…And then there was a time that Elvis Presley was going to destroy an entire nation with his bare hands…
There’s a lot of bad press thrown at the Internet. Lest we forget, though, there remains some wonderful websites out there, lots of informative social media pages and highly educational YouTube channels. I was drawn to just one of those websites, recently. It was part of a vintage collection from a chap named Eric Wobbel.
His site is packed with vintage items including an early-model calculator and laptop to a vintage Chicken Pie box from Birds Eye (oh yes) and a small reel-to-reel tape player by a brand called, Many. A name that was new to me.
Yet, what stood out from the various vintage watches, toys and cameras, was a leaflet. A leaflet devoted to but not lionising Elvis Presley.
It was – and still is – called The Evils of Elvis Presleyism. It was written by a certain Dr. David Otis Fuller. Eric Wobbel was hastily given this tract when, “…I was a kid in the 1960s wanting to get a guitar,” he kept it ever since.
The reason I found this item, a religious tract, interesting is not only because of the rather obvious, alarmist headline aimed at a man who would ultimately star in such cinematic schlock as Kissing Cousins and Viva Las Vegas (I did quite like the latter, I must admit) but, well something else.
You see, at that time, Dr David Otis Fuller was a prolific scribbler of religious tracts and other issues of import. He offered his religious and related social views across all media. Fuller served in the Navy as a Chaplin during WW2, founded Cornerstone University Grand Rapids, was the editor for General Association of Regular Baptists and the founder and president of the Which Bible? Society. Apparently he read the Bible, in toto, 75 times before he died in 1988. He was a much respected and honoured man and was invited to talk at a range of institutions.
In fact, you can see an archival record of the man’s work on the Internet HERE. Fuller’s files are listed in both sermons and boxes. In Box 7, there are writings devoted to one Elvis Presley.
Fuller didn’t like Presley, as is pretty obvious by the tract’s title. What gets me about this cover though is that the invective was aimed at Elvis. And in 1957 (at least, that’s the date attributed to Fuller’s archival writings on Elvis).
By that time, Bill Haley and his Comets had released the single, Rock Around the Clock, Carl Perkins had issued Blue Suede Shoes, Chuck Berry’s Maybellene was already on the shelves, Little Richard had released Tutti Frutti and more. Much more. In 1957, rock’n’roll was a mature and thriving musical genre.
In fact, the United States was in the midst of a musical revolution at the hands of a host of creative talents, both black and white.
And yet here was a highly-educated, well connected, well-informed man, Mr Fuller, who saw none of that. As many other people in the USA of that time saw none of that. What Fuller saw, what many frightened families saw, was Elvis Presley.
What gets me about this religious tract is not that it targets the evils of rock’n’roll or even – in the modus operandi of the time – the evils of ‘race music’. No, Fuller focuses only on something he calls “Elvis Presleyism”. Elvis represents the movement. Elvis is the movement. He is the darkness. A man who has the power to corrupt, according to Fuller. All on his own.
Remarkably, here Elvis becomes an ‘ism’.
I find that striking and a testament to Elvis’ social importance in this already established musical genre, his dominant image in the society of the country as a whole (if Fuller is any kind of yardstick) and the threat he appeared to be, in 1957, to all God-fearing people of the time. Especially the children of those God-fearing parents. Of course, I had already heard of the moral panic Elvis imbued via his rotating hips but it was fascinating to see material evidence of the same.
In his tract, Fuller describes Elvis as “uneducated”. He calls his sideburns “grotesque” and his guitar playing style “crude”. Possibly most significantly, the text notes Elvis as a “sex idol”. A facet of Elvis that might be revealed to be the core of the entire problem. Fuller’s problem. Middle America’s problem.
It may be hard for some of us to fully appreciate and yes I’m extrapolating like crazy but, viewing Fuller’s position in the society of the time and his position as a spokesman for the crew-cut, respectable, middle of the road, consumer-friendly, super patriotic, momma’s apple pie, conservative majority and if other anecdotes and stories about Elvis are also taken into consideration, Elvis Presley, back in 1957, was a terrible force to be reckoned with. One that shook the very core of an entire country.
Things would change later on but, at that moment, at that specific time, more than even the music itself, he was the danger. He was the bogey (boogey?) man under the bed. He was, in fact, the revolution.
So, yea. Go Elvis.