The Elvis of Our Dreams | John Covach

January 7, 2015 6:55 PM

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It's a funny thing how fame works sometimes. You'd think the best way for a pop artist to promote his or her music would be to do so in person. But it can happen sometimes that the best thing -- from a strictly business point of view -- is for the artist to be gone. This is precisely what has happened in the posthumous careers of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. The images of both were in decline in their later years, yet after each died he became bigger in death than he had been in life -- or at least less complicated. In the case of Elvis, his last couple of years were plagued by a weight problem; this image of the no-longer-young singer became so much a part of his image in the mid-70s that there were cartoons in the newspapers portraying him splitting the pants of his famous jumpsuits during performances. In some quarters, he had become a laughing stock. After his death, however, the Elvis Presley marketing machine lost no time in ratcheting up: gone were the recent images of a paunchy middle-aged Elvis, replaced by the younger, sexy and slim Elvis of the '50s, '60s, and early '70s. It is this "ideal Elvis" that fans love and venerate. And it's an image that would likely have considerably less force if Elvis were still alive. As brutal as it sounds, it's probably true that in some cases the best thing a star can do to a sustain a career is to get out of his or her own way. The Elvis who fans love now -- the Elvis of our dreams -- is somehow better than the real thing. I'm sure Bono would have something to say about this.

Part of Elvis's enduring appeal, however, is certainly due to his wonderful performances. And it was with those performances, along with a series of classic recordings, that Elvis Presley played a pivotal role in the early rise of rock and roll. Listen to almost any of his records from the 1950s and...

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