Acrylic on wood panel.
There was only one Elvis. Stojko and Costello may share his name but Presley was in a stratosphere all his own. He’s the the undisputed King. Cool just oozed out of him, as well as copious amounts of sweat in the twilight of his career. Later on he became a caricature of his former self; the end result of being the most famous of the famous- that and a diet that included a sandwich entitled The Fool’s Gold: which consisted of a jar of peanut butter, a jar of grape jelly and a pound of bacon all wrapped up in a loaf of Italian bread. As I said before, he was the King. Ultimate fame must ultimately undo a person. Elvis lived in a world of his own creation appropriately called Graceland. He didn’t have to adhere to the same rules everyone else does (except perhaps when it came to cholesterol). He was almost above it all.
I joined the cult of Elvis as a teenager. It happened like a bolt of lightening. A friend of mine and I were watching TV, flipping through the channels when we came across a broadcast of Elvis live in Hawaii. He looked absolutely ridiculous and the music seemed extremely dated. We watched in curious fascination. My friend said: “What’s the big deal with this guy? Why is he the King?” As if on cue; Elvis broke into one of those over the top grand gestures that Elvis impersonators love to do so much. It started out as a little dance and ended in a move where he reached out to clutch the sky. The entire auditorium hit the roof and went insane. The world was in the palm of his hand. It was probably the cheesiest/most awesome gesture I had ever witnessed. My friend and I looked at each other realizing that we had just seen something extraordinary. This ridiculous looking man was a force outside the boundaries of normal human beings. Elvis Presley had special powers.
There was nothing he couldn’t do. His movies provide hints to the extent of his powers. Elvis played a tank commander named Tulsa Maclean in G.I. Blues. He’s a rough and tumble carny in Roustabout. In Clambake he plays a scientist who builds and races speed boats. In every movie Elvis sings, entertains and eventually gets to punch somebody. He always saves the day and gets the girl. Elvis never stops being Elvis. He knows the power he wields and the effect he has on other people. Some people out there on the interwebs have surmised that a modern day equivalent of that knowing smile belongs to Justin Bieber.
My knowledge of the teen heart throb is spotty at best. I’m not too familiar with his music (I don’t really fall into his marketing demographic), so I can’t comment on its worth. I’m still waiting for his equivalent to a Billie Jean or Jailhouse Rock. Being a student of pop culture I am however aware of the phenomena of his celebrity. People really seem to like him. The last time I paid any attention to him was when he appeared on Letterman and proceeded to call one of the greatest pieces of art in the history of mankind the “sixteenth chapel.” The cringe worthy mistake of a kid, that was quickly forgiven with a shrug and a flash of those self aware eyes. It seems Justin has drank his own Kool-Aid. He and Elvis do share this in common; they are both extremely self-important, but is Justin the new Elvis?
In a word: no. But what I would like to see is this: A shot for shot remake of Fun in Acapulco starring Justin Bieber. Don’t change any of the dialogue or songs. Film the whole thing on a sound stage like the original. (Elvis never stepped foot in Mexico). Could Justin Bieber become Mike Windgren: the traumatized trapeze artist who blossoms into a Mexican cliff diver all the while juggling two beautiful women? This could be the vehicle that kick starts the second phase of his career. Will he become Justin Timberlake or Kevin Jonas? Justin your jumpsuit awaits.
Love can change your perspective. This is probably why vegetarians have the numbers they do. If you doubt this, date a vegetarian. When we fall in love, we hope it will be transformative. We hope our partner will not only open our eyes to new experiences but tear off the doors of perception. Only love can break your heart, and lift you up where you belong. Throughout history, a few love stories have made people want to leave red meat behind and embrace the new. Romeo and Juliet get all the attention but they were just shortsighted teenagers with poor decision making skills. If you are looking for a true love story; look no further than Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude.
Harold ( Bud Cort) is a young man obsessed with death. Maude (Ruth Gordon) is an old woman full of life. Together they are a force to be reckoned with. Harold is living under the thumb of his very controlling mother. To entertain himself he likes to go to funerals. It’s at a funeral where he meets Maude. She catches his eye when she steals the priest’s car. They soon become inseparable and Maude turns Harold’s world upside down.
