Start composing your own music—here's how
"This fellow came out with red pants, a green cape, and socks in yellow; and he had this sneer on his face. He must have stood behind the microphone for five minutes before he did anything. Then he struck a chord on his guitar and two strings went right off. I'd been playing for ten years and in all that time I hadn't broken a string. There he was, two strings dangling, and he still hadn't done anything. The high school girls were shrieking, swooning, running to the front of the stage, and then he started moving his hips real slow, like he had a girl there instead of his guitar."
What is reported here is not so much the mythicization of an extremely musical and charismatic personality, but at the time the greatest danger to that stuffy conservative American society of the 1950s to 1960s.
It was the personification of the desire of a breakout, out of the oppressive everyday structures of young people at that time. A completely unknown young man, truck driver of the Crown Electric Company in Memphis Tennessee, in the summer of 1954 became the expression of what is still today an American dream. His name was Elvis Aaron Presley.
But what is actually behind him, what creates the fascination around Elvis, which is reflected in the music-historical event cited here? What is the significance of his social and cultural work to this day?
Admittedly, countless words have already been said about the phenomenon that is Elvis Presley. Recently, cult director Baz Luhrman delivered a long overdue biopic—a film which portrays the life of the world's first true rock star.
Also the motivation of writing this text is preceded by a certain fascination of the author towards Presley.
As often as most have encountered this dazzling personality somewhere in their lives, they actually know little about the social contexts and meanings of the musical reality experiences that encompassed Elvis and ultimately ignited the fire whose essence is fundamentally inherent in every genre of music popular and known today, laying the foundation and giving birth to what is commonly known as rock music.
American society in the 1950s was characterized by stifling conformism. For many parts of the country, the Eisenhower era brought desolation and poverty to the petty-bourgeois everyday realities of the middle class, especially in rural areas, in addition to the large industrially capitalized urban centers.
Musically the country & western, as well as rhythm & blues genres had an impact during this period. Both trace their roots to the folk music tradition, though they were nevertheless strictly distinguished from each other. "White" country was often referred to as "the white man's blues."
The "black" rhythmic blues was considered "indecent" and music of a black minority. A rigid juxtaposition of moral guardians of the time.
The conservatism of country music on the one hand and the rebellious energy of rhythm and blues on the other were then combined into a musical aesthetic that revealed that in the midst of the bourgeois narrowness of American social structures, it was the youth who demanded an expression for their attitude to life; an inner conflict between prosperity, consumption, the meaning of life and sensual life experiences.
It was then rock 'n' roll that was able to musically reflect this inner conflict and was able to capture and pass on the contradictory experiences of the teenagers.
When the Memphis Recording Service produced a commercial record at Sun Studios in the summer of 1954, the result was a contemporary record pressed with five singles that changed the world from then on.
The song "That's All Right (Mama)," and the composition of the songs as a whole, hit the precise nerves of the time. However, it was not this circumstance that revealed something never heard before and changed the course of events.
It was the utterly sensual expressiveness, spontaneity, pure passion and unbridled enthusiasm of a young amateur named Elvis Aaron Presley.
Elvis was a man with deep aversion to the assumption of a responsibility to society—indifferent to all the norms, rules and ideas of a life predetermined for him, which he never wanted for himself.
This was a man who carried the entire burden of his generation on his own shoulders and found a way to express his pain, grief, and angst through his music. There was an inherent aggression in the atmosphere of his music.
In the lyrics, his pronunciation of words, and in his demeanor there was something that unmistakably said "Here is a man who will not be pushed around." He embodied the vague and almost consuming desire of American youth to escape the oppressive mundanity of everyday life. He was proof of finding success outside of conformity—he was rebellion.
And that was exactly what triggered the frenzy of intoxication-like reactions among the predominantly female audience members when Elvis took the stage.
It was the fact that he was one of their own, just as old, outrageous, and provocative as everyone would have liked, it was Elvis in such an oversized aura. He was the new version of the American dream and within a few years became the most famous man on the planet.
Presley's presentation of rock 'n' roll as an alternative to all cultural patterns was a sensational chain-splitter that completely changed cultural dimensions. Dance, eroticism, and the fun of the music itself conveyed values and meaning to the otherwise uninspiring process of life to which one looked as a young American.
Certainly, there are a number of other musicians who were not inferior in their importance and quality in music.
But it was Elvis who, due to the circumstances described here, with the help of all means of commercialization, was turned into something that reactionaries and patriots once described as a rebellious musical cult and a treacherous attempt to undermine American society by means of youth.
Elvis Presley was the first perfect rock star in music history. A nobody who managed to show the "others" with his unprofessional musicality, to lead a self-determining life, even if in Elvis' career certainly not everything was self-determining.
He was a man of such irresistible charisma, good looks, and unmistakable vocal talent, who in the end was nothing but the epitome of unconditional rebellion and thus remains immortal with his music for all eternity.
Have you seen the Elvis Presley movie yet? Our author Hannes has watched it in detail for you. (but be wary of spoilers!). Exchange ideas with other exciting personalities about Elvis and browse the profiles of musicians, bands, producers, concert promoters and many more. Click here to go to the mukken musician search.
For more interesting posts from this section, you can find posts about Sam Fender, Billie Eilish or Royal Blood.
Originally published on March 29, 2023, updated on March 29, 2023