Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard template...

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MikeFromHolland
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Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard template...

Post by MikeFromHolland »

.

Interesting point of view. What are your thoughts?

OBSERVER MUSIC
Elvis Never Gets Credit for One of His Greatest Gifts to Rock ‘n Roll
By Tim Sommer • 01/08/16 10:19am

Image
Lady-Lips. (Photo: Elvis.)


Is it possible that Elvis Presley’s most significant and pioneering contribution to our culture has remained largely unremarked upon?


The most important aspect of Elvis’ legacy is something so obvious that it has defied revelation.


Elvis Presley, who would have turned 81 this week, did not invent rock ’n roll. He wasn’t the first recording artist to play electric hopped-up hillbilly music, nor the first to blend Appalachian howls and inner city r&b; and he certainly wasn’t the first Caucasian man (or woman) to “sound” like a black person. On top of that, Elvis was neither a composer nor a conceptualist, so his gifts didn’t lie in that domain. Yet Elvis Presley is one of the defining figures in the age of electric, as he should be.

The most important aspect of Elvis’ legacy is something so obvious that it has defied revelation: Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard template for the rock/pop frontman. Elvis did not succeed because of the myth that he was the first white boy who sang like a black man. Elvis succeeded because he was the first white boy singer who looked like a pretty white girl.

In the 62 years since Elvis debuted, we have become so used to the idea that pop stars are pouting man-girls that sexual ambiguity and rock ’n roll have become virtually synonymous.

Image
Pouting man-girl, Elvis Presley.


Think of Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger and all those other narrow, serpentine singers with pregnant lips and lissome hips; consider the doe-like, heart-shaped face of Paul McCartney; visualize, in your head, Botticellian Mark Bolan or Michael Stipe and 88,000 others. We are so accustomed to this androgyny that it’s a bit hard to believe that the concept once didn’t exist.

Pre-Elvis singers might have been handsome, but nobody outside of the eccentricities of vaudeville displayed femininity, or looked pretty and male. Before Elvis, Caucasian male vocalists, band leaders, and pop stars were wiry, beefy, bovine, beaming, brilliantined, priestly, aquiline, avuncular, handsome, lantern-jawed, gawking, owlish, occasionally even fey; and in the realm of hillbilly music, they were either doughy or carried the withered, sunken, accusing faces you see in old Civil War photographs and Walker Evans portraits.

But none had been pretty like a girl, and certainly none had combined such a look with an absolutely assured male presence that was virtually palatable in every photo or recorded yelp and hiccup.


Elvis was the prototype for the look of rock ‘n roll.


The lasting impact of the cultural tsunami triggered by Elvis the Pretty was gigantic. Elvis was the prototype for the look of rock, and by that, I don’t mean the obvious rockabilly rebel pose or ghoulish quiff. By introducing that gender bend via his uniquely sylphlike presence and asserting that the masculine and the feminine, bundled up in one lithe and saucy package, could sell sex and song, Elvis announced that the rock-age rebellion, the break from the past, would not just be musical, but sexual. By integrating the feminine into the mainstream pop cultural vocabulary, Elvis drew the line in the sand that identified the battleground for the future culture wars.

The spirit of the 1960s begins when Pretty Elvis bursts onto the consciousness of mainstream America in 1954-56. From that moment forward, from the first stutter that lanced from Elvis’ lopsided, louche, feral and feline lady-lips, it would be freaks vs. straights. The delineation of the Shirts and the Skins in the culture wars would not have been possible without Elvis’ absolutely brilliant and adamantly natural ability to be a true man and a true man-girl, at the same time, in the same body.


..


Likewise, although Elvis’ shivering, shimmering frantic hillbilly antics are deeply compelling, the most startling aspect of his early work is his barely-there ballads, minimal, muscular but vulnerable songs that defy any contemporary trend.

“Blue Moon” and “I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine,” both from his legendary Sun catalog, are forged with a feminine touch and masculine power. These are halo’d shadows of songs, recordings so reduced that they are almost terrifying. Truly shocking when listened to now, these songs have an impact that none of his “faster” Sun recordings (with the possible exception of “Mystery Train”) achieve. Elvis strips these songs of any corn, studio affectation or commercial aspiration; all that’s left is the ancient and modern heart of the balladeer and the sense of loss to be found in famine, migration, heartbreak and poverty.

