Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Unbearable Likeness of Elvis

Picture the following scene:

Elvis, onstage. Singing. Smiling. Shaking his hips.

Only, instead of it being 1968, imagine the year is 2014.

Now picture me, quietly mortified by such a possibility. Not the prospect of this year’s much-anticipated apocalypse being a warm-up act for the King’s Second Comeback – musty black leather and diamonds bedraggling his horny zombie bones – but to that of a performing hologram being loosed on the world, courtesy of the same people who returned Tupac to the stage.

Picture me turning frantically to my copy of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being for guidance in this, my hour of need.

The ‘lightness’ Kundera refers to is something I often attempt to counteract by seeking out ‘heaviness’/substance within art. I can be a bit of a picky bugger in this regard, often shying away from new trends, particularly in music, because they seem, at first, too frivolous, inconsequential.

Which is not, however, to suggest that I’m perpetually aching for Nick Cave-levels of grim poeticism. Contrarily, I sometimes feel that ‘lightness’ should be embraced, rather than wrestled with, through what might be termed ‘high cheese’ – hair metal-era Bon Jovi, disco-era Queen, and, of course, Las Vegas-era Elvis.

Songs from simpler, dafter, better times.

Yet songs stuck in those times, nonetheless. Sure, there is the sweetly bogus authenticity of cover bands, if a fan really wants to feel closer to a moment they miss(ed). But there’s little chance of the Jon Bon Jovi re-growing that glorious mullet (poor lad’s started thinning on top…).

This is how it should be. Fans age, why not performers? Indeed, the more successful of the older ranks of artists tend to be those who directly confront the realities of their ageing, the prospect of their mortality. Not an issue that bands launching their first album should worry about, but something they will have to face up to, should they wish to end up like Springsteen, still performing into their sixties. 

Which is why the possibility I refer to re: Elvis perturbs me so.

In addition to upsetting the natural order, this doesn’t augur well for live music in the (perhaps not-too-distant) future; it serves to enhance the negative aspects of the presumed divide between ‘superstar’ and ‘ordinary person’. This technology promises further ‘immortality’ to the already-famous, and, in doing so, belittles the efforts of the young bands that actually are playing live. Suddenly, their music doesn’t seem quite so frivolous, and begins to possess a depth that the holograms will miss, no matter how detailed the programmers can make them.

This provides a perfect demonstration of Kundera’s definition of kitsch. The hologram will stand ignorant of the fact, and the circumstances, of Elvis’ death. It will be Elvis without both the crap and the crapper. Will be Elvis without the fallible, tragic, self-destructive aspect. That is, it won’t be Elvis at all.

But I fear that a great many people will still pay good money: 1) for the ‘lightness’, and 2) for the show.

No comments:

Post a Comment