That's All Right With Elvis

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Half a century after its initial release, Elvis Presley's version of "That's All Right," considered by many as the start of the rock-n-roll era (please spare me dissertations about how it ain't so; note the fudgey, highly qualified language in which the claim is made) is hound-dogging Usher's "Burn" for the top slot on the singles chart. Read the Ananova report here.

(As a simultaneously ironic and unironic fan of the later Elvis, I keep wondering when a DJ and/or rapper will do a mash-up/updated version of "In the Ghetto"–and keep Mac Davis off food stamps until The Sting III starts filming.)

During a weekend viewing of Spider-Man 2, I started thinking about how long-lived much of contemporary pop culture really is. Spider-Man and other popular Marvel-based comic-book characters are 40 years old, most of Elvis older still. And the stuff not only holds up but continues to increase its audience and, in some ways, influence. Which is pretty interesting for artifacts generally conceded to be crap or fluff.

NEXT: Here I Come To Save The Day

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  1. nick-

    Solid point about the longevity of pop culture. I’m gearing up for I love the 90’s. I have some booze ready to wash away my sorrows that I’m now at the age that my highschool/college decade has been taken over by vh1.

    Another one that sticks with me are the terms that have been incorporated into daily conversation that few even realize the original meaning. Not so much “pop” culture, but certainly historical and cultural. I wouldn’t expect an immigrant to use many of the terms correctly.

    A few examples:
    Basket Case – WWI soldier with all four limbs amputated. Now just a crazy person.

    Roll down the window- Who does that anymore?

    I can’t think of anymore “off the top of my head” (like that one, where does that come from?).

  2. Nick, I think “simultaneously ironic and unironic” is just “really ironic.”

  3. Josh,

    I respectfully disagree (really).

    Iconoclast,

    I’ve heard “basket case” used to refer to WW2 vets, especially submariners, who had some sort of battle fatigue/breakdown and who were subsequently taught basket-weaving as a tonic for their shot nerves. I have no idea which, if either, is correct. Or that it matters much.

  4. In the Ghetto –

    hard to surpass Jim Goad’s version from “SWAT: Deep Inside a Cop’s Mind.”

    http://www.jimgoad.com/sound/ghetto.mp3

  5. I think “simultaneously ironic and unironic” means that you really like it but you are afraid someone will make fun of you for it. Just have the nerve to admit you like it.

  6. re: Spidey 2

    For something that had every opportunity to go bad, that movie was pretty damned good. Despite being a sequel to a summer blockbuster and having tons of lead up hype, I can’t help it. It was just cool.

    On a more analytical note, the American public seems to be in a mode of coming out of the closet, as it were, about its affection for pop over high concept. I never thought I’d live through a time when I didn’t have to hide my appreciation for the works of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. With b-movie directors taking over the world with theoretically fluff material, the guardians of culture should probably be adjusting their criteria. Somehow, efforts of the Reason staff notwithstanding, I doubt that is the case.

  7. “Basket Case”, in its most important use, was a friggin hilarious movie about a limbless mutant who lived in a picnic basket. If you haven’t seen it and have an appreciation for comically bad movies, you should give it a try.

  8. Nick — “I respectfully disagree (really).”

    Liking something simultaneously ironically and unironically is just being so dedicated to ironically liking it that you actually start enjoying it.

  9. Well it seems basket case is definitely pop culture, too:

    Greenday – Basket Case Lyrics
    Do you have the time
    to listen to me whine
    About NOTHING and EVERYTHING
    all at once
    I am one of those
    Melodramatic fools
    Neurotic to the bone
    No doubt about it

    Ah, I love the 90’s.

    From American Heritage:
    OUR LIVING LANGUAGE: In popular usage basket case refers to someone in a hopeless mental condition, but in origin it had a physical meaning. In the grim slang of the British army during World War I, it referred to a quadruple amputee. This is one of several expressions that first became popular in World War I, or that entered American army slang from British English at that time. Some of these words reflect technical inventions and innovations of the time, such as parachute, blimp, tank, and bomber, and still have clear military associations. Others have lost most or all of their military connotations, such as ace, chow, slacker, and dud.

  10. “I started thinking about how long-lived much of contemporary pop culture really is.”

    Yeah, how old is Cinderella?

  11. Meh… I don’t think they hold up so much as they are continually recycled. The Spider-Man movies are a good example… here’s a franchise, which has had cartoons, TV-shows… lots of camp surrounding it, and now, is a movie franchise. Yet, I doubt this correlates with a sustained interest in the comic books that started it all. I mean, I don’t exactly see 30 & 40-year-olds rushing back into the shop and buying the latest edition.

    Same thing with Elvis… movies, remixes or whatever might have temporary success for a few days or weeks… but who really is rushing out to buy his music in original form? Indeed, if you went over a friend’s house and he or she was playing an Elvis album for anything other than camp value wouldn’t that be a little weird?

    But where does it go? After the summer blockbuster movies are made, what next? Short-lived TV series? Interactive computer game? There’s only so much saturation these characters and old-time media can achieve before it?s passed over… for the next new thing. Staying power? More like ease of marketability and sustainable shelf life.

  12. My grandfather was stitched across his middle with machine gun fire in WW1 and spent years in various Canadian Veterans hospitals. My Mother remembers several “basket cases.”
    They were strapped into baskets and hung on the wall. Mom would light their cigerettes and chat with them.
    Apropos of nothing, she got to talk with Robert Service on some of the visits. One of her many brushes with fame.

  13. Jason,

    Pop IS high concept. “High concept” has never meant “lofty artistic goal”.

  14. I don’t buy Spidey comics myself (I thought the new movie was great, purely character driven entertainment), but I do go into the local comics shop once a week. There are plenty of 30-40-year-olds who (after growing up with them) are (still) buying the latest comic adventures of ole webhead (in any of his five or six titles, one or two of which are actually well written).

  15. Russ D.:

    Oops. It is always nice to find out I’ve been using a phrase incorrectly for some number of years. Thanks for the edit.

  16. “Which is pretty interesting for artifacts generally conceded to be crap or fluff.”

    Well … Is anyone influential, other than persons with the “Bloom” or Cheney surname, still saying that ? Seems to me that “Watchmen” can easily go up against “The Corrections” just as early Stan Lee spidey can be favourably compared to anything by Richardson.

  17. Icono, ditto the terms that end up incorporated, like how it’s now cool to say cool again.

    And you are right, those terms can confuse any immigrant. At the height of the immigration from SE Asia my then girlfriend’s kid starts to run across a busy street without looking. The Cambodian woman living next door hollers at him something like “you no cross street. busy”. The boy looks at her and says “How Come?”, which had her walking in circles muttering to herself for days.

  18. Speaking of Elvis…anyone here see “Bubba Ho-tep” with Bruce Campbell playing ‘The King’?

    Good stuff.

  19. For more on basket cases, see or (preferably) read Johnny Got His Gun.

  20. Generally conceded to be crap or fluff.

    Well you just described every significant discovery or idea concieved by man. Guess that places them up there with Socrates and Gailileo.

  21. … and Ossie Davis as JFK was priceless.

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