Elvis Presley In Rehearsal

One of the extensive scenes of rehearsal from the 1970 documentary Elvis: That’s The Way It Is (the title of the video clip is totally misleading. Nothing X-rated here at all. He gives his friend the finger in the last moment, but that’s it). The documentary is a great look at The King in his element, as he prepares for his Vegas show. He is powerful, funny, lean, and obviously in charge of the entire operation. You can watch him set up the arrangements of the backup singers, when he wants them to come in. He’s a conductor. The entire thing is such an enormous undertaking, but watching the documentary you never feel like he’s a cog in some giant wheel. He is clearly The Man. Lots of funny footage, but what I like about this particular rehearsal is Elvis’ looseness (he puts on his glasses upside down, he bursts out laughing mid-lyric, etc.), but this was all just part of how he worked. There are numerous (perhaps countless) examples of Elvis’ humor AS he was recording (many many many outtakes, guy was a Giggle Hound, really in tune with any moment of absurdity – either in himself, the music, or the lyrics), but the overall sense is always of a man IN the Zone of work. It’s not being a goof-off, or refusing to take something seriously. It is PART of the process. You rehearse a song all day long, you had better keep it loose. He had insecurities as a man, of course, he was human, but he was not insecure about himself as a performer. He may have wondered if the fans would still love him, if they would accept him, he had anxieties about forgetting the lyrics and would often carry little slips of paper in his pocket in case he effed up – but he was not insecure ever when he was in the zone of performing. He was totally at ease with his status. So this particular clip, of a raucous rehearsal of “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” is illustrative of all of that going on at the same moment in time. There are a couple of false starts. Elvis cracks up. Watch how he plops himself on the chair at the 23 second mark. He’s on the beat, he leaps on the chair. It is hysterical and he knows it. A spontaneous moment of silliness. He makes some corrections. They start and stop. And then, in the final take, at around the 2:37 mark, you can see him jumpstart into another zone. And the excellent band goes right along with him. You can see him, in that moment, flow from Play to Work. This is the value of keeping things loose. Because the Work is always there, it is what you are striving towards, it is the ultimate goal. But as any artist knows, without a sense of Play there can be no Work at all. Mike Nichols has said that the most productive day in a week of rehearsals is usually the day off. Because during the rehearsals, actors are working the problem, focusing on the problems, honing in on what they need to accomplish. It can result in a tenseness of focus. But then comes the one day off, and everyone goes home, and plays Frisbee, or takes a nap, or goes sailing, and then you return to rehearsal fresh and loose and open. All tenseness disappeared. You can see that process happen to Elvis (and his band) in this one clip.

I’m a process junkie. I love to see people at work. With all the hijinx and goofing off, this is Elvis at work.

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6 Responses to Elvis Presley In Rehearsal

  1. Paul Dionne says:

    “One night I was layin’ down/I heard Mama and Papa talkin’/I heard Papa tell Mama,/Let that boy boogie-woogie/It’s in him and it got to come out!”
    Those are the lines from Boogie Chillun by John Lee Hooker, and every time I hear those words, I automatically think of Elvis. This is my first time writing here but your series on Elvis has been invaluable – you’ve been doing such a great job at getting the truth out about Elvis, not the myth, not the caricature; thanks –

  2. sheila says:

    Paul – hey, thanks so much!! I’ve been having fun, glad you like.

    Clips like this are often “used” by people as evidence of how “out of it” Elvis was, and I have no idea what THEY are seeing. Seems to me they see what they want to see. This is a man at the top of his game, pushing the musicians (and himself) on through the silliness to find the song.

  3. patricia says:

    Elvis = Music = Fun. Thats what makes his music and his appeal timeless. You just got the point once more about Elvis, Sheila. Great.

  4. Kent says:

    “I’m a process junkie.” – There is a secret handshake.

  5. sheila says:

    I think I’ve known that secret handshake since I was 12, 13 years old and discovered Carroll Baker’s autobiography on the shelves at the library.

  6. sheila says:

    Patricia – I’ve always loved outtakes and bloopers because they are so revealing about who an artist is when they work. When Elizabeth Taylor died, I posted a great clip of bloopers from her stint on GENERAL HOSPITAL and it really shows her sense of humor about herself, her awesomeness, and why everyone loved working with her so much. Elvis’ outtakes – are often laugh-out-loud funny. I think it was “Shake That Tambourine” from Harum Scarum that he literally could not get through – they actually had to splice together a couple different takes. Unheard of for him. Listening to those takes, one after the other, you start to get nervous for him – like – he CANNOT stop laughing: “Jesus, buddy, you are not going to get through this!!!” But once the song seemed funny to him, he couldn’t get past it. Hearing him crying with laughter is entertaining in and of itself.

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