The Third Man
No doubt the biggest challenge of Elvis Presley's remarkable career has been his recent effort to help Bill Clinton get elected president. Whose idea did you think it was to don the shades and jam with the band on Arsenio? Did you think the selection of "Heartbreak Hotel" was a random choice? Did you know that Clinton's third cousin's godfather's sister-in-law's uncle's name was Aron, with one A?
It was Elvis who finally persuaded the guvnuh to partake of the "Choose or Lose" deal on MTV, which dozens, possibly even baker's dozens, of impressionable young potential voters read about later in Rolling Stone. No one actually watched the darn thing, of course. Nonetheless it was one of Clinton's shining moments. The candidate came across as open-minded yet willing to take a stand on the really tough issues of concern to eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds across the nation, scoring big with his frank endorsement of Maximum Strength Clearasil over Oxy-10. Bolder still was his call to legalize Nexxus Therappe luxury shampoo, thereby eliminating the illicit traffic of the substance, which is currently more expensive than heroin and twice as addictive. Clinton also came down strongly against non-alcoholic beer, flatly stating that "...anybody brave enough to swallow a beverage so foul deserves to get a buzz on."
Elvis was there through it all, providing moral support and that crucial intangible ingredient, attitude. Let's face it, the big problem the Democratic presidential candidates have had, going all the way back to Jimmy Carter's bid for a second term in 1980, is a lack of attitude (with the exception of Jesse Jackson, natch, who has such an abundance of it that he frightens the few Democrats who can get past his skin color). Who better to put a little swagger into the Democrats' walk than the King? How better to offset the Tipper factor than to invoke a guy whose every stage move would have garnered a warning sticker?
Bill Clinton won the nomination, but it's George Clinton of Parliament/ Funkadelic fame who could have really brought some life to the party. Nobody understands this better than Elvis. This year's official guide to the Democratic convention lists the King as "Entertainment Coordinator," even though you can bet your last pair of blue suede shoes that it wasn't the big E who picked a lame Fleetwood Mac tune to close the show. In fact, Elvis has really got his work cut out for him when it comes to recasting Clinton's musical tastes. Granted, Clinton includes dead artists such as Otis Redding, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Bruce Springsteen on his short list of musical influences. All were, during their heydays, accomplished performers worthy of admiration. His taste in living musicians, however, is a mess. Michael Bolton, Kenny G, Fleetwood Mac, Dolly Parton, the Doobie Brothers -- if Presley weren't already dead, this list would finish him off. Especially Michael Bolton. How can anyone who ever heard Otis Redding sing, even for a split second, accept the pale (in every sense of the word) imitator whose "breakthrough single" was an insipid, uninspired bastardization of Redding's biggest hit? Bolton flat out desecrated the dock of the bay. Made you want to sneak up behind him and give him a little push.
Over Presley's strenuous objections, Clinton chose Al Gore to be his second, and the two of them went jogging together, with a CNN camera crew in hot pursuit. It was Elvis who had to explain to the candidate that the term "running mate" was just a figure of speech. Elvis gets all shook up just thinking about the Tipper. It was the King's idea for Clinton to make peace with artists and musicians across the country by requiring the Gores to join the Lollapalooza Tour, and party naked with the Chili Peppers on-stage. It would have iced the MTV vote.
And then, of course, there was the Sister Souljah flap, which Clinton waded into with all the finesse of Chuck Wepner at a time when Elvis was busy monitoring the final mixdown of the long overdue five-CD boxed set retrospective from RCA, The King of Rock 'n' Roll: The Complete '50s Masters, the release of which was strategically timed to divert as much attention away from the Republican convention as possible. Unfortunately, the RCA project kept Elvis away from the campaign just when blow-dried Bill needed him most. Presley would have never condoned such a cheap shot with a racist subtext. Everyone knows that's the Republicans' forte. Luckily for Clinton the King was able to smooth things over with Jesse Jackson prior to the lovefest in New York. Reverend J delivered one of his fieriest, most inspirational oratories to date on Clinton's and the Democrats' behalf, and the hallucinatory delusion of party unity was preserved.
Elvis couldn't have saved the Democrats at a better time, because the Kennebunkport Killer is rattling sabers again. Clinton may have Elvis, but Bush has Saddam, and we all know that the only thing America loves more than a dead rock star is a war hero, even one who defeats a cardboard villain whose very existence is testimony to our commander-in-chief's long-standing ineptitude.
The Republicans know there's nothing like a war to take voters' minds off pesky domestic problems. Once the bombs began exploding so spectacularly over Baghdad, who really cared how much the fireworks cost? Butt was being kicked, and we were not on the receiving end. This was not Vietnam. This time we would win, even if we had to jazz up the box score after the game to convince ourselves. War is the one thing Republicans are supposed to be good at, but no one's quite sure how they acquired that rep. Grenada? Panama? Desert Storm? It's hard to envision Patton rolling in his grave over having missed such glorious military campaigns.
Bush is banking on voters overlooking the nasty little fact that it was his administration and that of his Grecian-formula-addicted predecessor that provided Hussein with much of the dough, expertise, and equipment he needed to build his military machine in the first place. Did you think it was just coincidence that Iraq's military elite were named the "Republican Guard"? Did you really think Bush wanted to take Saddam out when he had the chance? Desert Storm was a raging success not just because we made Kuwait safe for the ruling family to go about the arduous tasks of rebuilding their palaces and shopping for new Mercedes. It was a success because the villain was weakened, yet still menacing, going into the third act.
Elvis made 33 movies (not counting the little 8mm jobs he did in the back rooms at Graceland) and he knows a Hollywood scenario when he sees one. Willie Horton starred in George Bush's 1988 extravaganza; Saddam Hussein got the part in '92. It remains to be seen whether the King will be able to unseat him as box-office champ come November.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.