Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Tue Dec 04, 2007 5:06 am

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It was the finest music of his life. If ever there was music that bleeds, this was it.

-Greil Marcus
Remembering the 1968 TV special.
From his book, Mystery Train, 1975.

...if any individual of our time can be said to have changed the world, Elvis Presley is the one. In his wake more than music is different. Nothing and no one looks or sounds the same. His music was the most liberating event of our era because it taught us new possibilities of feeling and perception, new modes of action and appearance, and because it reminded us not only of his greatness, but of our own potential.

-Greil Marcus
From his book, Mystery Train, 1975.


THE LITTLE THEATER

When in June 1968 Elvis Presley made a television special to be aired in December of the same year, he accomplished two things. He saved his career, and he made the best music of his life.

"If you're looking for trouble, you came to the right place," he sang as the camera pulled in tight for his first words; then he sat in a circle with a few other people, a crowd of people around them, and left blood on the floor.

He starred in a Christmas-season show that all but ignored Christmas songs in favor of parables about a traveling guitar player. For the first time in more than seven years, he faced live audiences, real men and women who, he knew, might find him wanting – not what they expected, not what they remembered, not anything at all, because since turning the world of pop music upside down and American culture inside out in the mid-1950s, to many Elvis Presley in the 1960s had become a joke, an employee in his own movie factory.

But he had never made a television show before, and so at the end of a year of horrendous violence and upheaval, assassination and war, mass public protest and a bitterly fought presidential election, a year in which the social and political fabric of the United States seemed to be ripping apart, people of all kinds turned their televisions to NBC. The young and the old. College radicals and government officials. Northerners and southerners. White people and black people. Everyone wanted to know what Elvis would say, what he would do. In some essential way, everyone wanted to know if Elvis Presley still existed at all.

The discs collected here are a treasure chest of that moment: the special itself, as it aired on December 3, 1968; the two complete "Sit Down" shows, the rough, improvised, altogether explosive attacks on the likes of One Night, Lawdy Miss Clawdy, and Blue Christmas, with the audience so close Elvis could touch the people in it, and did; the two "Arena Shows," Elvis appearing on his own, again before audiences, with a big band and chorus off stage; and three-and-a-half hours of "Bonus Material," alternate stagings of the skits and dramatized musical numbers from the show-some of them a lot hotter than anything that made it to the screen.

You can feel the shock waves the show made. Elvis looks gorgeous and he knows it; you see joy, command, and a certain slyness. In moments he reminds you of Sean Connery's James Bond. He takes that 007 you-must-be-kidding- me grin as his own, and it serves him perfectly in the whorehouse scenes, where Elvis's Guitar Man character, to the irritation of a crew of black and white painted prostitutes, is about to go off with a freshfaced blonde when the cops raid the place. The persona adds a kind of weight to the last song of the show; when Elvis sings If I Can Dream, acknowledging the murders, only weeks and days before, of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, and in a way refusing their deaths, his passion seems to come from experience, not a script.

Wearing a black leather suit as if he were born in it – standing alone, or sitting with his original guitarist Scotty Moore, his original drummer D. J. Fontana (using drum sticks and a guitar case), his friend Alan Fortas (guitar case and hands), his friend Charlie Hodge (playing acoustic guitar, singing call-and-response, holding up Elvis's sit-down mike when Elvis simply can't not stand up to sing), and tambourine player Lance LeGault – Elvis sang his old songs, but they did not sound old. He invested them with so much emotion – emotions his original recordings of, say, Blue Suede Shoes, Tryin' to Get to You, One Night, Blue Christmas, or Can't Help Falling in Love did not contain – that each became a thing in itself. Suddenly these were less songs than events – where anything could happen, where everything did. When, in the Arena setting – with people seated both in bleachers and literally at Elvis's feet – long applause sweeps up his medley of Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog, and All Shook Up, the moment unfolds in real time, and if anything it is Elvis himself who is moved the most. You can see him all but step back from the reaction – for just a moment, it silences him, as if he expected anything but true love.

The Sit Down shows are the little theater to which people will always return. "Are we on television?" Elvis asks Charlie Hodge at one point. "No," Hodge says, "we're on a train bound for Tulsa." When Elvis relaxes into the first of five dives into Jimmy Reed's Baby, What You Want Me to Do – the deep well of the sessions, where every few minutes Elvis returns for a more open rhythm, a harder beat, a knowledge that cannot be put into words – it's as if the song itself is a train to ride, or that he is.

