The King

Elvis didn't do it for me as a kid. He was the idol of my babysitters, but all the hoorah went right past me. Even after teenage schmaltz overwhelmed me, The Pelvis was old hat. An overhyped celebrity making stupid movies and overacting in his songs.

Rock and Roll got me, though –– and I didn't see that Elvis had been the catalyst triggering that musical reaction. The White Boy who brought Race Music into the mainstream. Sweet but Sexy. Religious but with a Beat. Able to excite millions but completely under the thumb of a cunning Svengali. A Good Old Boy who could make the Yankees shimmyshake. Another creature from the borderlands.

It was only years later, when I'd been steeped in all the roots music that collided in Elvis, that I got it. He could take on any musical persona and style. His emotive excesses were a vamp on the types of music he performed, and at the same time the ultimate expression of them. HeyHeyHey. The Manipulated Rube turned out to be the Genius of American Music. And the Tragic Hero.

His charisma was reported to be astonishing. Now all we have is the music –– but it gets better and better to me. I thought that the power of the songs of our childhood was in their nostalgia value. They put us right back then. But The King's music puts me right here now. Elvis Lives..

This portrait is a gear-driven thing. You crank his handle and The King thumps his guitar and does the shake. When I was concocting it I heard a lot of discussion about whether Elvis wiggled one leg or both. After looking at some old films, I decided that rotating one leg and letting the figure slide side-to-side best captured his trademark wiggle. But sometimes he was shakin all over.

I've shown The King at three gallery shows since I made him, and he's been well tested by the curious. So well, I've had to recondition his mechanism a few times. I wonder how many of the hundreds of mechanical contraptions I've put out there are still working. Maybe I don't want to know.

On our American Sabbatical we had to go to Graceland, of course. The King is an industry in Memphis –– but we came away liking him even after our pockets had been picked. How can you not like a man who decorates with deep shag and pleated paisley?

Are you lonesome tonight?