Lisa Marie, dad sing duet to create refuge
The enormity of Elvis Presley’s fame and his staying power as a force in 21st century music came as no surprise to daughter Lisa Marie Presley.
“It’s like music is going backward because it was good back then,” says Presley, who is stepping back in time tonight with a duet — with Elvis — of his 1969 recording “In The Ghetto.”
Lisa Marie recorded an earlier duet, “Don’t Cry Daddy,” for the 20th anniversary of Elvis’ death in 1997, but that song was not released commercially. “In the Ghetto” will be released as a single after its debut at FedExForum in a sold-out concert featuring Elvis on video accompanied by original band members and backup singers.
Presley said proceeds will go to a New Orleans version of Memphis’ Presley Place, the housing complex designed as a temporary refuge to give homeless families a chance to get on their feet again.
Elvis and his family got their own start in public housing in Memphis before moving to the suburbs, then to Graceland. Graceland was, at first, a walled refuge from the crush of fame and, now, a shrine.
Presley’s rise to fame was not just a classic rags-to-riches story, but a continuing saga that many believe has turned him into the biggest celebrity of all time. It is a story that Lisa Marie said is part of a disappearing tradition.
“What do our youth today even know? We’re not a culture that cultivates tradition. Some people may think Madonna started music,” she says.
“I think that honestly we have no morals or integrity anymore. The more you screw up and make mistakes in public the more you’re a celebrity. I think things are so crazy now that anyone can appreciate how it used to be.”
For her dad, that meant being rewarded for hard work and talent. “It was the real deal then. He worked hard. He was somebody who was hungry. He broke molds and worked to get what he got.”
Part of the equation was an indecipherable element of starpower or charisma that Lisa Marie felt, but didn’t understand. “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell said no one has come along with “even 50 percent” of Elvis’ charisma.
Lisa Marie said she used to sit in the kitchen at Graceland and know when her dad was coming down the steps because of a “presence” he radiated. She could tell whether he was at home when she drove through the front gates of Graceland because she felt that presence.
Knowing about and living with that charisma didn’t help her understand it. “I don’t think he understood it either. I don’t know whether he even knew what it was, but I think it was probably too much for him to handle. I have never met anybody like that — ever.”
Her former husband, Michael Jackson, also was known as charismatic at the height of his “Thriller” fame. “I don’t think he understood it either,” says Lisa Marie.
For Elvis, that charisma now is something that thousands of imitators try to capture through the growing impersonator phenomenon. This year Elvis Presley Enterprises began its own sanctioned contest, the Ultimate Elvis Contest, with 24 of the best tribute artists competing before a panel of judges.
“I understand it and that imitation is a form of flattery,” says Lisa Marie. “I’ve never really seen one perform. I think that would be very awkward. I love that they’re out there. I’m all for them, but it would be really weird for me.”
Her duet of “In The Ghetto” will be available for download through iTunes. As a metaphor for “people in need,” the ghetto in this instance is post-Katrina New Orleans. Presley said she made a whirlwind visit there Sunday.
“I came up with the idea three weeks ago,” she says. She enlisted Hollywood producer David Foster, found her father’s original tracks of the song and planned the duet as a charitable event for the 30th anniversary concert.
Presley said plans for the New Orleans version of Presley Place are still in the works. It would likely be through an existing charitable effort in the way that the Memphis version was organized through MIFA (the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association).
– Michael Lollar: 529-2793