These ghostly Sun ballads evoke the same feeling you get when you listen to hissing 78s of the Carter Family, Sid Hemphill, or Amede Ardoin; at the same time, they are almost frighteningly modern, as they conjure the stripped, ripped and raw cavernous purity of Suicide, Mazzy Star, Moondog and Springsteen’s Nebraska.

Now, Elvis isn’t as big as he used to be.

Image

There are a lot of reasons for this, and these are just some of them: The mainstreaming of country music in the post-Garth Brooks Era (Brooks was the first country artist to benefit from Soundscan, which, for the first time, accurately reported the economic power of country music) eliminated the need for a single figurehead who embodied the hopes and affections of non-urban, non-pop/rock America; sloppy catalog releases have made Elvis’ music far less sensibly accessible to the public than it should be; and finally, the exploitive and un-strategic manner in which Elvis’ career was handled in his life (and his legacy was handled posthumously) means that the extraordinary highs of his latter work are not spotlighted, and pieces like “American Trilogy” (an important musical statement and devastating performance that needs to be held favorably alongside the best work of Leonard Cohen, Tim Buckley, Elliot Smith, Kurt Cobain, Patti Smith, or Scott Walker ) is consigned to the kitsch-bin.

All of these elements (underlined by the fact that the 1980s’ ubiquity of MTV favored and promoted the interests of archival artists like the Beatles and Zeppelin but virtually ignored the formerly omnipresent Elvis, for reasons too lengthy to be detailed here), combined to make someone who was virtually synonymous with the rock genre prior to 1980 virtually marginal to it after 1990. As late as, say, 1979, it was unimaginable that you would have a generation of music fans—knowledgeable or casual—who barely gave a sh*t about Elvis. But sadly, that’s the case.

And I miss him. And it’s time to reconsider him and honor him for what may have been his greatest achievement: He is the father/mother of the feminine in rock. It was the gender blend/bend pioneered by Elvis that made rock what is—the language of the anthem of all outsiders.

(Many thanks to Louis Maistros, Matthew Goodman, Nancie S. Martin, and most of all the late, great John Loscalzo for helping me work out some of these ideas.)
Source: http://observer.com/2016/01/elvis-never-gets-credit-for-one-of-his-greatest-gifts-to-rock-n-roll/

.


Mike

------
lay back,
take it easy
And try a smile...

.


skatterbrane

Re: Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard templat

Post by skatterbrane »

Um, no! Nothing androgynous about Elvis. His most outrageous clothing was still masculine, as was his demeanor.




Arvis Paisley

Re: Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard templat

Post by Arvis Paisley »

I'm not so sure about that. He sometimes wore eye makeup and lacy shirts. And he loved pink.




skatterbrane

Re: Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard templat

Post by skatterbrane »

They're going to have to give that one to Little Richard. And as for the likes of David Bowie, it was a calculated marketing trick, as most of his "incarnations" were.



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Re: Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard templat

Post by Jaime1234 »

There is a comment at the site, which I am now quoting. "The writer thought he had a point there, but failed miserably to look further into the real UNDERSTATED reason Presley became a megastar, then sustained that status. First off, Elvis Presley, by all accounts of people who were in front of him, some like Catherine Deneuve with more than enough credibility to speak about beauty was the more handsome person WITHOUT make up to have ever walked in this earth. So, throw away the fact he wore make up, mascara and looked "pretty" as THE hidden reason for his enormous success in the 1950's. Moreover, of every other impossibly handsome person from the forties and fifties who was caught on film, from Tyrone Power to Marlon Brando, James Dean and even Congressional Medal of Honor multiple winner Audie Murphy, to numerous others, Presley was the only one who spent hours on end with his fans, thousands upon thousands of photos of Presley WITH them to prove it. It is probably throught this means, the word of mouth effect about him being the nicest megastar that ever lived, BOTH as a person, and in person AND not through "looking pretty on stage", that Presley was able to not just garner, that is easier, but to sustain a fan base so large that at any given moment, when the time is right, can be proven to be LARGER than that of artists like the Beatles and Garth Brooks, both of whom he has outsold , according to Soundscan, which the article quotes, in the last three years, back to back, from 2012 to this date. From not even being mentioned in the first list of the top 20 album sellers in 1991, as per Soundscan, he has miraculously jumped to position #11 as of 2016. Furthermore, was that unique ATTRIBUTE of his, his being accesible to his fans, was that so difficult for the writer to think of? Did other stars use make up before Elvis? Well, as he stated, maybe no, or maybe yes. And after Elvis? Again, yes and no. Now, has any other megastar behaved with his fan base, for 22 years straight, as Elvis did? Not a single case, BEFORE, DURING or AFTER, TO THIS DATE. End of quote




