“Elvis Grant Me Serenity”

“Elvis is so beautiful that although bits and bobs of [the video] were fun, you feel yourself at all times paling in comparison to anything that the King can do, or radiate.”
Robbie Williams


Robbie Williams’ Elvis tattoo

I’ve written a bit about Robbie Williams before. He’s up to something very unique and yet also classically entertaining, and I’ve been a fan for a long time. Even with the tats and the bad-boy stuff, he’s old-school in terms of his understanding of what his celebrity is, and what he should be doing with it. I’m always on the lookout for him.

Williams has covered a bunch of Elvis stuff, not always successfully, although I appreciate his efforts. I particularly like his filmed version of “Trouble”, a direct reference to the startling opening of Elvis’ 1968 comeback special.

Stupid? Yes. But being unafraid of seeming stupid, self-referential, or unoriginal is one of Robbie Williams’ greatest and most entertaining qualities.

His song “Advertising Space” is not one of my favorites of his (although I love the repeated line about Marlon Brando), but the song is a tribute to Elvis (Robbie Williams’ hero, I mean check out that tat!), and the video – directed by David LaChapelle – is a beautiful and kind of haunting evocation of Elvis Presley hanging out in a hotel suite, combing his hair, getting ready for a show, putting on the gold-leaf suit, etc.

Williams’ quote above, about the filming of the video, was very interesting to me and reminded of what my brother said in the piece he wrote for my Elvis series about what it feels like to imitate Elvis Presley:

Now, I am a good mimic. I am a good singer. I am a good dancer. But the moment before I began I was filled with existential dread. Because it is one thing to imitate Elvis Presley alone in your room. It is another thing altogether to try and pull it off in public. IT ISN’T EASY TO SHAKE RATTLE AND ROLL. It is potentially very embarrassing. And in order to pull it off, you have to inherently believe that you are worth watching, that what you do will excite the ladies, and that you won’t be laughed off whatever stage you are on.

The video is like a dream. A dreamspace of communion with a hero.

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10 Responses to “Elvis Grant Me Serenity”

  1. PaulH says:

    I like your analogy between Robbie Williams and Elvis. A few years back Williams did this show that was a tribute to Frank Sinatra – it was staged as a Sinatra concert might have been – big band, suits, thin tie, brylcreemed hair, trilby, the works, and he got a lot of stick for daring to compare himself to Sinatra. Now, I’m no fan of Robbie Williams, but even I could see that the guy was making a sincere gesture toward one of his heroes (and I have to say, that he did a good job musically too). And that is what he’s got, as far as I’m concerned, whether you like the music or not – you know that he means it, just like Elvis.

  2. sheila says:

    Yes, I love that big band stuff he did. His “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” is almost … ALMOST … as good as Dino’s!

    And yes: I think he means everything he does. He’s not a phony. I’m very interested in what he is up to.

  3. Paul H. says:

    I’ve been wondering why Robbie Williams’ career has never really taken off in America. Was it the weird Stoke accent? Did he come across as too smug? Is his music unexceptional, or simply not where music has been in America for the last fifteen years? I don’t think his former band Take That did much business on your side of the Atlantic either. But both are huge in Europe and elsewhere. Odd, really.

  4. sheila says:

    Paul – that is indeed one of the mysteries of his career – but I’m actually glad it didn’t “take off”. I first heard him when I was in Ireland in … 1998, I think? No, maybe later. Whenever “Millennium” was happening – I heard that song so much (literally everywhere) that I finally asked my sister, “Who the hell is that singing?” and she filled me in on the Robbie mania. As well as Take That.

    I don’t think what he is doing is actually really being done by too many other people “over here” – at least not male performers – except for maybe Justin Timberlake. A kind of fun-loving yet dirty-sex-hot-boy song-and-dance man type of career, only modernized with tats and video screens. I am totally generalizing – but male rock stars over here are really really self-serious and drippy. Tongue-in-cheek stuff just doesn’t really go over well.

    Either they’re trying to be bad-asses, scowling all the time and trying to make us believe they are tough, or they keep their head down, shuffle their feet, and hope we mistake them for Kurt Cobain.

    Big huge theatrical gestures and a sense of goofball FUN is not in vogue at all.

    More’s the pity. Our American culture is so freakin’ literal that people can’t make a joke without having to apologize to 8 different special interests groups. I think Robbie might even be a bit too wild for us. I’d hate to see him have to calm down, tone it down.

    Glad he got clean and all that, but his rough edges seem much more European now than American. Maybe we just don’t get the joke?

    I love the guy. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and yet he’s been doing his thing for – 15 years now? He clearly knows what he’s doing.

  5. Paul H. says:

    Tongue in cheek is right. I think one of his early solo tours was called ‘The Ego Has Landed’! Very understated.

  6. sheila says:

    hahaha Yes!

  7. sheila says:

    Reporter to Robbie: “Robbie, what’s the most interesting gift a fan ever gave you?”
    Robbie: “Herpes.”

  8. Jaime says:

    An American fella who’s been at it for rather a while and as far as I can tell never really deviated from projecting stud and goofball simultaneously is Chris Isaak. I’ve always been fond of his super-smooth take on rockabilly & early R&R and am vexed by the fact that his TV show is not available on DVD.
    An amusing anecdote – I came to the States in 1980 and hurled myself at every live venue for rock music I could, having been starved of it living where I did in SEA. Anyhoo, there was a Filipino restaurant in San Francisco called the Mabuhay Gardens that doubled on the weekends as a punk rock venue – “the Fab Mab!” – and one night Chris Isaak was on the bill. This was pre record deal, and tho’ he and the band were a little raw and his duds were more obviously thrift-store than what came after, he was already working the Mr. Heartbreak “I know what the ladies want to hear” neo-Roy Orbison thang. This was while playing shows with the likes of the Dils and the Zeroes. A really entertaining thing to witness was all the buzz-cut bleach-haired, raccoon-eyed punk rock girlies rushing the stage and making like EP’s fans at Chris, complete with screaming. I’ve always wondered – how did they know they were supposed to leave off pogo’ing and being all ‘punk’ to do that? Were they goofing on something they saw on HAPPY DAYS? Was it sincere? Is it inextrciably just part of pop music’s DNA, per Sinatra’s bobby-soxers and The Girls at Elvis’s shows?

  9. sheila says:

    Jaime – awesome story! You know that Chris Isaak just recorded a new album at Sun, trying to recapture that Sun sound.

    I love your story.

    Like I’ve said: I think women recognize sincerity and they go NUTS for it. They also like hot smoldering bad boys – I believe we have established that women like and yearn for sex just like men do – but sincere hot guys? Slam DUNK.

    I read some funny interview with Chris Isaak way back in the beginning when he was first getting hot – and he said something about how he rarely drank because whenever he had alcohol he would become a sloppy weepy “I love you guys” mess. That’s endearing. That’s a hook for a lot of women. we sense that shit, even if we never experience it personally. I’ve always liked him.

    I think some country stars come close to what Robbie Williams is doing – but oftentimes (at least nowadays) they have a chip on their shoulder – which limits their appeal. You know, the “I’m no city slicker book-readin’ elite” chip on the shoulder. That appeals to a limited base. I certainly find that attitude pathetic and feel no attraction for anyone who exhibits it.

    Elvis Presley had a wide wide appeal – NATURALLY. This was a highly managed career – and yet in many other ways, it wasn’t. It wasn’t a manufactured career, in other words. What the Colonel did was to just manage what was already HAPPENING.

  10. Traduceri says:

    I think this song is amazing. I’m an lifetime Elvis fan!

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