The keepers of the Elvis flame have rolled out television ads, a new website, and print ads to revive the lure of the King and to get people to visit Graceland. Here’s a New York Times article on the effort, which notes that “Cirque du Soleil is developing an Elvis-themed tour and has signed a deal for a permanent Elvis show based in Las Vegas from 2009 while American Greetings is planning to expand its line of Elvis Christmas tree decorations and greetings cards.”
The Elvis folks need to do something, for the King has begun to slip. Last year he dropped to second place in the roster of top-earning dead celebrities. This year marks the 30th anniversary of his death.
I downloaded the latest brochure for Graceland, which you can do here, and looked to see how Elvis is being pitched. To say that the brochure disappoints is an understatement. An older couple on the cover looks as if they are killing time while waiting for the four-hour effects of Cialis to wear off. A white-bread family of four is seen oohing and ahhing over the Elvis artifacts. There is not one black face in the entire piece.
Elvis became The King because he was a white trash rebel with nothing to lose who had the audacity to take black music and blast it into the consciousness of white America. That Changed Everything. He became who he was because he came of age in a city where the musical planets had lined up for a Mississippi-born boy who would listen to the Statesmen one night and buy clothes on Beale Street the next day.
The way to keep Elvis alive is to keep the focus on the music. Encourage people to remix his songs. Remember what Junkie XL did with “A Little Less Conversation” in 2002? That song, one of the minor pieces in the canon, became a number one hit in over 20 countries.
Just a few miles from Graceland is Soulsville, the celebration of Stax Records. The Elvis people should enter into a partnership with Soulsville and encourage some of the 600,000 people who come to Graceland to visit this studio where black music, loved and championed by Elvis, came into its own.