Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel: His Life and Our Times

Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel: His Life and Our Times

Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel: His Life and Our Times

Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel: His Life and Our Times


This fresh interpretation explains how an untutored musician changed music while at the same time playing an inadvertent role in the youth rebellion that has shaped the Baby Boomer generation into the 21st century.

• Photographs

• A bibliography


Elvis came to me directly. I heard him on the radio, watched him on television, and saw him gyrate live. When I drove alone in my dad’s ’57 Chevy I often listened to country music with its sad lyrics and upbeat melody that registered in my mind, “keep humming even when things go badly. If the world ends, don’t let it spoil your day.”

But when I drove around with friends, or went to the ice cream drive-in, we played rock and roll. And most of all, when I danced, I danced to rock and roll. I lived in a small farm town in Louisiana, not far from the roiling Mississippi, and never took dancing lessons. But I had the natural moves of a broken-field runner. What I always liked most about Elvis songs, and what I think he liked best, were the romantic ballads made for slow dancing. They allowed you to hold your partner closer than the waltzes of my mom and dad’s day. I could look into a girl’s eyes—often up—because teenage girls were frequently taller than me.

Yet the fast dances offered the opportunity for something less patterned than most social dances, and it was an opportunity to really let go. If you were agile and athletic, it was, and is, the most enjoyable kind of dance. Instead of moving to patterns, I always preferred simply to move to the music. My partner, in these dances, was less relevant than in the slow dances. It was much the same as what Elvis did when he moved as he sang—he was doing something natural, moving to something inside him.

If you don’t have that kind of internal rhythm, you can’t buy it on Broadway. I did not need alcohol or anything else to achieve intoxication; I got high on the music. Because the music is still with us even though Elvis is not, it still makes me high. With that music, there is never any reason to be lonely. If I had to make a list of 100 things to do to pull out of a slump, I would begin with: Listen to a song you . . .

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