Monday, September 29, 2008

The Best Elvis.

In my continuing quest to break down the barriers of space and time, to smash the walls that we construct that keep us from reaching our true potential, and to overhyperbolize every single thing that I do and conflate it into something of theoretical universal significance... in that quest, I will finish up Showdown September with the Ultimate Showdown, answering the question of which is The Best Elvis.

This Showdown marks the first time I've nominated a Best in a category which in theory contains only one person -- but it contains only person only in theory, because just as science (real science, that is, the science that's found in comic books and Mr. Hassemer's chemistry class, not the "science" that "scientists" tell you about) teaches us that there are a multitude of universes, each similar to but not identical to the rest, so also does science teach us that there are a multitude of Elvises, each similar to but not identical to the rest. There is the Elvis who shocked America and wore black leather jackets, the Elvis who appeased America and wore sequins and sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic, there is the Elvis who appeared in movies like Blue Hawaii which I first watched in the gym of my middle school on "movie night," sitting on a metal chair watching Blue Hawaii and developing a lifelong love for Elvis' music and Hawaii, the Elvis who my Mom cried over when he died, crying about losing him and then moving on to a crush on Rod Stewart, and more: A multitude of Elvises spread across a multitude of minds.

So Elvis is one person and Elvis is millions of people -- like Mangog -- but Elvis is also two people, two Elvises. And here's the part where I really break down walls and all the rest of that stuff, even though I've already done that by pointing out to you in just a few paragraphs how mystical Elvis really is, being one and millions, here's where I really earn my pay and shatter all your expectations and delusions and like Morpheus reveal to you the truth of the world you inhabit:

I'm not talking about fat and skinny Elvis. Those are not the two Elvises of the Showdown -- because those are not two different Elvises. Those are the same Elvis spread out over time. People who try to say there are two different Elvises, one fat, one skinny, reveal themselves to be living in a three-dimensional, as opposed to four-dimensional (or more!) universe, because they reveal themselves to be unfamiliar with the passage of time. Fat Las Vegas Elvis is not a different person than Skinny Leather Elvis; he is the same person in a different era. I am the same me I was at 5 and 15 and 25 and 35 -- just with less hair, more weight, and different television shows to watch. Elvis is the same -- substitute sequins for television shows, since Elvis died in 1978 (I think; and I'm not going to go Google it, so I'm just going to say it was 1978 and because I said it and it's on the Internet, that's now correct... that's how Wikipedia and Yahoo! Answers works, so why can't my website work the same way?)

No, I'm talking about the actual two different Elvises -- not Elvis-Over-Time, but the Two Faces of Elvis. I'm talking about Cool Elvis, and Lame Elvis.

That's right. I explained long ago how Lame and Cool can coexist, and Elvis embodies that dichotomy; Elvis is two sides of the same coin -- lame and cool at the same time and over time being both lame and cool and always coexisting; the Many Elvises at various times emphasizing how Lame or Cool Elvis was (or is; I'm not totally on the side of people who think he's dead) and showcasing everything that is great, or lame, about Elvis, and Us, and Life.

Elvis being Cool is the common explanation for why Elvis captivated us, and still captivates us: Elvis started (or popularized) rock and roll, Elvis shocked the world, Elvis had that sneer and those moves, and so on. But "cool" alone is not enough to carry on a legend for so long -- to transfer that legend down over generations, to keep the flame burning bright. Think of other "cool" people, people who were pure cool, and when you do, you'll realize that truly cool people don't live forever in people's imaginations.

Here's some purely cool people: James Dean. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Saint Anthony of Padua. What do they all have in common? They've faded somewhat into obscurity or become symbols or two-dimensional creations. James Dean is now a leather jacket and a poster on a dorm wall. (Middle, going off to college next year, already has furnishings for her dorm room, including a poster of James Dean.) Mozart is a movie and the youngest composer. Saint Anthony, who captivated the world so much in his time that angels spontaneously rang the bells of all the churches when he died... is known for helping people find lost things. (And for this.)

Think, then, of people who are cool but also lame: John Travolta. Abraham Lincoln. Freeing the slaves and winning the war between the states? Very cool. But saying Fourscore? And that beard? Plus he was born poor? Lame. John Travolta, too: The dance in Pulp Fiction, being Danny Zuko: both extremely cool. Dancing with a puppet to amuse Bruce Willis as a baby? Not so much.

But who do you remember? Whose career has lasted longer? You remember John Travolta, not James Dean, and it's not because James Dean died young, it's because James Dean was only cool and had no lameness in him.

