Tag Archives: Elvis Presley

heritage, and intimacy

 

 

“A lot of people seem to think I started this business,” [Elvis] Presley told Jet magazine in 1957. “But rock ’n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that music like colored people. Let’s face it: I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that.”

— “Fats Domino, Early Rock ’n’ Roller With a Boogie-Woogie Piano, Is Dead at 89,” by Jon Pareles and William Grimes, The New York Times, October 25, 2017

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

This quote got me thinking about a couple of things. (I grew up liking Fats Domino’s songs in the 1950’s. Everyone knew them.)

I always admired Elvis Presley’s basic decency and humility (as it appeared to me), after he became a success, in crediting others and seemingly remaining a polite Southern boy who never disrespected his parents or his roots. It is a fact that almost none of Presley’s music was original.

But, more to the point, I was thinking about Presley’s remark about “colored people.” Undoubtedly, he ripped off their music. But, it seems to me that, while I don’t know that much about his personal life, that he was always comfortable with blacks and respected them.

I got to thinking about the South and how the Jim Crow South is looked upon historically, in hindsight. One thing is evident: whites and blacks lived in close proximity — one might say, cheek by jowl — in a degree of intimacy, whether one would call it “positive intimacy” or “negative intimacy.”

I am not really qualified to comment. I didn’t grow up in the South, and I am not a historian. I did grow up during the Civil Rights era which I viewed from a Northern perspective. What do I know beyond that? Very little.

But, I couldn’t help thinking about an analogy.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

 

I grew up in Greater Boston. For a long time, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) culture predominated. My mother told me about it. Prejudice towards immigrant Catholics (e.g., Irish) was a fact of everyday life.

Slowly, over time, the Catholic immigrant groups — notably Irish and Italians — began, somewhat like what is the case with African Americans today, to make headway, gain acceptance, and procure political power. In my boyhood, many of the leading local politicians were Irish. The subways and other municipal agencies seemed to be predominantly staffed by Irish men.

Practically all the kids in my neighborhood — almost all of them Irish or Italian — were Roman Catholic. Being a WASP, I was in a minority, percentage wise. But, I was part of a privileged group.

My friends and I argued about religion all the time. I thought they were bigoted and narrow minded. They were more of less convinced that my liberal Protestant views (modeled almost completely on those of my parents) would lead me to Hell.

My intimate acquaintance with Catholics did me a lot of good.

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (Vatican II) in the early 1960’s under the pontificate of the beloved Pope John XXIII changed things fundamentally. The ecumenical movement removed official discord between us Protestants and our Catholic “adversaries.” We no longer looked down upon or distrusted them, nor they us.

 

 

*****************************************************

 

I married a Catholic woman from a devout, observant family who took religion seriously, although they were not fanatical about it. I always felt I completely understood her and her family when it came to the religious aspect of their characters. Catholicism had been imbued in me since boyhood, as noted above. We were married in her church. Our two sons were raised as Catholics.

I wrote a couple of newspaper stories as a journalism school intern about a beautiful Catholic church in Brooklyn that was being renovated and one about a Catholic school educator who was a member of a religious order. (See PDF file below.) The priest and I had immediate rapport. I told him that I was not formally religious, but that when my wife said she would pray for me at times of duress (for me), it almost always seemed to be a good thing. He got the point of my remark and liked it. (I also wrote a news story about a Lutheran minister and his church which the minister praised highly.)

 

 

*****************************************************

 

It seems to me to be a truism that intimate acquaintance with people who seem to be the opposite from oneself — Southern whites and blacks, a New England WASP and devout Roman Catholics — is always beneficial. There is a kind of understanding that goes deeper than ethnicity, heritage, or ideology.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 2017

 

 

Roger’s Newsday articles (religion)

thoughts about Elvis (with a nod to Monsieur Proust)

 

 

Détestez la mauvaise musique, ne la méprisez pas. Comme on la joue, la chante bien plus, bien plus passionnément que la bonne, bien plus qu’elle s’est peu à peu remplie du rêve et des larmes des hommes. Qu’elle vous soit par là vénérable. Sa place, nulle dans l’histoire de l’Art, est immense dans l’histoire sentimentale des sociétés. Le respect, je ne dis pas l’amour, de la mauvaise musique, n’est pas seulement une forme de ce qu’on pourrait appeler la charité du bon goût ou son scepticisme, c’est encore la conscience de l’importance du rôle social de la musique. Combien de mélodies, du nul prix aux yeux d’un artiste, sont au nombre des confidents élus par la foule des jeunes gens romanesques et des amoureuses. Que de “bagues d’or”, de “Ah! Reste longtemps endormie”, dont les feuillets sont tournés chaque soir en tremblant par des mains justement célèbres, trempés par les plus beaux yeux du monde de larmes dont le maître le plus pur envierait le mélancolique et voluptueux tribut – confidentes ingénieuses et inspirées qui ennoblissent le chagrin et exaltent le rêve, et en échange du secret ardent qu’on leur confie donnent l’enivrante illusion de la beauté. Le peuple, la bourgeoisie, l’armée, la noblesse, comme ils ont les mêmes facteurs porteurs du deuil qui les frappe ou du bonheur qui les comble, ont les mêmes invisibles messagers d’amour, les mêmes confesseurs bien-aimés. Ce sont les mauvais musiciens. Telle fâcheuse ritournelle que toute oreille bien née et bien élevée refuse à l’instant d’écouter, a reçu le trésor de milliers d’âmes, garde le secret de milliers de vies, dont elle fut l’inspiration vivante, la consolation toujours prête, toujours entrouverte sur le pupitre du piano, la grâce rêveuse et l’idéal. tels arpèges, telle “rentrée” ont fait résonner dans l’âme de plus d’un amoureux ou d’un rêveur les harmonies du paradis ou la voix même de la bien-aimée. Un cahier de mauvaises romances, usé pour avoir trop servi, doit nous toucher, comme un cimetière ou comme un village. Qu’importe que les maisons n’aient pas de style, que les tombes disparaissent sous les inscriptions et les ornements de mauvais goût. De cette poussière peut s’envoler, devant une imagination assez sympathique et respectueuse pour taire un moment ses dédains esthétiques, la nuée des âmes tenant au bec le rêve encore vert qui leur faisait pressentir l’autre monde, et jouir ou pleurer dans celui-ci.

