challenger. But now, things were different.

Dressed in blue, the guard rose and fished through dangling keys on a ring before inserting one into the doorknob. “You can go in,” he said, holding the door open for her.

“You really have this place locked down. You must get a lot of crime here.”

“No, not exactly,” he said, and ushered her inside.

She walked into a large, dim studio. The only thing cutting through the darkness was a single spotlight, shining down on a young man sitting before a grand piano.

“Hello?” her voice squeaked. After hearing the awe-inspiring song from the lobby, she was completely nervous. So much for all the practicing.

“I’m ready when you are,” he said.

She could not even remember what she planned to perform.

As if sensing this, the young man began playing a quiet melody. She knew the song. She had practically grown up singing it.

“Yes, Jesus loves me…” she began singing. She knew immediately. Her voice, her gift, was finally back. Like it was before. Full of joy, she wanted to cry, but she kept going, “…for the Bible tells me so.”

The song seemed to come from within her. The more she sang, the more she realized this was not like before. Even then, she had not been able to sing like this.

She wanted to go on singing forever, but she soon came to the end of the song. She realized she was now within the warmth of the spotlight, too. The young man behind the piano was smiling.

“Have we met? You seem so familiar,” she said.

“Yes, but you were just a little girl back then.”

She laughed. “When I was a little girl? You’re not even half my age, you know.”

“It depends on the day,” he said. “And, by the way, welcome to the show.”

“You mean, I made it? I’m in? No call-backs?”

His blue eyes sparkled in amusement. “You made it as soon as he let you through that door,” he said.

“Then, what was all this?”

“I just wanted to hear you sing. Back then, I had to go, before I ever had the chance. Your voice is so powerful.”

“I know… I don’t know where that came from.” The tears began flowing from her eyes.

“Honey, don’t cry.” His voice was suddenly different, like that of a father. She looked at him again, and he seemed older. She felt younger, like she was six-years-old again.

She recognized him now.

His hands began playing another melody on the keyboard. An old country song. His voice boomed as he sang, “In the twilight glow, I see her…”

He stopped and said, “That new strength in your voice, part of it comes from joy, you see. Your music brings happiness to millions of people, and now you have all of that joy within you. They are sharing it with you.”

She understood now. “But I did so many things wrong,” she said.

“So did I,” he said and shook his head, lost in thought for a moment. “So did all of us.”

“Then, how did we make it here?” she asked.

“Our audience is very forgiving.”

“He’s here with us?”

“He always has been, Whitney. He always has been,” said Elvis.

Two legends, united in destiny and still making music on… the edge of reality.

[With apologies to Serling.]

The Audition


Last Saturday night, I was browsing through some of my favorite sites before I went to bed. I checked The Sheila Variations blog for any new pieces. The top story featured an embedded video of Whitney Houston singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The story had no text, but Sheila’s headline was simple, effective, and haunting: How I Will Always Remember Her.

The words sent a chill through me. Why would she title her post something like that? My heart did not want to know, but my mind understood exactly what it meant.

Still feeling cold, I went to Yahoo News and confirmed the worst. Whitney Houston was dead. As I began to read the story, I queued up “The Greatest Love Of All,” the first Whitney song I’d ever heard. Memories of being a fifth-grader in elementary school came flooding back. My teacher, a gifted educator and vocalist, sang this to us one day and told us all about a young singer named Whitney Houston.

Next up, I played “I Will Always Love You,” a song that Whitney simply owned. No one, not even the songwriter, can sing that one like Whitney did in her prime. Not even close.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve been a huge Whitney Houston fan for all of these years. For a period of time in the early 1990s, though, she was one of my favorite singers. Eventually, I overplayed her albums and moved on to other artists.

I didn’t follow her as closely after that, but I still rooted for her. I was sorry to learn of her struggles, and I was always hoping that, somehow, she would work things out and stage a huge comeback.

“Now, she won’t get her comeback,” is actually one of the first things I thought about when learning she had passed away. In fact, that thought was the beginning of the above short story.

The night Whitney Houston died, I concluded my impromptu tribute by playing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” I remembered watching the live television broadcast of Super Bowl XXV in 1991 when she performed what would soon become the gold standard against which all other versions of the National Anthem are judged.

The song ended, but before I could close iTunes, Whitney’s version of “America The Beautiful” began. I just couldn’t turn it off, so I considered it an encore.

Farewell, Whitney. Thank you for the music.


This post is dedicated with respect to the memory of Whitney Houston, 1963-2012. Her music lives on.

Around the Elvis web in 80 seconds

Today, I want to point you over to some great posts that I’ve recently found around the web.

The Elvis Shuffle, Revisited. A couple of months ago, I told you about the incredible, thought-provoking Elvis essays that have been cropping up lately at The Sheila Variations blog. Well, those high-quality Elvis posts have continued. For example, here is an excerpt from Elvis Shuffle: Notes Taken By Hand On Flight to Chicago:

“‘Solitaire’ – ‘A loonely man’. Who could imagine that the jiggly boy in 1955 could sing like this? No wonder people still have a hard time taking EP whole. They still feel the need to break him down, piece him apart, make him manageable, palatable. He is neither.”

He Touched Me (FTD, 2011)Elvis was focused during the He Touched Me session. Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick would have us believe that Elvis’ attention was wandering during this session, but the new FTD release seems to tell otherwise. Over on Elvis Today Blog, Thomas Melin has posted a well-written review of the FTD Classic Album version of He Touched Me, Elvis’ 1971 gospel album that earned him his second Grammy.

A daily blog on everything Elvis Presley. Finally, I want to mention Elvis Day By Day, a news blog that has been tracking events in the Elvis world since January 2010. As someone who struggles to get a half dozen decent blog posts up a month, I can tell you that trying to compile a daily news blog is much tougher than it looks. It’s not a challenge I would want to take on, I’ll say that. Elvis Day By Day does a fantastic job of compiling news from various sources, doing a service to Elvis fans by giving us a quick, at a glance view of what is going on each day. Highly recommended.

ilEvs (Shuffled Elvis)

Over on The Sheila Variations blog, Sheila states, “It’s very weird to listen to [Elvis] on Shuffle. It’s vaguely schizophrenic, the material is often wildly uneven, but there is also a thruline which is his voice and also – I guess I would call it joy. He seems happy to be doing what he’s doing” (“Elvis Shuffle” — The Sheila Variations).

Although Elvis is not always a primary topic there, The Sheila Variations has featured many insightful Elvis posts lately. It’s always great to see Elvis-related posts on non-Elvis blogs. Be sure to check this one out, for both the Elvis and non-Elvis content.

As for me, I happen to do much of my Elvis listening in shuffled mode these days. I didn’t always listen this way, but the iPod Age has no doubt caused this habit to evolve in me.

Except when first experiencing a new album, I don’t often play Elvis in context anymore. Maybe it’s because I’ve heard the material in context so many times before, but I find that shuffling Elvis is a powerful way to get into his entire career without getting stuck on “I only like the 50s” or “I only like the 70s,” etc.

For instance, I just can’t take twenty or thirty of his 1960s movie tunes in a row. If instead sprinkling them among other songs I enjoy, though, I often pick up on a great movie song I may otherwise have missed (“Anyone” comes to mind, though that revelation actually came about during an all-artists shuffle).

Of course, the control freak side of me does not allow this to be completely random. I’ve got a series of smart playlists I use in order to carefully plan this randomness. More about that some other time. In fact, it’s been on my list of future articles for well over a year now! Maybe someday, I’ll actually write it.