It's that lame quality that endears us to people, and it's that lame quality that is essential to a lasting image of cool; the lame quality in those icons that loom large over time is the equivalent of Cindy Crawford's mole: it's the tiny little flaw that only emphasizes just how great the rest is, and it's also the portion that lets us like someone and finally, it's the portion that lets us hope that we, too, could achieve that.

Purely cool people are like purely beautiful people: boring, and we hate them. With no flaws, they are uninteresting and we can never be like them; they are the angels in the universe, above us and inestimable, and ultimately not of great significance in our life.

But people who have a little lameness in them, like Abe Lincoln and like Elvis, are interesting to us and captivate us, because they are like us, to a greater or lesser degree. We are lame; we like BBQ Fritos and Battlestar Galactica and we played Dungeons & Dragons as kids and have Witch Doctor by the Chipmunks on our iPod (assuming that we are all exactly like me) and because we are lame, we want our heroes to be a little lame, too -- because by being a little lame, then they are like us and we are like them, and they become our idols because of that.

Remember: God didn't make angels in his image; he made man in his image. Angels are perfect, and we are not -- and we are in the image of God; so we love not perfection, but imperfection. We are imperfect creations and want to see a little imperfection in those things we love, and believe that despite our imperfections, we can achieve that state, too, whether it be Heaven and an afterlife -- or simply being cool.

So a little imperfection, a little lameness, is essential to rising above the masses and achieving Eternal Cool, as Elvis has done, because only when the cool person has that little imperfection can we truly idolize them. Elvis is not a god among man, but a man among men -- a man who managed to become greater than all of us, but who is still like us and therefore gives us hope that we can achieve that status, too, and lets us like him for his humanity.

So there are two Elvises: the Cool Elvis, and the Lame Elvis, and it is because of those two Elvises that we love Elvis so much; without one, the other would not have lasted long at all. Take away Lame Elvis, and Cool Elvis is a poster on a wall. But take away Cool Elvis, and Lame Elvis spends his days getting beat up by the cool kids.

Which is better, then? To answer that, I first have to show which is which.

Lame Elvis is harder to define and more people will object that Lame Elvis doesn't exist. So I'll start off easy and give you Cool Elvis:

Cool Elvis is Elvis in black leather. Cool Elvis is that shot of Elvis in the sport coat, holding the microphone and shaking his legs. Cool Elvis is the sneer and the pompadour. But Cool Elvis didn't end there. Cool Elvis is Elvis' comeback special on TV -- the first time ever that an entire TV show like that was devoted to a single person, and a show that was so cool itself that even though it is referred to as one show, it was actually more like two or three shows, total, by the time it got repackaged. Cool Elvis is Elvis in Vegas -- moving Vegas, through Viva Las Vegas from mobster haven to middle America. Do you think that families would take vacations to Las Vegas today if Elvis hadn't brought Vegas to them first, the way he brought Rock and Roll, gospel music, and jumpsuits to them, too? Cool Elvis is all about letting people know what they should like.

That was the easy part.

Here's the hard part: Lame Elvis. Lame Elvis joined the Army. In the entire history of America, joining the Army was only cool once: World War II. When Elvis joined, enlisting wasn't cool -- resisting was cool, as Muhammad Ali showed. And Lame Elvis loved his mom; any teenager can tell you how much that sucked -- Moms are great when you're under twelve or over 25. Between 12 and 25, Moms are awful. They want your hair combed and your bed made and you to study hard and go to college, all things that will interfere with your showing your classmates how much of a rebel you are and playing Dungeons and Dragons. Lame Elvis is the Jungle Room and those big sunglasses and maybe being dead and maybe being alive -- because it's lame for us not to know whether Elvis is really dead. We know whether John Lennon is dead. We know whether Mozart is dead. You know who we're never sure is dead or alive? Bad guys: Where's Osama Bin Laden? You know who else we're never sure is dead or alive? Abe Vigoda. And what's cool about him? If you can mention a person in the same sentence as Abe Vigoda, then unless that sentence is He's nothing like Abe Vigoda, that person is kind of lame.

Lame Elvis like Lame Songs, too: Cool Elvis somehow resurrected them, but the songs themselves were Lame. Take a look at one of the most famous hits from Elvis, Hound Dog.

Ever stop to think about the lyrics? Here they are:

You aint nothin but a hound dog
Cryin all the time.
You aint nothin but a hound dog
Cryin all the time.
Well, you aint never caught a rabbit
And you aint no friend of mine.

When they said you was high classed,
Well, that was just a lie.
When they said you was high classed,
Well, that was just a lie.
You aint never caught a rabbit
And you aint no friend of mine.

