Professional cynic Dennis Leary once remarked that he wished that someone had stepped up behind Elvis sometime late in 1957 and put a bullet behind his ear, saving the rest of us from what came later. While in large part he may be right—it would have saved us from those 20 or 30 awful movies, endless crap songs, and the final, hideous image of a bloated King dying on a bathroom floor—but we would have missed this glorious last hurrah in 1968.
Only a little over a decade after he rebuilt the world, Elvis in the late sixties was a man out of step with pop culture. This was a time that revolved around the Beatles, the Stones and dropping acid. No one wore Blue Suede Shoes or Good Luck Charms, and Elvis, trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of Hollywood hell-fests, knew this. But when you’re the highest paid actor in the world, as he was during much of the ‘60s, you don’t have a lot of reason to rebel. But something got under his skin, and in 1968 he decided to see if he could reclaim the crown he had tossed aside years before. Living on mineral water and speed for six months beforehand, Elvis poured himself into black leather, and looking dangerously alive, performed like he did back on the Louisiana Hayride. He would never look so vital again. Once he realized that he still commanded a market, he took his show to Vegas, and the years of indolence and scarf throwing began, ending, as we all remember, in 1977.
But the man frozen on these two DVD releases is far from dead. Seeming both at ease with his persona while at the same time laughing at his early gestures of public sexuality, Elvis cuts loose on what was billed as the ‘68 Comeback Special, shown on NBC TV. Opening with a combo of “Trouble” and “Guitar Man”, he overcomes the smallness of TV and the insipid stage sets and just rocks. He runs through a collection of his great songs, and includes a heartfelt gospel medley—his true musical love.
But it’s the performances collected on One Night With You that show those of us who have forgotten why he was the King. Joined by Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana from his original band, as well as some other members of the “Memphis Mafia” that are never named, Elvis sits in a chair and lets loose with a selection of material that drips passion, lust and fear. From his first hit “That’s All Right” to “Heartbreak Hotel” and a storming, rowdy version of “Baby, What You Want Me To Do”, this is the man who damn near single-handedly created rock and roll. Only portions of this session were shown in the original broadcast, but this DVD shows the entire show, and throughout, Elvis looks like a man who could eat Mick Jagger (or Trent Reznor—insert your “evil rock god of choice” here) for breakfast. He shrugs and twitches in the straight-backed chair, leaping up at times, out of mike range, possessed by the music. It’s a riveting experience.
Over 20 years have passed since a scared boy from Mississippi died, and over 20 years of having ELVIS—THE TRADEMARK rammed down our throats may have caused most of us to forget why he was so incredibly important to the world. These performances are a good place to start to remember.