Friday, July 31, 2009

Coffee, Cigarettes, Elvis & Big Mama (& Nick)

Have you ever been to Graceland? Me, I have not. But, the name in itself strikes me and I am wondering all the time, whether this pilgrimage place could be looked at rightly as one of those places where one of these "popular religions" of our days takes place.
What I do like about the notions of popular religion, civil religion and the like is, that defining religion in a functionalist way is appropriate to those instances they refer to, whilst the essentialist approach fails here: Graceland a place of the "manifestation of the SACRED"?? What would Söderblom, Otto, Heiler, Eliade and their followers think about that? Holy shit?
This takes me to one of my favourite clips from Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes", the one about being a twin and having an identity of his/her own. It is also one about "conspiracy theory" and the psychological mechanisms we all share when, against all evidence, we want to stick to an ideal that is not worth sticking to: After having already put so much emotional energy into serving our ideal we cannot simply abandon it because of all the well-founded arguments against it. So we make up a theory that integrates those arguments, a theory we take to be a "grounded" one, whilst others might call it the outcome of "cognitive dissonance".

Back when I was a student of theology in the early 80ies, I knew a young man who held that there had been two Popes erroneously taken to be one (Paul VI): One of them (the good twin) responsable for all the conservative decisions (remember birth control??), the other (the evil twin) a look-alike that was presented by the free-masons that had (partly, to make the theory work) taken over the Vatican. It was the latter who was in charge of all the weird stuff my friend could not come to terms with. I was shown pamphlets with pictures he thought of as evidence of his "Two-Popes-Theory".
Be that as it may, in this clip it is Elvis, taken as a popular figure fulfilling religious needs: He is the ideal or god (at least some small local godhead). And we are confronted with a "Two-Elvis-Theory", based on the fact, that Elvis had a twin (Nick Cave made a nice song about that on his second album with the Bad Seeds [with the telling title "The Firstborn is Dead"], called Tupelo, relating to a classic blues song about the flood in Tupelo, Mississippi and the fact, that Elvis had been born in that very city). Without further commenting on the Black-(not really)-Twins-Joie&Cinqué-Siblings-of-Spike-Lee-and-White-Steve-Buscemi-Situation (not even mentioning that Tupelo is situated in LEE county), I go on with the Elvis-stuff: You could think about Elvis as having made a small step personnally but a big step for mankind: bringing African-American music-style to a predominantly white audience (he did a version of "Muss i denn zum Städtelein hinaus", too, as we all know...).
But you could also think of Elvis as a thief, a robber, a burglar: putting his famous WHITE name on songs written by now widely unknown BLACK artists.
You could say, at least, he did a great job. To show you, that you would be wrong, if you thought so, here is the version of "Hound Dog" by BIG Mama Thornton:

She is not the author of the song either, but I would trade all of Elvis' recordings for her version of that song. Maybe I would keep "Wooden Heart" and "In the Ghetto" (featuring the evil WHITE twin and his BLACK background singers), although I like the Nick Cave Version of the latter more (notwithstanding the australian singer's qualities as a poseur on that video). Nevertheless, without Elvis there would not be a version done by Nick the Stripper.
To be fair to Mr. Presley and help Mr. Buscemi in his discussion with members of the Lee family, it has to be admitted, that "Hound Dog" was written for BIG MAMA THORNTON by two really BLACK guys, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller:

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