Hard Rocker

Re: Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard templat

Post by Hard Rocker »

Great article, Mike. Thanks for posting.

It's a very Elvis-friendly piece from the well-respected UK paper if a little pessimistic towards the end. I wonder did they have no access to the UK album charts in the final quarter of 2015, or if they were unaware of the Elvis exhibition's very successful and extended run in London's O2 arena? The King's legacy is alive and well.




epf

Re: Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard templat

Post by epf »

Thanks Mike, for your relentless research. I have heard this story before. Was it Goldman? I can't remember, but at the time i thought made some sense. Now, i don't know. I think i lack the information to decide either way.



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Re: Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard templat

Post by drjohncarpenter »

MikeFromHolland wrote:Interesting point of view. What are your thoughts?

OBSERVER MUSIC
Elvis Never Gets Credit for One of His Greatest Gifts to Rock ‘n Roll
By Tim Sommer • 01/08/16 10:19am

Image
Lady-Lips. (Photo: Elvis.)


Is it possible that Elvis Presley’s most significant and pioneering contribution to our culture has remained largely unremarked upon?


The most important aspect of Elvis’ legacy is something so obvious that it has defied revelation.


Elvis Presley, who would have turned 81 this week, did not invent rock ’n roll. He wasn’t the first recording artist to play electric hopped-up hillbilly music, nor the first to blend Appalachian howls and inner city r&b; and he certainly wasn’t the first Caucasian man (or woman) to “sound” like a black person. On top of that, Elvis was neither a composer nor a conceptualist, so his gifts didn’t lie in that domain. Yet Elvis Presley is one of the defining figures in the age of electric, as he should be.

The most important aspect of Elvis’ legacy is something so obvious that it has defied revelation: Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard template for the rock/pop frontman. Elvis did not succeed because of the myth that he was the first white boy who sang like a black man. Elvis succeeded because he was the first white boy singer who looked like a pretty white girl.

In the 62 years since Elvis debuted, we have become so used to the idea that pop stars are pouting man-girls that sexual ambiguity and rock ’n roll have become virtually synonymous.

Image
Pouting man-girl, Elvis Presley.


Think of Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger and all those other narrow, serpentine singers with pregnant lips and lissome hips; consider the doe-like, heart-shaped face of Paul McCartney; visualize, in your head, Botticellian Mark Bolan or Michael Stipe and 88,000 others. We are so accustomed to this androgyny that it’s a bit hard to believe that the concept once didn’t exist.

Pre-Elvis singers might have been handsome, but nobody outside of the eccentricities of vaudeville displayed femininity, or looked pretty and male. Before Elvis, Caucasian male vocalists, band leaders, and pop stars were wiry, beefy, bovine, beaming, brilliantined, priestly, aquiline, avuncular, handsome, lantern-jawed, gawking, owlish, occasionally even fey; and in the realm of hillbilly music, they were either doughy or carried the withered, sunken, accusing faces you see in old Civil War photographs and Walker Evans portraits.

But none had been pretty like a girl, and certainly none had combined such a look with an absolutely assured male presence that was virtually palatable in every photo or recorded yelp and hiccup.


Elvis was the prototype for the look of rock ‘n roll.


The lasting impact of the cultural tsunami triggered by Elvis the Pretty was gigantic. Elvis was the prototype for the look of rock, and by that, I don’t mean the obvious rockabilly rebel pose or ghoulish quiff. By introducing that gender bend via his uniquely sylphlike presence and asserting that the masculine and the feminine, bundled up in one lithe and saucy package, could sell sex and song, Elvis announced that the rock-age rebellion, the break from the past, would not just be musical, but sexual. By integrating the feminine into the mainstream pop cultural vocabulary, Elvis drew the line in the sand that identified the battleground for the future culture wars.