Early in the special, Elvis takes Scotty Moore's electric guitar for himself; he had never played the instrument in public before, but immediately he locked into the most lowdown chords imaginable, into a music that any musician can tell you anyone can make and almost no one can. In an instant he moves from the quiet reading of a verse to a conflagration so powerful it doesn't seem real.

"Tell me, dear, are you lonesome- " he croons. "NO!" shouts a girl in the crowd. A woman in the audience cries as he plays "Blue Christmas" – as Hodge shouts "Play it dirty, play it dirty!" But Elvis is already playing it dirty, reaching as if under the guitar for tones that can't be advertised. As he climbs the mountains and crosses the streams of Tryin' to Get to You he waves his hands in the air, he rubs the strings of the guitar on his legs, he picks it up and shakes it, his whole body fluttering like a leaf picked up by a wind and shot through the air. He dives into Baby, What You Want Me to Do for a fourth time and suddenly he is Casey Jones, holding down the train whistle until it is the only sound in the world. The music rises, slams down, rises again, as if a whole new language has been discovered – as if, this night, it has to be made to say everything, because it will never be spoken again. And then he went on to the next number.

Greil Marcus
Music Writer, Historian & Critic

http://www.elvis.com/news/images/68_special/Essay_by_Greil_Marcus.pdf


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Life - November 29, 1968
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Last edited by drjohncarpenter on Wed Mar 06, 2013 2:04 am, edited 2 times in total.

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Tue Dec 04, 2007 5:34 am

Thanks John for this great article..another excellent review from the Bay area...

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Tue Dec 04, 2007 7:04 am

This is one of those dates during the year
(after all the "real ones" near and dear to my family,
alive or passed) that I find it fun to stop and recall what
it would have been like to have seen.

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And for those of you who haven't visited
Elvissessions' page on '68: check out these
great audio files from Sirius Radio,
featuring the likes of:
:

Producer Steve Binder

Drummer D.J. Fontana

Musical Director Bones Howe

Writer Alan Blye

Writer Chris Beard

Ernst Jorgensen's Introduction to the Tiger Man CD



http://www.elvissessions.com/68ComebackSpecial.html

:D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D

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Thanks for the post, Doc.
Last edited by Gregory Nolan Jr. on Fri Dec 07, 2007 7:07 am, edited 4 times in total.

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Tue Dec 04, 2007 7:10 am

In a career that knew many peaks, this was the pinnacle.

And it will last as long as people have ears, eyes, hearts and souls.

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Tue Dec 04, 2007 7:25 am

Thanks, Doc..very interesting.

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Tue Dec 04, 2007 7:26 am

Ciscoking wrote:Thanks, Doc..very interesting.

Thanks.

When Marcus writes Elvis "made the best music of his life," he is speaking of what was captured between 6 and 9 PM on Thursday, June 27, 1968. And he is 100% correct.

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Tue Dec 04, 2007 3:12 pm

Good God that gave Me Goosebumps. Now that's what I call a Review.

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Tue Dec 04, 2007 4:10 pm

I was a little surprised that the anniversary passed without much fanfare here (callin' COLIN!!!!!!!), but not surprised that you stepped up. I suppose there will be more about it next year with the 40th anniversary. Thanks, Doc.

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Tue Dec 04, 2007 7:00 pm

KHoots wrote:I was a little surprised that the anniversary passed without much fanfare here (callin' COLIN!!!!!!!)


I do birth & death anniversaries, not events.........................

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Tue Dec 04, 2007 8:02 pm

Hey Doc, here is the set i´ve been listening to the last two monthes:

CD1: SUN SESSIONS
CD2: ´60/61 R&B selection (RECONSIDER BABY, FEEL SO BAD, I WANT YOU WITH ME, IT FEELS SO RIGHT, MESS OF BLUES, FEVER, LIKE A BABY, SUCH A NIGHT, etc...)
CD3: ´68 1st SIT DOWN SHOW
CD4: ´70/71 Country Blues selection (MERRY CHRISTMAS BABY, GOT MY MOJO WORKIN´, WASHED MY HANDS IN MUDDY WATER, WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN´, DON´T THINK TWICE IT´S ALL RIGHT, etc...)

Best rock music recorded ever!

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Tue Dec 04, 2007 8:05 pm

ColinB wrote:
KHoots wrote:I was a little surprised that the anniversary passed without much fanfare here (callin' COLIN!!!!!!!)


I do birth & death anniversaries, not events.........................


Yeah, I know, but I thought we might see an exception with this one.

