By Matt

Elvis Aron Presley — singer (1935–1977)

It’s a little hard now to understand why pubescent fans went sex-crazy over the Beatles.

In the case of Elvis Presley, it makes immediate sense. The King of rock ’n’ roll, as he later came to be known, was ridiculously good-looking, with a sloppy grin, darkly feminine eyes and the thick, slicked quiff of ink-black hair. In addition to which, the way he danced when he sang his songs was practically pornographic. However much he denied it (as he felt forced to, in the face of moralistic horror that greeted his rise to prominence) the sleazily athletic jerk and sling of his hips was erotic in the most literal sense. No wonder the girls screamed and clawed at their hair.

None of which is to detract from Elvis’s achievements as what critics call an interpreter of song (meaning he didn’t write his own stuff).

The blend of his looks, his louche stage presence and strong, high-baritone voice make him the most successful singer of all time. Add to this fact that, as a pretty white boy with a knack for outsider music, who introduced the pain of blues to the aw-shucks ease of country music, he embodied — even more than James Dean — the breakthrough of “cool” style into the mainstream.

Elvis somehow managed all this without losing his air of being a decent, straightforward country boy from Mississippi, and one who, most of the time, just seemed to be having fun. In interviews, he came across as sharp and grounded. If anyone could handle unprecedented levels of fame, surely it was Elvis?

As it turned out, not. His legend has been strengthened by it’s tragic arc: from paragon to parody, and finally to parable. The one-time sex symbol became a caricature of excess, addicted to Cadillacs, bacon and banana butties, and prescription medication. He took pills to sleep, pills to perform, pills to go to the loo. Near the end, he gave a performance in Las Vegas of his ballad, Are you lonesome tonight? Obese, exhausted, heavily perspiring, and wired on drugs, Elvis forgot the lyrics. He amuses himself improvising some alternative words, but there’s fear in his eyes, and such tiredness. He was found dead at the age of 42 at his ranch in rural Tennessee, slumped in the bathroom, killed by a cocktail of causes brought on by his prescription drug abuse.

I am biased, I think, and will always think that Elvis is cool. Let me ask or pose a question:

If someone came to light today as great as Elvis, would you consider him or her to be cool?

If your answer is yes, then by default Elvis is cool.

My mind is already made up, but is yours?

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