The spirit of the 1960s begins when Pretty Elvis bursts onto the consciousness of mainstream America in 1954-56. From that moment forward, from the first stutter that lanced from Elvis’ lopsided, louche, feral and feline lady-lips, it would be freaks vs. straights. The delineation of the Shirts and the Skins in the culture wars would not have been possible without Elvis’ absolutely brilliant and adamantly natural ability to be a true man and a true man-girl, at the same time, in the same body.


..


Likewise, although Elvis’ shivering, shimmering frantic hillbilly antics are deeply compelling, the most startling aspect of his early work is his barely-there ballads, minimal, muscular but vulnerable songs that defy any contemporary trend.

“Blue Moon” and “I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine,” both from his legendary Sun catalog, are forged with a feminine touch and masculine power. These are halo’d shadows of songs, recordings so reduced that they are almost terrifying. Truly shocking when listened to now, these songs have an impact that none of his “faster” Sun recordings (with the possible exception of “Mystery Train”) achieve. Elvis strips these songs of any corn, studio affectation or commercial aspiration; all that’s left is the ancient and modern heart of the balladeer and the sense of loss to be found in famine, migration, heartbreak and poverty.

These ghostly Sun ballads evoke the same feeling you get when you listen to hissing 78s of the Carter Family, Sid Hemphill, or Amede Ardoin; at the same time, they are almost frighteningly modern, as they conjure the stripped, ripped and raw cavernous purity of Suicide, Mazzy Star, Moondog and Springsteen’s Nebraska.

Now, Elvis isn’t as big as he used to be.

Image

There are a lot of reasons for this, and these are just some of them: The mainstreaming of country music in the post-Garth Brooks Era (Brooks was the first country artist to benefit from Soundscan, which, for the first time, accurately reported the economic power of country music) eliminated the need for a single figurehead who embodied the hopes and affections of non-urban, non-pop/rock America; sloppy catalog releases have made Elvis’ music far less sensibly accessible to the public than it should be; and finally, the exploitive and un-strategic manner in which Elvis’ career was handled in his life (and his legacy was handled posthumously) means that the extraordinary highs of his latter work are not spotlighted, and pieces like “American Trilogy” (an important musical statement and devastating performance that needs to be held favorably alongside the best work of Leonard Cohen, Tim Buckley, Elliot Smith, Kurt Cobain, Patti Smith, or Scott Walker ) is consigned to the kitsch-bin.

All of these elements (underlined by the fact that the 1980s’ ubiquity of MTV favored and promoted the interests of archival artists like the Beatles and Zeppelin but virtually ignored the formerly omnipresent Elvis, for reasons too lengthy to be detailed here), combined to make someone who was virtually synonymous with the rock genre prior to 1980 virtually marginal to it after 1990. As late as, say, 1979, it was unimaginable that you would have a generation of music fans—knowledgeable or casual—who barely gave a sh*t about Elvis. But sadly, that’s the case.

And I miss him. And it’s time to reconsider him and honor him for what may have been his greatest achievement: He is the father/mother of the feminine in rock. It was the gender blend/bend pioneered by Elvis that made rock what is—the language of the anthem of all outsiders.

(Many thanks to Louis Maistros, Matthew Goodman, Nancie S. Martin, and most of all the late, great John Loscalzo for helping me work out some of these ideas.)
Source: http://observer.com/2016/01/elvis-never-gets-credit-for-one-of-his-greatest-gifts-to-rock-n-roll/
The New York Observer piece is interesting. Tim Sommer is not just a local critic but also a somewhat left-of-center musician and producer with a long history, so it's not a surprise to see the ideas he expresses here.
Timothy Andrew Sommer (born in New York) is an American musician, record producer, former Atlantic Records A&R representative, WNYU DJ, Trouser Press journalist, MTV News correspondent, and VH1 VJ. Tim is perhaps best known as a bass player in the slo-core/dreampop band Hugo Largo.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Sommer
In general, his point is valid, as Elvis' compelling and unique beauty was both masculine and feminine, and in the 1950s he certainly pushed the limits of sexuality in both music and appearance. Makeup was part of his arsenal.