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Tue Dec 04, 2007 10:00 pm

Well, it was a bit of a (re) birth!

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Tue Dec 04, 2007 10:13 pm

Beautiful baby!

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Tue Dec 04, 2007 11:38 pm

Thanks for that pointer Doc.

Something to listen to while I'm jogging to work off Christmas Dinner!

That's Holiday Dinner for you folks from the USA :D

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Wed Dec 05, 2007 12:21 am

That Greil Marcus essay just sends chills up my spine -- and it just did so all over again.

I'm not coming into this joint just to be a party pooper, but I don't think it's Hodge who tells Elvis to "play it dirty": it's either D.J. "motormouth" Fontana or Alan Fortas.

Still . . . that writing, that writing! I like Guralnick, but I love Marcus. My boy, my boy . . . !

There is so much poetry there, but one thing that hits me is when Greil brings in the "train" metaphor. Heck, they were on television, but they might as well have been on a train bound for, if not Tulsa, then somewhere very exotic -- then again, it's all about the journey, not the destination. I think it's when Elvis is singing "Lawdy, Miss Clawdy" that he remarks, "We can't stop it now, man. We can't stop it!" that I get this intense feeling the music is a runaway juggernaut. We're hurtling over a huge cliff, but nobody cares, cos we're just gonna have that freefall feeling in the pit of our stomachs, magically float over the water, then come back up and do it all over again. Adrenaline? Not half!

The "Little Theater" really defies description, but Greil comes close, damn nammit. If only it were just about music, it might be easy to describe -- but music is just the tip of the thawing iceberg. Scientists are now looking into the Comeback Special as a major cause of global warming; every time someone plays it, Elvis kicks out so much heat that we all get hotter.
Last edited by Cryogenic on Wed Dec 05, 2007 12:22 am, edited 1 time in total.

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Wed Dec 05, 2007 12:22 am

When this special aired in 1968, I was just a little bitty kid.

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Wed Dec 05, 2007 12:27 am

You're still a little bitty kid ...

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Wed Dec 05, 2007 12:29 am

drjohncarpenter wrote:You're still a little bitty kid ...


:lol:

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Wed Dec 05, 2007 12:30 am

Rob wrote:When this special aired in 1968, I was just a little bitty kid.

well when it was aired in 1968 my mum and dad were just little bitty kids :wink: :lol:

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Wed Dec 05, 2007 2:59 am

Did anybody else hear D.J. Fontana on Sirius radio?

He was talking about the '68 Special [sit-down segment], and originally, DJ was actually going to play a drum kit. But during rehersals, they said that the drums were both too loud, and there was too much light reflecting off the drum kit, and it was causing problems with the cameras. So that's how he wound up drumming on the guitar case.

But being a drummer myself, I immediately thought, all they had to do was just give him a snare drum, with brushes instead of sticks. That would've sounded better than drumming a guitar case - but oh well ;-)

Rich

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Wed Dec 05, 2007 5:50 am

drjohncarpenter wrote:When Marcus writes Elvis "made the best music of his life," he is speaking of what was captured between 6 and 9 PM on Thursday, June 27, 1968.

...a great comeback indeed !

(see also picture section... viewtopic.php?f=8&t=33414)

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Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Wed Dec 05, 2007 6:55 am

hello to jimmy carpenter.

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Wed Dec 05, 2007 7:27 am

I've been scanning some old files that I've collected over the years, these might fit in well here.
Original newspaper ads for the December 3 airing and also the repeat showing the next August. Also included is an ad from the Dec 1968 TV Gude


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And some news reaction from the following day, The smaller article and little blurbs are not associated with the critics review, just extra stuff I kept.
I left these in larger resolution so they can be read. The tape residue aside, some interesting relics of that time- enjoy!

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Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Wed Dec 05, 2007 8:26 am

Thank You so much for this very great article, review and memories Doc ...

For me, this is MY Elvis.

IMHO, He never sounded better, sang better, performed better, and looked better.

The raw, intense emotion, the heart and soul that just oozes thru Elvis onto the screen into my eyes, and the sound coming thru into my ears, and the passion that hits me in my soul, is all the joy and pleasure I could ever need in my musical and entertainment side of life.

Re: Happy 39th -> December 3, 1968 - The Little Theater

Wed Dec 05, 2007 10:28 am

Thanks for this Doc, if there WAS a pinnacle in Elvis' career, this was definately it, his voice, when he's singing, it comes from deep down in his soul on some, nay, most of the songs. The fact that he looked like a Greek God probably helped as well !