Elvis Presley, the ‘Prince From Another Planet’
BY Dave Hoekstra firstname.lastname@example.org November 21, 2012 6:18PM
Elvis Presley shown here in 1972 at one of his rare news conferences. He said his gyrating performances of years ago, which shocked parents and got him censored below the waist on television, were "tame compared to what they're doing now." Presley added, "All I did was jiggle." | Bettmann/Corbis AP Images
Updated: December 24, 2012 6:27AM
The world never got to see Elvis Presley as a truly mature artist.
He did not become a wandering blues man like the modern day Bob Dylan or an enchantingly sweet memory like Neil Diamond.
On the weekend of June 9-11, 1972, Elvis performed four sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City. They would be Elvis’ first and last New York concerts.
He died five summers after his Madison Square Garden residency.
A galaxy of stars came to pay homage to the King. George Harrison was backstage, David Bowie flew in from England and attended the concert in Ziggy Stardust attire, and a guy named Bruce Springsteen took a road trip from New Jersey.
The shows are passionately documented in “Elvis: Prince From Another Planet: 40th Anniversary Edition,” just released on RCA/Legacy. It seems that every Christmas, the Elvis Presley vaults are opened up for reissues, but this three-disc set (featuring two CDs and one DVD) is worth examining, especially at an affordable $26.49 list price. The DVD features never-before-seen concert footage captured by a fan’s camera. One Elvis expert has called it “The King’s Zapruder film.”
In these concerts, you can witness Elvis trying to expand and grow; “Hound Dog” begins with its original seed as a blues ballad before Stax-like wah-wah guitars (think “Shaft”) kick in. Elvis and his band also offer contemporary fare like “Proud Mary” and Hoyt Axton’s “Never Been to Spain,” a 1971 hit for Three Dog Night.
Elvis was at a weird place in his career.
His last major hit was “The Wonder of You,” which went to No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts in May 1970. He enjoyed three top 10 hits in 1969: “In the Ghetto,” “Don’t Cry Daddy” and “Suspicious Minds,” but included only “Suspicious Minds” for the stunning karate-tinged conclusion of these concerts.
And New York circa 1972 was a weird place for Elvis Presley.
Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye was in the house, covering the concert for a New York skin magazine called Cavalier. Kaye, who also contributed a 5,000-word essay to the box set, also was writing for Rolling Stone and Hit Parader back then. “I wrote for anybody, though my specialty was the avant-wing of rock,” Kaye wrote last week in an email interview from Europe, where he was on tour with Smith. “Including feature articles on Alice Cooper, the Stooges, the Flamin’ Groovies and the Velvet Underground. In a way, Elvis seemed as outre as all of them combined.
“I didn’t see any of the special guests enter, though I must admit that their light would’ve paled in the face of Elvis’ luminosity. At the time, the New York rock scene was barely under way, in a transition period from the folk era and the Velvets. There were pretty much no places for local bands to play, even the New York Dolls, who were still holding forth at the Mercer Arts Center. There was a tiny scene, composed of glam rockers and their sequined followers. This was an underground several steps removed from the rarified atmosphere of ‘Uptown,’ and though these fledgling rockers took at least the very early Elvis as a psychic influence, his grandeur and staging meant that he would have felt farther removed than might have been expected. Surely the Faces’ sense of shambolic fun would’ve been more up their alley!!!!”
“Prince From Another Planet” — the title comes from a New York Times headline — also features a video document of the press conference that Col. Tom Parker held for Elvis at the New York Hilton on the Friday afternoon before the shows. The Colonel gave out souvenir pens to the press. The media made probing observations like “Elvis, you seem to have less grease in your hair these days.”
As a working member of the media, Kaye was at the press conference. “If you can imagine a carnival barker in charge of a press conference, that would be Col. Tom working the room,” Kaye wrote. “There was an air of excitement and expectation, and there was none of the managed choreography of a question-and-answer period today. Elvis was close enough to touch and seemed to enjoy the give and take.”
Elvis and his band peformed Friday night, a Saturday matinee, a Saturday night show and a Sunday matinee, which was added after the first three shows sold out.
The set lists were pretty much the same for the shows, except Elvis went folkie on Saturday afternoon, covering Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Until It’s Time for You to Go” and Don Ho’s “I’ll Remember You.”
Elvis’ longtime pallie and “Memphis Mafia” member Jerry Schilling was backstage with the King before the MSG shows. Elvis put together the set lists, while gaining input from band members during rehearsal. “Elvis didn’t like matinee shows,” said Schilling, 70 said from Hollywood Hills, Calif., in his home that Elvis bought him in 1974. “Because that’s the time of day we got up. The Memphis Mafia was very nocturnal. When he did a bluesy version of [Lowell Fulsom’s] ‘Reconsider Baby’ on the matinee, I knew he was into the show.”
Elvis was low-key about the Big Apple. “When something was important to Elvis, he would get a little quiet,” Schilling said. “One thing I remember very distinctly is right before we went on stage, somebody said George Harrison wants to say hello. George is by himself in a jean top and a pair of jeans. Elvis was real glad to see him. John Lennon was probably there, although we didn’t know it.”
Schilling believes the MSG concerts were more important than the career breakthrough performances in 1956 that Elvis did on the Milton Berle and Dorsey Brothers TV shows, which were taped in New York: “When he recorded in New York, I don’t think they understood in the beginning who he was as an artist. He was comfortable with Sam Phillips at Sun. They spoke the same language. He hadn’t been in New York all these years, so I think he had something to prove. “
The King’s debut studio disc, “Elvis Presley” (1956), also was recorded in New York City, at RCA Studios. “When you look at this rare footage, you see he has developed from the 1950s but he still has some rebelness in him,” Schilling said.
“He was facing a tough audience. They loved him, but they booed the comedian [Jackie Kahane, who would give the eulogy at Elvis’ funeral]. I was a little nervous because I was managing the Sweet Inspirations at the time. They backed him, and they opened the show.”
According to Schilling, the Super 8mm color footage came from fan Don Lance, who worked at the gift shop of the International Hotel in Las Vegas and collected Elvis films and memorabalia. “Rare, rare footage,” Schilling said. “I’ve produced Elvis documentaries, and to get footage from this time is almost impossible. I’ve seen bootleg footage on Elvis, and it takes away from the show. But here his hand was so steady. [Lance told the Wall Street Journal he strapped a tripod to his leg.] And all this with Elvis not knowing he was being shot.”