I’m not going to give too much away about Harold and Maude. It is a movie that many people hold dear to their hearts – myself included. If you’ve seen it, then you may know what I’m talking about. It is the kind of movie that will make you drop everything and watch. If you are flipping through the channels and you hear Cat Steven’s fantastic soundtrack, you look no further. You may be a little tired the next day because you stayed up way too late watching it, but you’ll be reminded that love and art can be transformative.
A few years back I participated in a 2 day outdoor art-fair in downtown Toronto. (One of the great things about Toronto is that it has a number of wonderful opportunities for artists to get their work out there.) The fair comprised of a few hundred tents set up in a west end park with every manner of art available. The park itself was riddled with hipsters drinking organic coffee, admiring each others skinny jeans and mustaches; occasionally taking the time to check out some art. To be fair, the fair attracts all sorts of people from all over the city; families taking a stroll, serious art lovers, local celebrities and the odd politician (my wife had the late Jack Layton come to her tent – as I said, it was a few years ago). The weather was perfect all weekend long and the mood was sunny.
Near the end of the first day, I decided to take a break from the tent itself and positioned myself across the aisle on a park bench. I was close enough to make myself helpful if needed but out of sight for people walking by. Sometimes an empty tent is more inviting than an occupied one at these type of things. The multiple art-fair strategies that people employ, can totally make your head spin. You get the Walmart greeter, the aloof artist, artist in action, the art-fair pro and the newbie amongst others. I myself fall into the smile and nod category. As I was enjoying the sun on my face, I noticed two men checking out my paintings; engaged in what seemed like a lively conversation. It slowly dawned on me that these men looked very familiar. To my utter surprise, I was looking at both of my former high school art teachers that I hadn’t laid eyes on in nearly two decades!
You never forget your high school art teacher(s). Every school seems to have an eccentric individual or individuals that are passionately conveying the virtues of creativity and expression. These guys were no exception. For most artists, high school is the place where you begin to develop your early attitudes towards art, later on in university they may try to indoctrinate you into their way of thinking and then after that you have to unlearn everything you’ve been told. In high school most Art development usually starts in the realm of photo realism. The teenage mind is obsessed with making something look exactly like what they think it’s supposed to look like. This is what constitutes what can be considered ‘good art’. A lot of adults still carry that preconception of art; which can eventually lead to “my kid could do that” comments when presented with anything that doesn’t fit this particular paradigm. An early love for Art is usually accompanied with an early appreciation for the great masters. There is no denying the genius of Leonardo or Michelangelo and as a kid these are the first few household artists’ names you become familiar with.
As a kid learning to draw, I was influenced by comics and the art books found around my parents’ house. I spent hours pouring over the the paintings of the Sistine Chapel or the portraits of John Singer Sargent. I was enraptured by their technique but the content and expression were lost on me. Up until high school, the only art history we were taught was the Group of Seven. At the start of high school Picasso and Van Gogh interested me but I still wanted to draw like Robert Bateman. Throughout high school, the two men who took turns teaching our art class showed us countless examples of what art could be and then in grade 11 it happened.
Mr. B. was teaching us mold-making and he brought in a piece that he had made; a giant roll of Lifesavers. I had never experienced anything like it. We were all blown away. He had made a clay version, then made a mold and then made various coloured versions using dyed resin. These were little familiar candies blown up to the size of dinner plates. This was Alice in Wonderland, this was Pop. In that moment, my paradigm shifted – Art could be pop culture, Dadist, expressionistic and most importantly fun. It was like entering a whole new world and the depth of my appreciation was multiplied incalculably.
Once I recognized who was in my tent I made a B-line to greet them. We had a warm reunion sharing our lives over the past years since we had last seen each other. They were on their way to dinner and had planned to check out the fair before hand. The fact they had happened upon my booth was a complete fluke. Mr. B. had retired from teaching years ago and Mr. W. was getting close. I told Mr. B. what an impression the Lifesavers had made on me and inquired if he still had them. He figured they were in a box somewhere in his apartment and said he was willing to part with them. We made arrangements for me to pick them up and true to his word they were tucked away in a box in the corner of his studio. I’ve seen them both since and am looking forward to Mr. W.’s retirement party.
The Lifesavers currently sit atop my bookshelf, reminding me of the day my whole world shifted.