571028_w Gleaves_Jordanaires_Los Angeles.JPG
But there were others around who were also aggressively flamboyant in this era, most certainly Little Richard, who, like Elvis, released provocative music and was a visual daredevil. And as far as 20th century entertainment, actress and singer Marlene Dietrich pioneered androgynous style decades before rock 'n' roll hit the mainstream.

And his lament about Elvis losing a more modern audience in the 1980s carries some weight, although I don't believe "An American Trilogy" is devastating, or worthy of lining up with quality work by artists like Cobain, Cohen or Buckley.

I also wasn't wild about Sommer's repeated use of the adjective "pretty," to the point where it seemed to be a pejorative.

"looked like a pretty white girl"
"looked pretty and male"
"pretty like a girl"
"Elvis the Pretty"
"Pretty Elvis"

Maybe it was intentional.
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Last edited by drjohncarpenter on Tue Feb 23, 2016 10:30 pm, edited 2 times in total.


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Re: Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard templat

Post by eligain »

Jaime1234 wrote:There is a comment at the site, which I am now quoting. "The writer thought he had a point there, but failed miserably to look further into the real UNDERSTATED reason Presley became a megastar, then sustained that status. First off, Elvis Presley, by all accounts of people who were in front of him, some like Catherine Deneuve with more than enough credibility to speak about beauty was the more handsome person WITHOUT make up to have ever walked in this earth. So, throw away the fact he wore make up, mascara and looked "pretty" as THE hidden reason for his enormous success in the 1950's. Moreover, of every other impossibly handsome person from the forties and fifties who was caught on film, from Tyrone Power to Marlon Brando, James Dean and even Congressional Medal of Honor multiple winner Audie Murphy, to numerous others, Presley was the only one who spent hours on end with his fans, thousands upon thousands of photos of Presley WITH them to prove it. It is probably throught this means, the word of mouth effect about him being the nicest megastar that ever lived, BOTH as a person, and in person AND not through "looking pretty on stage", that Presley was able to not just garner, that is easier, but to sustain a fan base so large that at any given moment, when the time is right, can be proven to be LARGER than that of artists like the Beatles and Garth Brooks, both of whom he has outsold , according to Soundscan, which the article quotes, in the last three years, back to back, from 2012 to this date. From not even being mentioned in the first list of the top 20 album sellers in 1991, as per Soundscan, he has miraculously jumped to position #11 as of 2016. Furthermore, was that unique ATTRIBUTE of his, his being accesible to his fans, was that so difficult for the writer to think of? Did other stars use make up before Elvis? Well, as he stated, maybe no, or maybe yes. And after Elvis? Again, yes and no. Now, has any other megastar behaved with his fan base, for 22 years straight, as Elvis did? Not a single case, BEFORE, DURING or AFTER, TO THIS DATE. End of quote
WHAT??? :facep:




epf

Re: Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard templat

Post by epf »

Thanks doc for offering your opinion and knowledge. Always nice to have some background information.




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Re: Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard templat

Post by ICanHelp »

The article contains a lot of truth. Elvis moved his body in a fashion reminiscent of female dancers. Even in the 70s, classic striptease music accompanied his gyrations during the "I Gotta Woman/Amen" routine. Thanks for the post.




epf

Re: Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard templat

Post by epf »

ICanHelp wrote:The article contains a lot of truth. Elvis moved his body in a fashion reminiscent of female dancers. Even in the 70s, classic striptease music accompanied his gyrations during the "I Gotta Woman/Amen" routine. Thanks for the post.
Thanks, i forgot about that.



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Re: Elvis Presley invented androgyny as the standard templat

Post by drjohncarpenter »

epf wrote:Thanks doc for offering your opinion and knowledge. Always nice to have some background information.
Indeed. A writer's perspective is certainly formed by his or her experiences, and Sommer's New York connections are important to consider when evaluating his essay, published on Elvis' birthday.


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Stop, look and listen, baby <<--->> that's my philosophy!