 

— Marcel Proust. “Eloge de la mauvaise musique,” Les plaisirs et les jours, Chapitre XIII

 

 

Detest bad music, but do not despite it. As it is played, and especially sung, much more passionately than good music, it has much more than the latter been impregnated, little by little, with man’s tears. Hold it therefore in veneration. Its place, nonexistent in the history of art, is immense in the sentimental history of nations. The respect — I do not say love — for bad music is not only a form of what might be called the charity of good taste, or its skepticism; it is also the consciousness of the importance of music’s social role. How many tunes, worthless in the eyes of an artist, are numbered among the chosen confidants of a multitude of romantic young men and girls in love. How many “bague d’or,” how many “Ah! reste longtemps endormi,” whose pages are turned tremblingly every evening by hands justly famous, drenched with the tears of the moist beautiful eyes of the world, whose melancholy and voluptuous tribute would be the envy of the purest musicians — ingenious and inspired confidants that enable sorrow and exalt dreams and, in exchange for the ardent secret confided to them, give the intoxicating illusion of beauty. The people, the bourgeoisie, the army, the nobility, all of them, just as they have the same mail carriers, purveyors of afflicting sorrow or of crowning joy, have the same invisible messengers of love, the same cherished confessors. Bad musicians, certainly. Some miserable ritournelle that every well-born and well-trained ear instantly refuses to listen to receives the tribute of millions of souls, guards the secret of millions of lives for whom it has been the living inspiration, the ever ready consolation always open on the piano-rack, the dreamy charm and the ideal. Certain arpeggios, a certain “rentrée,” have made the soul of many a lover vibrate with the harmonies of Paradise or the voice of the beloved himself. A collection of bad Romances worn with constant use should touch us as a cemetery touches us, or a village. What does it matter if the houses have no style, if the tombstones are hidden by inscriptions and ornaments in execrable taste? Before an imagination sympathetic and respectful enough to silence for a moment its aesthetic scorn, from this dust that flock of souls may rise holding in their beaks the still verdant dream which has given them a foretaste of the other world, and made them rejoice or weep in this one.

 

 

— Marcel Proust, “In Praise of Bad Music,” Pleasures and Regrets, Chapter XIII

 
************************************************

 

The following is the text of an exchange of emails I had today with a woman I became acquainted with on Facebook. The reason for us becoming Facebook friends is an ancestral connection, going way back. I noticed the similarity of her last name to my middle name, which is not a common one and which was a family name.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 19, 2017

 

 

 

************************************************

 

 

Natalie

I am Southern to the core, I was born in Mississippi. My father’s job moved us to Texas when I was nine and I’ve been here ever since.

 

Roger Smith

I grew up in New England. Loved it. Strong regional identity and much history and beauty. Great towns, each unique. I have always thought I would love the Deep South. Mississippi. Where Elvis came from!

 

Natalie

Elvis is my very favorite!

I was in high school when he died and took it very hard. I took my daughter on a “girls’ road trip” and drove to Memphis and toured Graceland on my 50th birthday. It was on the VERY top of my bucket list.

I have always wanted to see New England in the fall. I’ve heard there is nothing quite like it.

As for the deep South, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We have a “sort of” fall here, but no winter at all.

The heat and humidity in the summers here are brutal.

 

Roger Smith

Yes, I have heard the Southern summers are brutal. I love being able to experience the four seasons. Yes, the New England falls were gorgeous. I miss them. Nothing can equal them.

I became a rabid fan of Elvis in elementary school. That dates me. He hardly ever sang or wrote an original song, but he had an unmatched voice. I still love to hear him.

 

Natalie

I grew up with him. LOVE everything he did. I guess if anyone could say I have an obsession, it is with Elvis.

He had his problems, but his talent was genuine and pure and his kindness and generosity were both legendary. Such a shame that his life ended so tragically. There are hardly any entertainers today that can pull off that kind of voice without the aid of synthesizers, etc.

 

Roger Smith

Agree. I read a story a long time ago in some magazine. Elvis was staying somewhere — I think he was at poolside — when a young girl somehow gained entrance and started to approach him. His handlers tried to whisk her away. No, he said, let her stay, and he was kind to her.

He didn’t try to duck military service. He was well liked and didn’t expect special treatment.

I think some of the early songs were among his best, although there were some very good later ones as well. I love “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

It seems that “King Creole” may have been his best film.

 

Natalie

I do love “King Creole,” especially since New Orleans is familiar to me.

And, yes, that song is GREAT.

 

Roger Smith

I bet he caught the flavor of the city. I have never been there.

Yes, I love “Wise men say …” I think it was from the soundtrack of “Blue Hawaii.”

 

Natalie

It was from “Blue Hawaii” — another of his movies that I liked. And, New Orleans is a world of its own. It’s not for everyone, but it’s amazing. Basically, Louisiana is unlike all the other states.

 

Roger Smith

Elvis’s voice was very deep and masculine, but at the same time mellifluous.

 

Natalie

Exactly!