Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Elvis: Pure Dead Brilliant

Our friend A. came round the other morning, coincidentally following my car back from the village in a blue van I hadn't seen before.

A. is writing a monumental history of rock and roll. From what he tells me it will be encyclopedic, including rockers past and present. He mentions William Blake and Coleridge in almost the same breath as Jack Kerouac and Malcolm X. Nor will ephemera like Pinky and Perky and Mr Blobby be missing.

But Elvis will be the star. I've never come across anyone with such a universally all-embracing knowledge of any one person as A. has of Elvis. Not just Elvis, but Elvisdom, the lookalikes, the mysteries (e.g. Elvis' twin), the resurrections, the Elvis-based sects and religions. It sometimes seems to me that A. is more interested in Elvis the phenomenon than in his music. In search of material A. has travelled the Elvis trail from start to finish. Or has he?

I expect I've mentioned before that in early May my little choir Les Jeudistes, in which A. sings, will be undertaking what they are pleased to call their World Tour of Scotland. They did their World Tour of Kent and Sussex a couple of years ago. The first leg of the journey takes them from Girona, in northern Spain, just the other side of the Pyrenees from us, to Prestwick, south of Glasgow. It's the only budget out-and-back route from our part of the world direct to Scotland at a sensible time of day.

J. and I were in Prestwick Airport (motto: Pure Dead Brilliant) a few weeks ago. I was surprised to find, in the departure lounge, The Elvis Bar. Why this should be I didn't know.

Did you know there was an Elvis bar in Prestwick? I asked A.

No, he said, in surprise: he'd never heard of that before. He doubted if there was a direct connection. Elvis had only been out of the USA twice, once to Canada and once to Germany, when he was doing his National Service. The best-known song that had come out of that was an extraordinary un-Elvis-like ditty called Muss i denn, muss i denn zum Stätelei hinaus, and....WAIT! When he flew back from Germany, he stopped off in Ireland, wasn't it, or could it have been Scotland?

I looked it up today. It was indeed Prestwick, then a US Air Force Transport Command base. There's not only the Elvis bar, there's a plaque commemorating his visit. When Les Jeudistes arrive, A. will feel particularly at home. It will be an auspicious start.


'I haven't seen that van before,' I said to him when he left. 'I saw it in the mirror as I was driving home. I thought for a moment it was that Barbe Bleue bloke behind me.'

[The Barbe Bleue - i.e. Bluebeard - bloke drives a blue van round the villages selling cheap clothes. 'Bluebeard' doesn't have the resonance here it does elsewhere.]

'It's extraordinary,' A. replied. 'You might as well drive a blue sales van around the UK with 'Jack the Ripper' blazoned all over it.'

'Selling ice-cream,' I said.


Dave said...

It won't embiggenise, but the chap on the right in the first photo looks just like Groucho Marx.

And the chap next to him is the spitting image of Lenin.

You can see where this is going...

Z said...

I always feel that Lowestoft could make more of the Joseph Conrad connection than it does. The town would much prefer a link with Elvis, I suspect.

Rog said...

I wonder if you could persuade A. to drop by Yagnub on the way home to pick up some Lowestoft Seaside Rock and pass it on to the local blog writer. His book could be called "A to Z of Rock"

Vicus Scurra said...

I have never met Elvis. He knocked on the door once to borrow some sugar, but Mrs S. sent him on his way.

Hector said...

Elvis did indeed land at Prestwick having flown from Frankfurt in April 1960. During the short refuelling stop he was interviewed by two Scottish journalists, Ian Imrie of the Glasgow Herald and the late Alastair Bisset, then a very junior reporter on the Ayrshire Post, the only journalists who had managed to wangle their way into the American base.

As Alastair recorded in his autobiography:

"He was taller than I imagined, slim, clean-cut and suntanned - and extremely polite. My first question to him could only have underlined my journalistic immaturity. 'How does it feel to be in Scotland?' I ventured. 'Gee, sir - am I in Scotland?' he drawled.

"My next query was equally naïve. 'How did you always manage to have records in the charts when you were serving with the army in Germany?' I asked. 'Ah guess they were all pre-recorded,' he offered."

Alastair may not have emerged from Prestwick airport that day with earth-shattering quotes for his paper - but he did leave with the great man's signature on a packet of Embassy cigarettes.

To his everlasting regret his BIG mistake came shortly afterwards, when, having finished the last cigarette, he threw away the packet!