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Understanding Elvis: Interview with Nigel Patterson

One of the most amazing things about Elvis Presley are his fans. The amount of creative, well-educated and dedicated people among them who manage to do continuous in-depth research and writing about the man besides having successful professional careers and active family lives is simply astounding. One of their key figures who for decades has helped to better understand Elvis Presley’s life, career and cultural impact on many different levels is Nigel Patterson from Australia. The Memphis Flash has talked to the Elvis expert about his passion for the King and what interests him most: Elvis‘ films and books.

The Memphis Flash: Nigel, most English-speaking Elvis aficionados are familiar with you as Honorary President of the Elvis Information Network (EIN), an Australian fan club that runs one of the, if not the most prolific and informative websites on Elvis Presley: www.elvisinfonet.com. Apart from that, not too much is known about you (at least not in Germany). Please do tell us more about yourself, your background and what made you such an expert on everything Elvis.

Nigel Patterson: I am originally from Northern Ireland and my family moved to Canberra, capital city of the “lucky country”, Australia, in the early 1960s.  While I knew of Elvis and seen some of his movies I did not become a fan until early 1969 when on a school excursion to Griffith, a small town in the winery region of country New South Wales. As I would learn later Griffith was also a hot spot for dope production in Australia (but I digress)!  While on the bus we were listening to 2CA, the only commercial radio station in Canberra at the time, and Edge of Reality came on.  I was hooked the moment I heard it and my interest in things Elvis quickly grew from there.

The Memphis Flash: Sounds like a fun way of being introduced to Elvis ;-). The psychedelic Edge Of Reality from the movie Live A Little, Love A Little (German: Liebling, laß‘ das Lügen, 1968) was a hit in Australia, right? It’s relatively unknown in Germany though. Let’s give it a listen.

Audio Edge of Reality – Complete Masters

 

The Memphis Flash: How was being an Elvis fan like in Australia in the late 1960s?

elvis-monthly-1960Nigel Patterson: Living “downunder” in a snail mail and pre-Internet time we relied on primarily newspapers and magazines for our news of overseas stars.  I started buying the newsstand magazine Elvis Monthly (which, due to its small size, fitted nicely into the inside pocket of my school jacket and served me well when I became bored with scholarly instruction), subscribed to Rocky Barra’s Strictly Elvis and submerged myself in various popular Aussie magazines including Movie News, Everybody’s and the Australasian Post, as they regularly featured Elvis on their cover and had feature articles inside.

In the early 70s I joined my first Elvis fan club, run by Bob Stephens in Sydney and I started contributing to Rex Martin’s fantastic Worldwide Weekly Elvis News Service and later Elvis Monthly.

The Memphis Flash: Some great magazines that have iconic status among fans today. I’ve seen that there is an → interesting interview with Rocky Barra, the guy behind Strictly Elvis, on EIN. Besides magazines films soon became another great interest of yours?

Nigel Patterson: From my childhood years growing up during the silver age of television I always had a fascination with TV shows and films.  In the late 1970s-early 1980s I became a reviewer for the Brisbane Film Group (BFG) enjoying working “flexi-time” (before it was introduced to the bureaucracy) as I was given free tickets to watch and review films screening usually at 11 am in the morning. I remember the first time I asked my boss if I could take an early, long lunch and he looked at me as if I was from another planet! In those days we had a regimented 12:30-1:30 lunch period.  A few years later flexitime was the norm.  Most of my reviews for the BFG were of horror movies as classic titles like Halloween, Friday the 13th, Prom Night and the underrated Happy Birthday To Me were enjoying peak popularity.  My involvement with the Brisbane Film Group was the genesis of my interest in a more analytical approach to the Elvis film canon.

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Elvis Presley: Guitar Man

Einer meiner Elvis-Lieblingssongs ist einer, den man auf den Hit-Zusammenstellungen des Memphis Flash eher vergeblich sucht: Guitar Man (1967). Kunststück, schließlich war Guitar Man zumindest chartmäßig zunächst kein Hit für den King – und ist es auf den zweiten Blick doch.

Guitar Man –  Elvis Sings Guitar Man, FTD 2011:

 

Die meisten werden den Song am ehesten mit dem legendären Comeback-Special ELVIS (1968) verbinden, wo er in einer abgewandelten Form das musikalische Grundthema, den erzählerischen roten Faden bildet: hier erzählt Guitar Man vom Aufstieg des Musikers zum Superstar, den Jahren in Hollywood und der musikalischen Wiederauferstehung nach langer Zeit der ausschließlichen Kinoleinwandpräsenz.

Elvis Presley im Comeback-TV-Special ELVIS 1968 - hier mit der Gibson seines langjährigen Lead-Gitarristen Scotty Moore

Guitar Man Elvis Presley im Comeback-TV-Special ELVIS 1968 mit der Gibson seines langjährigen Weggefährten und Lead-Gitarristen Scotty Moore

Guitar Man ist also vor allem auf der symbolischen Ebene ein Hit. Umso mehr, wenn man sich anschaut, wann und wie es tatsächlich zu Elvis‘ Aufnahme dieses Songs und seiner engen Zusammenarbeit mit Gitarrist und Songschreiber Jerry Reed kam.

Elvis, Guitar Man und das Comeback

Wenn von Elvis‘ Comeback Ende der 1960er die Rede ist, dann bezieht sich das meist auf das schon erwähnte TV-Special ELVIS, das Anfang Dezember 1968 in den USA beim Sender NBC auf Sendung ging und die satte Einschaltquote von 42 Prozent erreichte. Eigentlich startete das musikalische Comeback des Memphis Flash aber schon ein paar Jahre früher.

Elvis selbst sagte in einem Interview einmal, dass er sich schon 1965 entschloss, seiner Karriere, die Mitte der 1960er auf langfristige Hollywoodfilmverträge und die dazugehörigen Soundtrack-Alben beschränkt war, eine neue Wendung zu geben. Und das kommt zeitlich auch hin, blieb aber zunächst weitgehend unbemerkt, genauso wie der Song Guitar Man, der dabei eine Rolle spielte.

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