This will enrage some of you, but I have to say it: to my mind, Elvis was a mediocre talent and a triumph of marketing. (Call 780-812-0429 to cancel your subscription, refunds will not be issued).
I understand the recent Elvis movie addresses that same point, though maybe not the “mediocre talent” bit. I can’t say for sure, I haven’t seen it.
Of course Elvis Presley was such a larger-than-life figure that at the end he had become almost a parody of himself, a parody that was exploited by an entire industry of Elvis imitators. It’s the cheesy, kitschy element of the Elvis industry that endures today, well beyond any legitimate legacy the King may have left.
There are two sides to the art of imitation. On one hand, it can show a lack of originality and reduce an original artist to a caricature of appearance, clothing, and mannerisms. This is the Elvis impersonator phenomenon.
On the other hand, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. To be influenced by someone and to emulate what you admire about them is indeed a high compliment.
We’ve seen a lot of “tribute bands” touring the country over the past 25 years or so: Beatles bands, Neil Diamond tributes, the list goes on. Some are excellent, some are execrable.
But the phenomenon isn’t new. The “original” Glenn Miller Orchestra is still on the road. Not a single member of the band has ever met Miller, who died in a plane crash in 1945, but the famous big-band sound lives on through new musicians playing the original arrangements.
I had the privilege of seeing and hearing the Count Basie band in 1985, a year after Basie’s death. The great Thad Jones was the leader, and the show was a thrill from start to finish.
And what is a symphony orchestra if not a Beethoven tribute band?
Great music stands the test of time. Great music lives not just in classic recordings, but by inspiring new players to take it up, learn from it, and share it with new audiences.
The beauty of the “tribute” phenomenon is that it gives performers and audiences the thrill of a live performance. Music lovers will still cherish their record collections, but you can listen to a CD while you’re doing the dishes. A good concert is a shared experience that gives the music even more meaning.
I enjoyed chatting with Mick Dalla-Vee about his upcoming Simon and Garfunkel concert with Michael Sicoly in Elk Point (see page 13). It’s clear the duo have enormous respect for the music and its historical context, and they know their audiences share that feeling.
The Canadian folksinger Stan Rogers once described the proliferation of recordings as a petrified forest, freezing for all time what a song is meant to sound like. Dalla-Vee and Sicoly will certainly want to capture the Simon and Garfunkel sound as faithfully as they can. But at the same time, they are not Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel—their own personalities are bound to emerge. As Dalla-Vee said, every performance is a little bit different—that’s what live music is all about.
And I don’t know if tickets are still available for the Kinosoo Performing Arts concert featuring Tim Tamashiro this Saturday. Tamashiro and his band will present the great standard songs that made Sinatra and the Rat Pack famous—songs that have been re-interpreted hundreds of times and still sound fresh.
“Live music is best,” the saying goes. And great music lives on forever through generations of new performers.