Is he talking to an actual hound dog? Or is he using hound dog as a metaphor for someone else, a friend or girlfriend or someone? If so, then what, exactly, is that metaphor? What would catching a rabbit be? If you were the friend or girlfriend Elvis is metaphorically chastising in that song, wouldn't you, at the end of it, say What is it, exactly, that you want from me? Am I supposed to go CATCH a rabbit? If not, then what in the world SHOULD I be doing? And then, wouldn't you say Would I be high classed if I HAD caught a rabbit? Because that's kind of what it seems you intended.

If you Google "what is the meaning of 'hound dog'", having been too lazy to Google when Elvis died but not being too lazy to see if someone, somewhere, has also wondered whether that song means something, you'll find out that, yes, someone has: Debbie did a music project on "Hound Dog," so she asked Mel The Expert about what the song meant, and Mel The Expert, in an example of how I say that symbolism can be read into anything, said that it's likely the song is about

an allegorical term for a useless, lazy husband who didn't fulfil his initial promise and was no better than an old hound forever sleeping on the porch and getting under people's feet

And to prove that Mel The Expert was reading too much into the song, I'll do two things: First, I'll note that Mel The Expert talks about a dog sleeping on the porch, but that's not anywhere in the song -- Mel The Expert has imported into the song his own experiences with Hound Dogs, proving the My Aunt's Dog Theorem yet again.

Second, I'll interpret Hound Dog in such a way as to make it an allegorical tale not about a no-good husband-- which makes no sense because when Elvis sings it, he'd likely be talking to a woman, and would a woman be responsible, in 50's America, for catching a rabbit? Women weren't expected to bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan until the 1970s; prior to that, they simply fried up whatever their husbands brought home -- usually a roast-- no, I'll interpret Hound Dog so as to make it an allegorical tale about the Bank Panic of 1907.

The Bank Panic of 1907 was brought about largely by a guy named Otto Heinze, who tried to corner the copper market and borrowed money from a lot of banks to do that. Heinze's bizarre attempt to become the Copper King failed, and then banks began to fail, apparently because people became aware that their banks were using deposits to finance this scheme -- people back then were more aware of financial doings because they didn't have Fantasy Football teams to manage and so they could read the newspaper -- and runs began on the banks.

Into the fray stepped J.P. Morgan, who at that time was a single guy instead of the de facto Fourth Branch of the U.S. government; J.P. Morgan got all his banker buddies together and they solved the crisis using a method that I was not able to find out in my exhaustive research on this topic, but a method which, although mysterious, somehow led to the creation of the Federal Reserve System.

So, with that backdrop, let's look at Hound Dog in the light in which Elvis intended it: as an explanation of the 1907 Bank Panic.

You aint nothin but a hound dog Cryin all the time.-- This is Otto Heinze, whose efforts to corner the copper market were an obvious attempt to draw attention to himself, the way a hound dog howls.

Well, you aint never caught a rabbit And you aint no friend of mine.-- Heinze failed to "catch the rabbit" by failing to corner the copper market; he's no "friend of mine" because he brought about the panic.

When they said you was high classed, Well, that was just a lie.-- Expresses how the public felt duped by the banks, and how the banks felt duped by Heinze.

Moreover, the repetition Elvis engages in, repeating certain lines, is an obvious parallel to the way the economy goes in cycles, repeating itself at times in boom and bust cycles that get better or worse but which we'll see again.

So, could anything be more Lame than a song about the Bank Panic of 1907? I think not -- and yet Cool Elvis saved that song and it lives on forever.

Lame Elvis, Cool Elvis. Lame Elvis, Cool Elvis: Having shown that the two exist, simultaneously, I now have to pick The Best Elvis... and close out Showdown September in doing so.

The answer, as it is so often, lies within ourselves, just as Yoda probably taught. That seems like something Yoda would say, doesn't it? The answer in you lies. Yoda, in probably saying that, was right, and like so many teachings, and like Elvis, that advice has several levels, because the answer is both in us and is us: It's Lame Elvis.

Lame Elvis is The Best Elvis because Lame Elvis is the part that's like us; Lame Elvis is the part that allows us to see a little of ourselves in Elvis, and therefore not only identify with him but also hope that we could rise up, from the downtrodden masses of people listening to "Witch Doctor" while trying to remember our D&D character names, rise up from that to stand astride the American landscape, a towering monumental presence that will live for generations. Lame Elvis shows us not only that a little bit of lameness is essential for the coolness to transcend itself, but also that we can strive to achieve that transcendent level of coolness, too. So, Lame Elvis, for giving us hope, for giving us inspiration, and for giving us great songs that are definitely about the Bank Panic of 1907, I name you The Best Elvis.

Related posts: Want to know what the "My Aunt's Dog Theorem" is? Find out here. And Lame/Cool month began with a discussion of Longitude...

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