No, this is not a Hamilton post. Duh…It’s an Elvis post.
After 50+ hours of Audible listening, I just finished the two “definitive” biographies of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick. Obviously, I was inspired by my experience seeing Baz Luhrmann’s biopic Elvis. As I learned many more details of Elvis’ life, I wondered, what qualifies as a biopic? Because as much as the movie did an amazing job conveying Elvis’ complexity, a lot of the more negative accounts were implied yet not explored. Of course, I am a researcher, so I wasn’t left with just assuming the biopic was equivalent to a biography. And we all know I am still digging down my Elvis rabbit hole. However, I do think it’s important to note the definition of a biopic includes the concept of dramatization and creative license. StudioBinder defines a biopic as:
A biopic is a movie that dramatizes the life of a real, non-fictional individual. Short for “biographical motion picture,” a biopic can cover a person’s entire life or one specific moment in their history.”
Elvis’ life has so many different phases and so much drama that to include a deep exploration into every bit would have made for a much longer movie. It would have to be even longer than the 4hrs of footage to which Baz Luhrmann has referred. The movie that was released absolutely got to the soul of Elvis throughout his roller coaster short life.
All that being said, I then started to wonder, what is legacy and what is important to share? Are all the gritty details necessary? With how many people Elvis had around him, there are plenty of stories to share from many different perspectives. Many stories are cringe-worthy, and I went on a side-quest of exploring the psychology of Elvis and what trauma he may have experienced in his life. I can’t find who to attribute this description to, but I’ve heard trauma described as “too much, too fast, too soon.” In that case, even just his meteoric rise could be considered trauma let alone his childhood experience in poverty and his father going to jail making him the man of the house at the age of 3. Again, I digress.
With his birthday coming up on January 8th and the celebrations to ensue, I began to wonder, should we be celebrating a person with unmatched talent but also disturbing behaviors? So I wondered, if there was a purpose realized by this person, can we justify celebrating them? If this person did harm but also helped others, how do we celebrate them? There is a common belief that the purpose of a life is to leave the world better and with more love.
Try and leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best. —Lord Robert Baden-Powell
Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them. —Dalai Lama
Despite his tragic struggle with prescription drugs and his sometimes abusive behavior, the soul of Elvis was good. He desired to love, to be generous, to be kind, to connect, and to help people experience the magic of music. He failed to manifest that many times, but isn’t that the point? We’re all practicing and learning. Is intention enough? Is a life of reflection enough?
We often want to put people in the camp of good people or bad people, but as I have quoted above “I am large, I contain multitudes.” It’s okay to know the multitudes, and it’s important to know them. Someone’s legacy, like Elvis, may include warnings for generations to follow. AND it can include the things we want to celebrate like his undeniable ability to sing and to connect with music from the depths of his soul while also attending to his audience to create unforgettable, visceral performances. I’d say that Elvis did leave the world a better place and filled with more love, and it’s fair to celebrate that.
I saw this encouragement posted today:
Hurt people hurt others, but luckily, healed people heal others. Safe people, shelter others. Free spirits, free others. Enlightened people, illuminate others. And love always wins. So shine your light of love on all who may cross your path in life, because what you do matters
While it is a lovely thought and sentiment, I think it’s important to know that one person can be all those people. One may hurt others in a specific scenario because it is an area in which they hurt. One can be enlightened and illuminate others in areas in which they are enlightened, etc.. Again, it goes back to the idea of “Do I contradict myself..” Elvis gave us a great and somewhat extreme example of contradicting oneself and containing multitudes.
After reading the 2 biographies and having very mixed feelings about celebrating the life of Elvis, I was soothed by Peter Guralnick’s wise words at the end of Careless Love:
That is what we have to remember. In the face of facts, for all that we have come to know, it is necessary to listen unprejudiced and unencumbered if we are to hear Elvis’ message: the proclamation of emotions long suppressed, the embrace of a vulnerability culturally denied, the unabashed striving for freedom. Elvis Presley may have lost his way, but even in his darkest moments, he still retained some of the same innocent transparency that first defined the difference in the music and the man. More than most, he had an awareness of his own limitations; his very faith was tested by his recognition of how far he had fallen from what he had set out to achieve—but for all of his doubt, for all of his disappointment, for all of the self-loathing that he frequently felt, and all of the disillusionment and fear, he continued to believe in a democratic ideal of redemptive transformation, he continued to seek out a connection with a public that embraced him not for what he was but for what he sought to be.
In that mindset, Happy Birthday Elvis! Thanks for the memories!
To the man who could give us:
this TALENT and DEDICATION
And this SOUL
SOUL to the end of his days