rome, open city (roberto rossellini, 1945)
silent light (carlos reygadas, 2007)


When Elvis sings “American Trilogy” (a combination of “Dixie,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “All My Trials,” a slave song), he signifies that his persona, and the culture he has made out of blues, Las Vegas, gospel music, Hollywood, schmaltz, Mississippi, and rock ’n’ roll, can contain any America you might want to conjure up. It is rather Lincolnesque; Elvis recognizes that the Civil War has never ended, and so he will perform the Union. Well, for a moment, staring at that man on the stage, you can almost believe it. For if Elvis were to bring it off—and it is easy to think that only he could—one would leave the hall with a new feeling for the country; whatever that feeling might be, one’s sense of place would be broadened, and enriched. But it is an illusion.

-- Greil Marcus, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music



I wish we had a podcast where we could talk about this one song. I love Marcus on the King but I always felt E was more committal than he does. Between "If I Can Dream" and this we see an E that is more aware of the larger battles around race than we'd been led to believe from his lack of saying anything of substance.

Steven Rubio

The problem is, "If I Can Dream" was 1968, when Elvis was in the middle of showing us all that he cared. He performed "American Trilogy" starting in 1972, with the above Aloha from Hawaii version being the one we see the most. And by then he was mostly showing that he didn't need to care. When they released the big video box set of '68 Special and Aloha, we went to a theater to watch a full showing of one of the sit-down concerts from '68. My older brother, who wasn't a believer, understood after that. But then they showed excerpts from Aloha, and Elvis was in good voice, but the difference in those five years was clear, if somewhat hard to pin down.

Peter Guralnick wrote, about the Aloha run-through the night before the telecast, "There is none of the manic energy of the ’68 special nor even of the early Vegas shows, just a moment at the conclusion of “An American Trilogy,” as the chorus swells, the percussion rolls, we are about to go into the “Glory, glory, hallelujah,” peroration, and Elvis stands there meditatively, eyebrow cocked, his mind for a moment seemingly on destiny, as the music once again takes him far, far away. Then it is gone; he is off into “A Big Hunk O’ Love,” his 1959 hit. “You’re a fantastic audience,” he says, then launches into “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which he ends down on one knee, his back to the audience, his cape spread out in that familiar pose of humble adoration, combined with self-adoration, that the world has come to accept as Elvis in any language. There is no sense of tension, but this is only a rehearsal, after all—plenty of time for drama at the actual performance."

And then, "except that when he takes the stage the following night, at 12:30 A.M. for his live audience in the Far East, he seems, if anything, even further removed. There are musical highlights, to be sure, but the overall atmosphere is even more stilted, and for all of his dramatic weight loss, Elvis appears strangely bloated, his expression glazed and unfocused. It is as if, in his Captain Marvel getup, his jewelry, his helmet of hair, Elvis has finally acceded to the need to be, simply, Elvis—there are no surprises, just effects."

Speaking of those Vegas shows, this post was inspired by the release of the Elvis Live 1969 box set, which is remarkable in true Elvis fashion, full of great music, humor, and glitz, all packaged within 11 discs, 13 hours, full concert after full concert, bloated beyond belief. I haven't listened to it all yet ... OK, I never will, and neither will anyone else ... when I want to return there, I'll likely still pull out the old Memphis-to-Vegas album because it's compact and easy to deal with. Still, I haven't heard a single dud version of "Suspicious Minds" on Live 1969 yet.


See! We're a podcast! And "Suspicious Minds" is his last 'great' song in my book, and a big part of that are those live renditions.

Steven Rubio

Yeah, if I was going for Great, I'd agree with "Suspicious Minds". If we're only talking Really Really Good, I'd add "Burning Love" and that will-he-make-it-to-the-end rendition of "Unchained Melody" near the end of his life.

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