Letters to the Editor | Letters | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Letters to the Editor

Best rag: I was glad to see your "Best Of" issue mentioned Tri-Rail twice, once for car pooling and cheap getaways (Best of BrowardPalm Beach, May 17). You omitted the even more amazing fact that senior citizens age 65 and up or kids from 5 to 12 years old can ride all day weekends for $2! As a rail buff, I noted the Flagler Museum inclusion, and as a groupie of the Sunrise Swap Shop, I liked your cataloging of the place's free, Las Vegas-quality circus with free parking and $3.50 movies. Then there were the Lake Worth drive-in with $2 movies, and CityPlace listings. (I didn't know city parking garages were free there.)

Marvin Doudna
West Palm Beach

And what about the turnips? This letter goes out to people like Fred Bluestone from Lauderhill, who wrote in your letters section (May 17) that some deadbeats are justified because "You can't get blood from a stone." As long as that "stone" has blood running through its body, it should find a way to contribute something toward its own flesh and blood. Modify your child-support payments if you have to, BUT don't just neglect your responsibility as a parent. The child knows, "stone," if YOU are the reason he or she is doing without!

It's a shame that there is no article explaining the new felony law for deadbeats, which was signed recently by Gov. Jeb Bush. Education can keep a lot of these deadbeats from going to jail. Maybe they would try to pay if they knew court orders would be enforced.

Bobbi Spiwak
Coconut Creek

Or should we say explicator? I was just thinking about Elvis before reading Bandwidth (May 10)! I had just glommed that movie Almost Famous (which, like The Wonder Years and Dazed and Confused, is a sanitized period piece about MY period), and it actually featured Lester Bangs. So I dragged out Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung and had been reading it. Besides “Where Were You When Elvis Died?” the book includes an unpublished fantasia wherein Bangs imagines the autopsy of Elvis, sticking his hands into E’s putrid guts, scooping out fragments of half-digested pills, and gobbling them up, essentially EATING Elvis! Very righteous. There’s an old saying that if you understand Elvis, you understand everything. I won’t go so far as to say that if you don’t understand Elvis you understand nothing, but in your column you do seem to miss your own point!

Let's work back from your conclusion that Elvis is "all-American." If you understand Elvis, you understand America. America is Elvis! One has to accept that or be forever alienated from the reality of this country (which you, like the rest of us, seem to be). Don't underestimate the Hula-Hoop (or the limbo) as a revolutionary force. The gyrating body has always represented human liberation, be it the tarantella, the cancan, the jitterbug, the Hustle, or the Pogo. Forget Elvis as "music." What his uninhibited grace wrought had as much to do with Kent State as anything else.

I personally consider the transition of Elvis the dumb punk into Elvis the fat dope as the penultimate parable of America, a line connected at the hipbone between the hucklebuck of slaves and the butt of Britney Spears. But more than that it is, in the parlance of situationist theory, the entire spectrum of the spectacle's recuperation of authentic life (or as I like to say, the Col. Tom Parker inside our heads). Even if Elvis didn't change the world, he is at least a perfect symbol of how the world changes.

Did Elvis make anything more than a "marginal impression on modern music?" Well, rock 'n' roll most certainly did, and "rock 'n' roll" was merely a concept created to accommodate what Elvis and his minions represented. Was this concept a rip-off? It was more like a rip-open. [Bo] Diddley and [Chuck] Berry were Elvis's contemporaries, and together they defined the burgeoning niche marketed as "rock 'n' roll." By the time rock 'n' roll took over modern music, what Elvis signified had very little to do with music.

But let's look at his music. To assume Elvis's bizarre, early, hiccupping vocal style, Dean Martin phrasing, and rather stilted moves (compared to a Harlem chorus line of 20 years earlier) were "black" merely because of his choice of cover songs seems pretty ignorant. Elvis did not sound or act black! Listen to the goddamn music! The Elvis-as-white-Negro scenario is applicable only in the sociological context explicated above and only in the sense that sexualized physicality represents African soul in contradistinction to America's uptight Puritan heritage; as a bluesman E was a complete failure. But then he was never even trying to be black, he just wanted to rock. And that he did, and he wasn't alone. Sam Phillips merely captured it; he didn't invent it. Elvis didn't invent rock 'n' roll, but rock 'n' roll didn't invent Elvis either. (I pause to note that the idea of black = sex while white = sexless is a facile generalization leading to the most horrific consequences of stereotyping and that Elvis did a little to explode that myth in one direction. Meanwhile black folk who aren't funky and can't jump must still suffer the stupid ideas of race as understood in America.)

If the influence of African sensibility on an otherwise white American culture is to be considered at all, music is definitely the primary nexus, but rock 'n' roll is the least of it. The banjo is an African instrument, for god's sake! But the natural syncretism of folk music is not about cultural exploitation. Musicians cop riffs from one another; that's what they do. Black Delta bluesmen and white mountain hillbillies both adapted Hawaiian slide-guitar styles when that genre became popular in the '20s and in turn influenced each other. Did George Clinton rip off acid culture to enhance his soul music? No, making music is not about ripping off culture, it's about creating it.

As far as making music, the conceit that musicians must write their own music came about with the Beatles, whose strongest influence in this regard was Buddy Holly, who in turn was no more than a wannabe Elvis. The Beatles wanted to be Elvis (and in their appropriation of the Motown song book, ripped off black culture more than Elvis ever did). Sid Vicious wanted to be Elvis! Madonna became the first female Elvis. Kurt Cobain became the Elvis of his generation.

To consider pop stardom/infamy at all, one must consider Elvis. To consider American history and culture at all is to consider Elvis. To consider America's place in the evolution of the world is to consider Elvis. In short Elvis is about a whole lot more than rockabilly, Vegas, his "movies," black velvet paintings, and his impersonators! To quote Mojo Nixon: "Elvis is everything!"

What you seem most confused about is minstrelsy. Vanilla Ice was more Al Jolson than Elvis. As for who Sammy Davis Jr. was, I'll leave that for you and others still mired in the spectacle's categories to decide. One day America will no longer be a "white" country, and that which is "black" will no longer be able to be exploited as some kind of otherness. The next punk-rock or hip-hop music may not erupt across a racial divide. But if these new forms are in fact eruptions -- movements of style, sound, and image causing paradigm shifts in American culture -- they will be the new Elvis.

In the end that's the most important thing: Elvis was the first Elvis. Elvis will always be what big things strive to be bigger than. It's been less than 30 years since his death morphed him into an abstract icon having little to do with music and race. Check back in 100 years, and Elvis will mean even more, not less.

John Stacey
via the Internet

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.

Latest Stories