25 March 2004
U2 join Dylan, The Beatles, Elvis and Hendrix on the cover of the new Rolling Stone, which celebrates 'Immortals - the fifty greatest artists of all time'.
And while Chris Martin of Coldplay essays his love of U2 while Edge salutes The Clash, Bono puts pen to paper in praise of Elvis Presley.
Here we carry an extract - click through to Rolling Stone
for the whole read.
'Out of Tupelo, Mississippi, out of Memphis, Tennessee, came this green, sharkskin-suited girl chaser, wearing eye shadow -- a trucker-dandy white boy who must have risked his hide to act so black and dress so gay. This wasn't New York or even New Orleans; this was Memphis in the Fifties. This was punk rock. This was revolt. Elvis changed everything -- musically, sexually, politically. In Elvis, you had the whole lot; it's all there in that elastic voice and body. As he changed shape, so did the world: He was a Fifties-style icon who was what the Sixties were capable of, and then suddenly not. In the Seventies, he turned celebrity into a blood sport, but interestingly, the more he fell to Earth, the more godlike he became to his fans. His last performances showcase a voice even bigger than his gut, where you cry real tears as the music messiah sings his tired heart out, turning casino into temple.
In Elvis, you have the blueprint for rock & roll: The highness -- the gospel highs. The mud -- the Delta mud, the blues. Sexual liberation. Controversy. Changing the way people feel about the world. It's all there with Elvis.
I was barely conscious when I saw the '68 comeback special, at eight years old -- which was probably an advantage. I hadn't the critical faculties to divide the different Elvises into different categories or sort through the contradictions. Pretty much everything I want from guitar, bass and drums was present: a performer annoyed by the distance from his audience; a persona that made a prism of fame's wide-angle lens; a sexuality matched only by a thirst for God's instruction.
But it's that elastic spastic dance that is the most difficult to explain -- hips that swivel from Europe to Africa, which is the whole point of America, I guess. For an Irish boy, the voice might have explained the sexiness of the U.S.A., but the dance explained the energy of this new world about to boil over and scald the rest of us with new ideas on race, religion, fashion, love and peace. These were ideas bigger than the man who would break the ice for them, ideas that would later confound the man who took the Anglo-Saxon stiff upper lip and curled it forever. He was "Elvis the Pelvis," with one hand on the blues terminal and the other on the gospel, which is the essence of rock & roll, a lightning flash running along his spine, electroshock therapy for a generation about to refuse numbness, both male and female, black and white.
I recently met with Coretta Scott King, John Lewis and some of the other leaders of the American civil-rights movement, and they reminded me of the cultural apartheid rock & roll was up against. I think the hill they climbed would have been much steeper were it not for the racial inroads black music was making on white pop culture. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival were all introduced to the blues through Elvis. He was already doing what the civil-rights movement was demanding: breaking down barriers. You don't think of Elvis as political, but that is politics: changing the way people see the world.
In the Eighties, U2 went to Memphis, to Sun Studio -- the scene of rock & roll's big bang. We were working with Elvis' engineer and music diviner, Cowboy Jack Clement. He reopened the studio so we could cut some tracks within the same four walls where Elvis recorded "Mystery Train." He found the old valve microphone the King had howled through; the reverb was the same reverb: "Train I ride, sixteen coaches long." It was a small tunnel of a place, but there was a certain clarity to the sound. You can hear it in those Sun records, and they are the ones for me -- leanness but not meanness. The King didn't know he was the King yet. It's haunted, hunted, spooky music. Elvis doesn't know where the train will take him, and that's why we want to be passengers.
Jerry Schilling, the only one of the Memphis Mafia not to sell him out, told me a story about when he used to live at Graceland, down by the squash courts. He had a little room there, and he said that when Elvis was upset and feeling out of kilter, he would leave the big house and go down to his little gym, where there was a piano. With no one else around, his choice would always be gospel, losing and finding himself in the old spirituals. He was happiest when he was singing his way back to spiritual safety. But he didn't stay long enough. Self-loathing was waiting back up at the house, where Elvis was seen shooting at his TV screens, the Bible open beside him at St. Paul's great ode to love, Corinthians 13. Elvis clearly didn't believe God's grace was amazing enough.....'
Read the rest of Bono on Elvis here
Read what Edge has to say about The Clash here