Monday, July 14, 2008

Today's Oprah: David Letterman & Lisa Marie Presley


"And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?"
--William Blake, "Jerusalem," 1804

tv
--Is there anything more evil than American television? Yes: the people who own the media companies and outlets.

Being a graduate of Ball State University--legendarily known as a major party college, as I can attest, this was a lot of fun. David Letterman went to BSU in the late-1960s, the very same time that my late and beloved step-father did.

My step-dad never liked Letterman, and I think they may have crossed-paths during that turbulent period...well, except that Muncie was a pretty sleepy town at that time. When I was there, it was a seedy little dive with no jobs and a local population of hustlers and crooks--and that's outside of the corrupt Democratic party located downtown.

Once Ball Corp. (yes, the jars) began pulling-out (pun-intended), it was every man for himself. And yes, the "Middletown" sociological study was done there for a few decades, chronicling the demise of...well, not a great town, more like a former KKK citadel populated by bigots. No future is right.

Letterman also had a radio show on campus during the time he was there that was so notorious he was kicked-off of it. I'd like to here some tapes of that. His grades were average, and for a long-time he had few good words to say about the school, the town, or the state of Indiana. It's hard to blame him.

But a few-years ago, the Telecommunications Department finally got off their asses and named their new building after him, which considering his substantial donations to them was an idea whose time had come. I should add that during the early-to-mid-1990s, he considered ending his funding of the David Letterman Scholarship (established in 1985, applicants had to have a "C-average," making George W. Bush eligible, but too old) due to the fact that professors weren't allowing students to use any of the high-end equipment that Dave had paid-for in their classes.

Sooooo, it was fun to watch Dave on Oprah today--he's tried to be on there for years, and how often is he ever on someone else's show? Yeah, it was showbiz schmaltz, and all that, but it was actually heartwarming and funny.

But then...

Lisa Marie Presley came on and did what can only be described as a so-so version of a song that I really think is bordering on racist: "In the Ghetto," written by Mac Davis. The original title was called "Vicious Circle," which is telling. CNN spoke with Roger Semon about the song on June 16, 2002. You think he's biased as an "Elvis Expert" (what's that?!):
PHILLIPS: Wow, truly his first protest song, wouldn't you say?
SEMON: Most definitely, and I think one of Elvis' purest performances. There was a lot of controversy at the time when this song was first brought into the studios. Elvis was recording back in Memphis for the first time since he'd recorded there at Sun in the mid '50s, and there were some brilliant songs that were brought into the studio at that time and there was a new young songwriter that had been creating some stir during that time, and his time was Mac Davis.
And Mac Davis submitted "In the Ghetto," which was originally entitled "The Vicious Circle," and I believe at one time it was rumored that it was meant for the Righteous Brothers, and certainly wasn't written for Elvis. But Elvis really loved the song, really wanted to record it, and there was some concern by other members of his entourage because of the political nature of the song.

But I think realistically, Elvis when he sang it realized that he'd also come from a very poverty-driven background and that he could really relate to the lyrics.

So at the time, people were suggesting that he shouldn't do it, but thank God that he did do it, because it's such a superb recording and this very early take of the song was included on "Today, Tomorrow & Forever" for obvious reasons, because it is so beautiful. ("Elvis News-Interview With Roger Semon, Elvis Expert, CNN/KKI.pl, 06.16.2002)
Except that Elvis loved President Nixon, hated the antiwar movement and the counterculture, and wasn't exactly that progressively-minded about the civil rights movement. I don't recall any accounts of him attending any marches. Granted, he didn't write the song, but it's pretty wrong-headed from my own perspective. No, it's not openly-racist, and I'm not accusing him of being one. But he could have done more, and there's a strong reason for this.

A good percentage of his sales were with the Black audience. Elvis was loved by a lot a Black Americans during his lifetime, and he most-assuredly was a maverick in his time to embrace Gospel, R&B, and the Blues so openly.

In the 1950s, that was a very big no-no, and he was called a "nigger lover" over-and-over by a lot of so-called Americans.

But then, there's this goddamned song:
People, don't you understand
The child needs a helping hand
Or hell grow to be an angry young man some day
Take a look at you and me,
Are we too blind to see,
Do we simply turn our heads
And look the other way


But:

Then one night in desperation
A young man breaks away
He buys a gun, steals a car,
Tries to run, but he don't get far
And his mama cries
("In the Ghetto," words & music by Mac Davis, 1969)
The song concludes by saying nothing, offering no solutions, only confusion and a condescending pity. It offers only a resignation to fate. That's Mac's fault, but Elvis really wanted to sing it as a single and at his shows in the late-1960s.

I don't think Elvis consciously wanted to exploit the issue, or the music of Black Americans. But I think that's the reality at times, and it's a very common feature of our business-dominated culture to use these social horrors as grist for the entertainment media's mills. It also used to sell a lot of newspapers, and still sells a lot paperbacks.


Elvis's biggest sin, then, is his craven lust for money and influence, and it's disappointing. Welcome to life. It was disappointing in 1977, watching him die a broken-man who felt he had always been "faking it," as he stated to an audience at one of his last concerts. It was a very sad moment that most fans tend to ignore.

Even Elvis was exploited by the music industry and this daemoic economy--just look at how the former loner, the maverick, who dressed like the Black kids and elevated their culture ended-up. Sometimes Blake's "satanic mills" are pressing-plants.

And so, Oprah also fits-snugly into this nexus of runaway consumerism and the resulting spiritual void of alienation and emptiness. She just doesn't have the naiveté that Elvis did. She knows it's all a game for money. Today, Lisa Marie "sang" "In the Ghetto" with her dead father...only she didn't, because he's long-gone, and so is the spirit of sincerity in American life and culture.

It's all product, and culture doesn't exist otherwise in a country that values nothing but money and power. Watching the music industry die isn't sad at all, it's a relief. Oprah has a lot to learn about what's real, though I doubt she ever will when it comes to the American disease of greed.

Americans need to retake their souls, it's time. I love Elvis and this nation, contrary to what others might think. Let's celebrate what was good about him--that shy, sincere young man who loved the music of Black people, and who really did admire them. Something got lost along-the-way. Money tends to do that.


Poland Loves Elvis: http://www.kki.pl/elvisal/elvisnews_june15june19.htm

Australia Loves Elvis: http://www.elvis.com.au/presley/elvis_not_racist.shtml

William Blake's "Jerusalem," 1804: http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/26.html