HERE are some of the performers a girl aged 16, growing up in a north London suburb in 2000, was meant to like: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Backstreet Boys, Destiny’s Child and, if you were a bit edgy, Eminem.
It was a time when pop music was synonymous with sex, when singers’ tanned and toned midriffs were absolutely always exposed and when an enjoyment of retro artists wasn’t considered cool in the slightest.
Like most teenagers since time immemorial, I was happily conforming. Until Elvis.
I have my dad Josef to thank for planting an adoration for Elvis in my young mind. As a musician and restaurateur, he used to play Elvis Presley records to me at home and at his Austrian restaurant, the Tiroler Hut, where he would also serenade me with his own renditions, weaving those melodies and that astonishing voice (Elvis’s) into the fabric of my childhood.
One day, however, quite by chance, that seed of interest in Elvis flowered. It was a cold afternoon in early January and I was meant to be revising for my mock GCSEs. In order to facilitate concentration, I’d sequestered myself in the sitting room where nobody in my household was likely to disturb me.
It wasn’t long before the itch of boredom set in, and so I turned on the TV. It was still tuned to the Turner Classic Movies channel, where dad had been watching a cowboy film. But to celebrate Elvis’ forthcoming birthday, they were showing a documentary on his early performances.
I knew who Elvis was at that point — who doesn’t? — but, the music that dad had acquainted me with aside, I only knew the caricature versions. Elvis and the wiggling hips. Elvis and the curling lip. Elvis in the white jumpsuit… The Elvis of 1956 that I saw walk on to that stage in the documentary, however, was different. He wasn’t yet a household name, wasn’t making cheesy movies designed to sell an album, wasn’t packaged for consumption… He was raw, gifted, electrifying. From the swirl of his hips to the whirl of his hair, the way he’d switch gears mid-line from vulnerable to playful to shy southern country boy to seasoned pro, it was magic.
I watched every documentary that TCM showed, and then tuned in the following day for more, devotedly recording over Clueless and Never Been Kissed with his performances. The more I watched, the more transfixed I became, and the more I realised why parents back in the day were so scared of him, why he was censored and filmed only from the waist up at one point, and why he was warned by a judge in Florida that because his moves whipped teenagers into such a frenzy, he must perform while stock still (Elvis complied, but wiggled his finger suggestively to the beat, causing more of a furore than his signature jiggling legs usually did).
After a week of drinking in his performances and films, I decided that I was done. No more would I pretend to myself that any of the modern acts being parcelled up as perfect in 2000 would do it for me. Elvis became as much my teen idol as he was to those screaming, besotted girls in the ‘50s.
I wish I could say my fealty to a long-dead singer was met with interest by my friends, that I’d convinced them to watch my beloved Elvis VHS tapes. But no. My Elvis stories were met by my peers with confusion; he was, to all too many, someone who wore a white rhinestone-encrusted suit and died after eating too many burgers.
My dad, however, happily indulged my compulsion to watch an Elvis film near nightly — and my thing for the King has stuck throughout my life. I’m now 35, and the more I read, the more worthy of attention I find him: he was groundbreaking, transgressive, and instinctive in a time when those things weren’t applauded, when even his fondness for moving to the beat of his music on stage saw him decried by clergymen across America.
Today, I’m synonymous with Elvis in the minds of people who know me, showered with Elvis cards for my birthday, given tickets to any event to do with him as gifts, and sent countless Elvis memes and videos on Instagram (all of which are received with hearty approbation; I still can’t get enough of the man). My first tattoo was even Elvis-related: a line from Can’t Help Falling In Love, etched on to my arm by renowned artist Zaya Hastra. And as much as I adore Elvis, this is also in homage to my Dad, now aged 81. It is the song he plays to me on the saxophone whenever I go to see him, and the lyrics aptly summarise his approach to everything he has ever cared about: pile in with an open heart, hope for the best, and trust a little bit in what’s meant to be.