Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Talk at the table

Looking towards the boat pond in Central Park from Fifth Avenue. 4:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, January 8, 2013. Sunny and mild, in the low 40s, yesterday in New York.

The Rumor Is: One of the richest men in New York and his beautiful wife, mother of his children, are separating. What looked (and still looks) like an ideal marriage from the outside looking in, had some patchy spots at the very beginning. But that was long ago and ever since it has been smooth sailing. They are among the most popular couples on the New York/Southampton/Palm Beach social axis. If an actual split comes to pass, you can be sure it will be civil and quiet and proper.

This “story,” true or false, comes as a relief, albeit an odd one, simply because someone else’s scandals or marital stress is a palliative for all our own, not to mention the troubles of our world.
Today is the birthday of Elvis Presley, born 78 years ago in Tupelo, Mississippi, one of twins (Jesse Garon was stillborn), son of Vernon and Gladys Presley. His rise to fame is now legend. He was 21 when he signed on with RCA and recorded “Heartbreak Hotel.” He was immediately popular with the teenage audience, especially the girls. That same year – 1956 – he recorded a great album “Elvis” with a picture of him on the cover, with his guitar, singing and jumping. It was a great album and young Americans were hearing a new version of Rhythm & Blues.

Then, that same year, he made his first national television appearances. Television was still very new and almost all of it live. In April he made an appearance on Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater.  

The following June, Elvis made his second appearance on Milton Berle. Always performing with a guitar, Berle advised him this time to perform with just a mike (“let them see you, kid”). So he did.

The song, which he introduced that night was “(You ain’ nothin’ but a ...) Hound Dog.” Elvis performed with dramatic (radical) bumps and grinds, the likes of which had never been seen on television before, and probably never seen ever by most Americans watching. This teenager was watching and it was sensational . I couldn’t tell you why other than it was naturally radical. Wild and crazy. Perfect for teen-agedom and for every rocker ever since.

That single television performance was a seminal event in the lives and psyches of millions of very young Americans. The television critics (which were daily in those days) hated it. Ben Gross in the New York Daily News said that with it popular music “has reached its lowest depths in the ‘grunt and groin’ antics of one Elvis Presley ... Elvis who rotates his pelvis ... gave an exhibition ... tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos.”
And Elvis became a star. And then he became the King. And not only king but beloved. It’s difficult to conceive, if you were born after that single television appearance, of just how enormous was the man’s influence on a  generation and the culture.

In the beginning many parents forbade their children from having his records in the house. Eventually the parents gave up, and even later the parents went to see him when he played Vegas. Twenty-one years later, he died, at 42, from some kind of complications having to do with prescription drugs and his own state of health. It was a tragedy, a tragic life, a smash-up of an earnest man with superlative natural, raw talent. His performances touched millions and still touch millions.

Elvis the Pelvis, they called him in bemused derision, after that appearance on Milton Berle. He was still a good boy from Tupelo, and dedicated in his work, so the term hurt his feelings. When asked what he thought of it, he said he didn’t like it, that he thought it was a silly thing for a “mature person” to say.

Elvis was a Capricorn. And if we were able to gather at a party a number of  individuals who were born on this day, you’d see a place bursting with drive and talent and integrity and hard workers. Such as: Carolina Herrara, David Bowie, Sandor Vanocur, John McTiernan, Jason Giambi, Dave Eggers, Little Anthony (of & the Imperials), Stephen Hawking, Shirley Bassey, David Silva, Butterfly McQueen, Jose Ferrer, Bronislava Nijinska, Ami Dolenz, R Kelly, Carl Pavano, Soupy Sales, Nolan Miller, Yvette Mimieux, Vladimir Feltsman.
January 8th is also a very important day for the principality of Monaco. It was on this day 716 years ago when a Genoan thug of some ill-repute, Francois Grimaldi, disguised as a monk in hood and robe, knocked on the palace door in Monte Carlo after dark. When it was opened, Grimaldi, already with scabbard in hand, murdered the man, and with his men entered, killed the reigning prince and  took over. Seven centuries later, the Grimaldis are still firmly ensconced in the palace in Monacoville, in the land that Somerset Maugham (who lived nearby) referred to as “Sunny place for shady people.” As well as a large contigent of retired ex-pats living comfortably and quietly in a tax haven over looking the beautiful Mediterranean.

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