Thursday, 10 December 2009

If I Can Dream: Elvis as Everyman

6th December: John Bishop in Elvis Has Left the Building
Oxford North Wall

When Elvis Presley died in 1977, there were an estimated 37 Elvis impersonators in the world. By 1993, there were 48,000 Elvis impersonators, an exponential increase. Extrapolating from this, by 2010 there will be 2.5 billion Elvis impersonators. The population of the world will be 7.5 billion by 2010. Every 3rd person will be an Elvis impersonator by 2010. – Source: Caen, H., San Francisco Chronicle; October 27, 1993

Walking home on Hallowe'en night I saw an advert for John Bishop's touring stand-up show Elvis Has Left the Building. So on Sunday night, I was at the North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford for John 'Bish' Bishop. Bish is a Scouse comedian formerly Someone in Pharmeceuticals. He's been plying his new trade at Edinburgh for some time and this was his Edinburgh show. He's a chatty man and does a lot of audience interaction. A few too many jokes about porn for my liking. Unreconstructed is back I gather.

The show brings together a couple of strands - the idea of clinging to your dream and being middle-aged, through the McGuffin of Elvis at 42. Bish was presenting awards at an industry 'do' (Best Kitchen Utensils 2008 or some such) at the Dorchester Hotel in London. When his work was done he went to watch TV and drink nicked booze in his hotel room. A documentary about Elvis came on apparently citing the above statistic. One in three, says Bish, one in three, we're all Elvis.

But what hit him more was the fact that Elvis died at 42. Suddenly Bish understood why Elvis was fat. Because he was middle-aged and you get fat. And why Elvis wore jumpsuits. Because you're too old to wear fashionable gear and too young to dress like your dad. But why Elvis was still able to record with soul. When Bish shows his tour poster to his eleven-year-old son, son says 'Who's Elvis?' They don't have icons anymore, says Bish.

At the end of the show, Bish cuts footage of Elvis singing If I Can Dream, with the fulfillment of his own dream - playing centre-mid for Liverpool in a charity Reds all-stars match against a celebrity all-stars team. He gets to play in a team with Steve MacManaman, Jamie Redknapp and Peter Beardsley, take his dream shot against the goal at the Kop end, come off for Kenny Dalglish, and maybe, just maybe, impress his kids.

Reading the liner notes for From Elvis In Memphis, Elvis' 1969 home-coming come-back album ('Elvis gets soul'), I was amazed to read how the studio owner and house band, on learning that they would be recording with Elvis were underwhelmed to be working with a has-been, after all they'd just recorded Sweet Caroline with Neil Diamond. They proceeded to produce the album that contains Suspicious Minds, Rubberneckin', Long Black Limousine, In The Ghetto (if you like that kind of thing), and my own personal favourite Loved On Look. Elvis, returned to record in Memphis for the first time since the 50s.
Elvis as middle-aged hero - come-back kid - denigrated dad - poor second to Neil Diamond but still able to produce Suspicious Minds - Elvis as Everyman for those still dreaming.


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