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September 25, 1990 - Image 8

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1990-09-25

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Page 8- The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, September 25, 1990

It's an Elvis thing, you wouldn't understand

a

by rorrest green. ill
"Elvis
was a hero to most
but he never meant shit to me
cause he was racist,
the sucker was simple and plain;
motherfuck him and John
Wayne,
cause I'm Black and I'm proud,
ready, hyped cause I'm amped
most of my heroes don't appear
on no stamps...
look back if you check it,
you'llfind nothing but rednecks
for four hundred years."
-Public Enemy, "Fight the
Power"

of classes and had a beer with me.
Actually, they're all living here in
Ann Arbor, on Church near East
Quad.
As bizarre as these statements
sound, their prevailing parallel, the
immortal status of Elvis Aaron Pres-
ley, is no less so. Not very deserv-
ing, to say the least, is the arbitrar-
ily christened "King," who was
nothing more than a dim-witted char-
latan who stole the soul and then
pushed it for every boffo he could
get. To cite the now- legendary quote
regarding the appeal of "a white man
with the Negro sound and the Negro
feel," is not conclusive enough to
truly subvert Elvis' silly posthu-
mous rule. Presley's style was a bas-
tard product of '50s Negro fashion,
plain and simple. Before his "rule"
began, Presley was shopping at
Memphis' Beale street and emulating
the style now looked at on sitcoms
like Good Times as ludicrous.
Presley wore a hair grease pop-
ularized by Black America to assimi-
late the "process" hairdo, also worn
by Little Richard and the Godfather
of Soul, James Brown. The Royal
Crown Pomade hair grease Elvis
used, as well as its modern-day
forms, are considered symbolic of
self-hatred, used to make Blacks look
white. But Elvis used it in order to

look Black, or rather like Blacks try-
ing to look white.
A Black man named Otis
Blackwell wrote a sizable amount of
Presley's hits, two of which are "All
Shook Up" and "Don't Be Cruel."
To be exact, it was Presley's approx-
imation of Black sexuality that made
him a star. The swagger of the 20-
year-old Elvis' pelvis made him a
threat to whiter-than-white America,
and so so much more threatening to
the Eurocentric mindset of the coun-
try. A tantamount gesture would be
Madonna's infamous holding-the-
crotch picture, a Black man's pose of
sexual confidence exploded into
meaninglessness in the anarchic
'90s. Yet despite these vestiges of
Presley's absolute theft of the Negro
soul of the '50s, his only memo-
rable quote about the subject goes,
"the only thing niggers can do for
me is buy my records and shine my
shoes."
The fact that everyone still adores
Elvis is a benign one; we could hold
onto worse cultural icons. His
approximation of Black America's
style and white America's love for it
connotes some degree of respect for
"the Black (who) don't know how to
act." Rather, what makes this
country of ours so ass-backwards is
its insistence of raising the 13 years-

0

H ey, guess what? I saw Robert
Johnson over at super Meijer this
weekend! And I know you won't be-
lieve it, but Jimi Hendrix was at the
Hash Bash last April. That's right,
the Voodoo Chile himself sold me a
quarter bag in the Diag. It was in-
tense, baby. And I know this is a lit-
tle unbelievable, but Marvin Gaye
stopped by my apartment first week

Elvis may have been King and all, but
profession with more than just a little
Little Richard.
dead rock star on a makeshift throne.
This implies many absurd ideas, the
least of which that Presley had any
control or logic to his career rather
than resembling the puppet-act New
Kids on the Block in his absolute
dearth of autonomy. Elvis remains at
the very top of America's influence
mountain, over true pioneers like
Little Richard, Bo Diddley and
Chuck Berry.
In the past two decades, popular
music was more about crossing over
than anything. Sting and Paul
Simon went African, while Prince
went psychedelic and crossover cow-
ardice abounded. Cultural authentic-
ity quickly blurred in the poorly-bal-
anced exchange of motifs. In the
'70s and '80s, the concept of Elvis'
White Shadow hairdo could only be
considered brilliant. But in this radi-
cal new decade, Black folks want
more, "a piece of this rock," as
Chuck D. states in the timely
"Brothers Gonna Work it Out." One
only has to look at Ice-T's missing
perm to see that Black is back with a
vengeance.
In this resurgence of Black and
African pride, it's no longer very ac-
ceptable to fade oneself, as contem-
porary rap lyrics will attest. The
closely-related concepts of club, rap,
dance and house music are the most
sweeping and influential forms to-

like all good monarchs (not to mention fascists), he rose to the top of his
help from the people he stepped on - people like James Brown and

day. Rap records grounded with street
language, concepts and mentality
force white people to listen to how
the other side lives. And even a danc-
ing minstrel like M.C. Hammer can
top the charts nowadays with a blend
of urban dance styles and bravado.
The message is very simple in terms
of the music world: Black folks are
going to have a much bigger say
this time.
Now is simply not the time to
bow down in senseless reverence to
White Shadows like Presley, but
rather to give proper kudos to musi-
cians who strive to balance the
scales. Acts like Soul II Soul, Pub-
lic Enemy, N.W.A., Prince, and
least of all, Living Colour, risk
commercial failure in order to put
across their bold messages.
Unashamed of their Blackness, Liv-
ing Colour is simply an uncanny
presence in rock in this time of
Wingers, Whitesnakes and assorted
Great Whites, to say the least.
Keeping up with their ground-
breaking contemporaries, the band
points now to the past for glory, and
reminds their dazed-and-confused au-
dience that "Elvis is Dead." Speak-
ing about the song, Vernon Reid
rightfully says that white America
continues its bleach-feeding lies at
the cost of distorting basic rock 'n'
roll truths. "A lot of people loved

Hendrix, but nobody says they saw W
him at the Steak N Shake or the
Wal-Mart," he states. Not only is
Elvis dead, but his corpse is rotten
and rank with deterioration. Still, to
come right out and denounce his adu-
lating public takes a measurable bit
of chutzpah from this great, under-
rated but anomalous rock band.
It is all very good for America to
remember its heroes, but when a
whole race of people stands up and
says "ENOUGH," as voiced in songs
like "Fight the Power" and "Elvis is
Dead," a schism yawns wide. Whites
will explain that they aren't racist,
but merely believe that Elvis is
God. But this attitude is still bluntly
insensitive, much like the degrada
tion-therapy shirts that taunt, "It's a
Black thing. You wouldn't under-
stand." When whites shiver and
quiver at pro-Black voices like Pub-
lic Enemy's, Black people under-
stand and turn their music down ac-
cordingly. But the concept of Pres-
leymania, however corny it may be,
seems to reign in the stagnant psy-
che of the collective American. Ul-
timately, Blacks will nod in ac-
knowledgement of this bizarre phe-
nomenon. Ultimately, they'll walk
away, thinking "Fuck Elvis."

Livng Colour are tough and don't you forget it. They are one of the few groups today who aren't afraid to step on
sacred ground and say what they really think of a man who has perhaps been revered for too long.

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