Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Elvis Atlas

The Elvis Atlas: A Journey Through Elvis Presley's America (Henry Holt Reference Book) by Michael Gray and Roger Osborne
Michael Gray and Roger Osborne follow the career of Elvis documenting the geography of the world of the king, the geographic basis of the influences on him and his music, and the places where Elvis played and made his career. A detailed history accompanies the maps and charts.
The first chapters begin with the musical roots of his music and family. We get to see mapped and discussed the places he was known to frequent. Elvis is a product of those things that influence d him. His music is not a creation of itself.
The influence of the South is vividly made in the book. Tennessee is the hub for those concerts making Elvis a musician and then a star. Gray and Osborne map out the concerts of Elvis to show the locations and the size of the crowds. The South is also the melting pot for the country, blues, gospel, and African components that combine in early Rock and in the music which begins his career. Elvis sang a combination of Country as it was based in Appalachian music, Blues as sung by African-Americans, Gospel as sung by both Whites and African-Americans, and the rhythms of earlier African-American and African music.
Interesting is that Elvis venturing north was not an automatic success. Early concerts in the North do not have filled auditoriums. One does not expect this. It is possible that anti-Rock and Roll movements or the cost of tickets held these audiences down. The eventual fan base for Elvis is not reflected well in his early concerts outside the South.
The move to Hollywood for movie making takes his music west, but also spreads it around the country. This period would include his time in the Army and Germany. Rather than Elvis in concert, you get Elvis as movie star.
The sorrow of the later post-military movie period is shown as putting weight on Elvis as it was his managers will and not his. The early films and their locations were films Elvis wanted to make, but his later career’s films were formularized to maximize Colonel Parker’s sense of what would market Elvis. There is some expansion of his geographic world to Hawaii, but this is not his favored part of the world.
The fall of Elvis is shown in his being pulled away from the places his early and middle career took him. Graceland becomes an escape His spiritual comfort is in his youthful locations and work. Pulled to Hollywood and places not to his suiting, stages where he is not singing his work, deprive him of reward.
In this wonderful work, one flaw that should be noted, is in the attempt to place the Presley family in its historic perspective. This also extends into the historic development of Country Music itself. If going into this history at all, the specific history of the Scot-Irish people should have correctly noted. Country Music develops from a Scot-Irish musical tradition. The sense of sadness, gloom, hurt, loss, and the tough nature of life in early Country Music—or first called “Hillbilly” music-- reflects the history of the Scot-Irish people.
The Scot-Irish title denotes a group of people who began as Scot crofters or farmers who were expelled from their land in favor of sheep herding by the land owners. These Scots were offered land in Northern Ireland as the British consolidated their control of the Irish in the North just after 1600. Later their Presbyterian faith was not regarded as acceptable and they faced some persecution in Ireland. Those who left for America were called the Scot-Irish after their previous dual locations.
In America they moved to the hills to escape the governmental control they regarded as mean and unsafe. Life in the hills was not pleasant or easy. It was a tough life with many hardships. The sense of death, loss of love, hard conditions of Country Music comes from their songs into the mid-1900s. Rock then takes an African set of rhythms, blues, and instruments and Rock was created. Elvis develops his music out of this heritage.
The Elvis fan can follow the career of the king in this book, noting the geography of his life and music had great impact on him and the music many like.