Monday, December 04, 2006

Thank You Ms. Joni Mabe (Songs For Erika Doss)

In her book Elvis Culture, former CU Fine Arts professor Erika Doss quotes the following passage from Georgian artist Joni Mabe:

“Dear Elvis,
You don’t know how many times I’ve dreamt and wished that you were my lover - or father. But you died without a trace of myself ever touching your life. I could have saved you Elvis. We could have found happiness together at Graceland. I know I could have put your broken self back together. It’s as if you could have discovered that sex and religion could be brought together in your feelings for me. The hurt that you carried everyday, the passion that dried up with the years I could have restored. All of those women that sapped your spirit and gave you nothing but the simulation of passion. I know the secrets of the southern night. I worship you. My sleep is filled with longing for you. I try to make a go of daily life but all else fades before this consuming image of yourself always present in my mind. This image guides me to the places I want to be. I lay here now thinking, agonizing - in other words - masturbating over the impossibility of ever being your slave. Sometimes I feel I’ve been hypnotized that I can no longer bear existence without you. Other men in their fleshy selves could never measure up to your perfection. When making love to you in the later years, I could sense your throbbing manliness. You really touched the woman in me. I no longer know the difference between fact and fantasy. My poisoned spirit cries out for relief for just one caress to remind me that you really were a man and not a god. If God listened to my prayers you’d be lying beside me now. No matter who I’m with, it’s always you. Elvis, I have a confession to make: I’m carrying your child. The last Elvis imitator I fucked was carrying your sacred seed. Please send money. Enclosed are the photographs of myself and the earthly messenger you sent. Love-sick for you, Baby...Joni Mabe.”

This quote forms the hand-painted text at the core of Mabe’s 1983 mixed media piece Love Letter to Elvis. This funny, clever and complicated piece has many intentions, some more snide than others, but the important thing is that the basic message was written with the utmost sincerity. You can catch her traveling show, somewhere in America, sometime next year (perhaps in the south).

Before reading Doss’ book, I didn’t think much of Elvis. He passively occupied such a large part of my cultural and personal consciousness that I didn’t really feel the need to seek him out. I’ve always been peripherally aware of the tricky issues of racial mixing, privilege and full blown transgression which surround his music and image, but until reading this book I had never thought of how sexually transgressive he was as well; his gyrating hips and lusty pout a symptom of a radical new sexuality too explosive to be contained in traditional/victorian notions of performance and maleness. That his unprecendented popularity came from the invitation and confidence he gave 50s teens to challenge and reconstruct their own notions of race and gender (and their conceptions of their own bodies and image) and that, in painting his face in heavy makeup and claiming for his outfits “feminine” colors like pink and purple as his own from the very beginning (which Warhol investigates in comparisson to his macho 60s film image with Elvis I and II, pictured above), as well as the gaudy sequened jump suits he dawned durring his Vegas years (inspired, and often even made by Liberace’s designer Nudie Tailor), he paved the way for more overt gender-bending oddities like David Bowie and Brian Eno. Laz, I appologize for infringing on your turf as resident art critic, but this was all such a major revelation for me (especially since I’m such a balls-to-the-wall Bowie fan). This also marks our first official Holliday season music post. I applogize for this blow to our cynical cred.

Here’s an Elvis song and a Bowie song. They weren't picked for any particular similarities or sound, but rather as too sweet little undersung nuggets of sexual transgression and historic reinterpretation on the one hand, and as Christian/patriarchial sell-outs on the other. You can listen to them while enjoying the anniversary of the birth of our lord and savior Jesus Christ. Feel free to muse out loud over any vague similarities.

I'll Be Home For Christmas - Elvis Presley

She's Got Medals - David Bowie

14 Comments:

Blogger Grant Miller said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

December 05, 2006 7:39 PM  
Blogger Grant Miller said...

My parents blasted, BLASTED, Elvis' Christmas record every Christmas morning as a kid. Now I put my kids through the same routine every Christmas too.

December 05, 2006 7:41 PM  
Blogger Laz said...

hey mazur, i listened to that elvis song like 20 times in arow after you posted it. I couldn't admit it until now. There's no snow here OK?

December 11, 2006 6:26 PM  
Blogger Mazur said...

The King singing about The Lord: Impossible to resist.

Are you gonna be in Madison for Jesus' fake birthday? (I will, but only in my dreams).

December 12, 2006 12:15 AM  
Blogger Laz said...

Yeah, I'm hurrying over from Stockholm. I just can't get into the Christmas Spirit if in not in the U S of A. It's seriously like God himself blessed every little bit of that country...

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