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Sunday, November 20, 2005

What force drives modern celebrities to measure themselves against Elvis Presley? Robbie Williams is the latest victim of this curse, with a predictably slow-motion elegiac video portraying himself as Elvis-through-the-ages, with some lyrics I barely caught about Marlon Brando and 'advertising space'. The popular image of Presley as a tragic figure, epitomised by Peter Guralnick's lengthy biography endures still, with Williams in full sad-face mode, profound tattoos and all. However, the Presleyan short-cut to meaningful meditation on celebrity can't be the only reason for his imaged to be invoked so frequently.

There seem two possible reasons for the continuation of the cult. Williams makes an interesting case-study of the possibilities. Is he so in love with the trajectory of his own career that he sees himself ascending to iconic heights, or is he so insecure in his talent and status that he has to include a reverential commentary on his own limitations in the form of a worshipful paean to Presley, the ultimate manifestation of tender, troubled, talented masculinity? Hubris or fear, the choice is yours.

Morrissey makes another surprising acolyte. The performances accompanying the last album release were all given before a huge red "MORRISSEY" sign in the fashion of the '68 comeback special illuminated "ELVIS". The early Morrissey, inhabiting a different musical landscape than we see today, harked back to rockabilly and the now alien 50s in a way that was unexpected, at a time when historical reverence was being sacrificed on a now-tedious bonfire of modernity. However, now all we have is respect - there's nothing so note-worthy as calling on the name of a fallen icon, and in thanking them for all your talent, all your success, craftily swiping the remains of their rank and popularity to bolster your own. To kneel before Elvis now, what must we be saying about our own achievements? Even if Morrissey wanted to replace Elvis, he still had to welcome him onto the stage before he could mount his coup.

To descend to the more mundane for a moment, on a recent episode of The X Factor the defeated contestant was ejected after a bland knee-shake-athon performance of 'Johnny Be Good', with the unintentionally hilarious pay off of '... with the greatest respect, you're never going to be Elvis Presley'. Did it even need to be said?

No one is ever going to be Elvis Presley, not now. That so many continue to try is a genuine surprise, especially in a world of such rampant self-regard. Whoever said that the young had no respect? 
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