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What Elvis can teach junior creatives

See that photo above? That was Elvis in his prime. During the Jailhouse Rock years. That photo above is also the definition of foreshadowing: A performer who performs in a prison.

See, Elvis Presley is more famous for dying on the toilet than his beginnings as one of the inventors of a country/rock-a-billy/RnB/gospel hybrid called rock n’ roll.

So let’s go back to 1956 when Elvis had mostly natural energy. Even though his band mates all said he had it and urged him to quit after eighteen takes, Elvis recorded "Hound Dog" 30 times before he felt he nailed it at take 28. In those first few years, he took the acetates of his recordings home with him and kept listening. And listening. And listening. Until he felt he nailed it.

So what happened?

Colonel Tom Parker happened. Elvis' manager for life who launched his career, gave him untold riches while shackling him with golden handcuffs. The master micro-manager steered film to music choices, and licensed Elvis' face on everything from 8X10 glossies to ashtrays and lunch boxes. He became Elvis™ instead of the truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi. Contrary to what a lot of social media experts are saying, adding a ™ to your name isn't a modern way of doing things, nor is it particularly smart. In fact. it's just as pathetic today as it was back then.

See Elvis already had a reason for being on the planet before someone handed him a boat load of money at the expense of his dignity. And then he traded it in, perhaps out of gullibility, but still.
He forgot who he was, and why he loved music. And it showed. The cash and the fame and the lifestyle was more important.

In some ways, Elvis was the original sell out. The more Elvis gained, the less he had. The more he produced, the less he cared. The dude endured stupid songs and acting in dozens of shitastic movies before finally shaking it off for a 1968 comeback special that was perhaps the last time anyone considered him a musician instead of an icon at best or a mainstay Vegas has been at worst.

This is the part in a typical “blog,” post where the “blogger,” asks these dumb questions like “Do you have a Colonel Tom Parker in your advertising career? What is really guiding you? And are you going to wait until it’s time for a comeback to remember why you got into the business in the first place?”

But I’m not a “blogger.” I’m a copywriter who also writes for adland and I'm not particularly fond of that convention as it seems smarmy. All I'll say is this to all the junior adgrunts out there:

If you’re just starting out, even if you're completely desperate to break in, now is the best time to say no to any and all too-good-to-be-true offers, because they’ll end up being just that. Don’t chase the money or you’ll end up doing everything for the money. Don't give up relationships and partnerships with good creatives for those awards, because you should know that at the end of the day, the more of them you win, the more people will shit talk you. Don’t work for loud mouthed motherfuckers who backstabbed their way up to the top of the rung; they’ll never give you the respect you deserve and you'd know they'd be lying if they acted otherwise anyway. If you give in to Colonel Tom Parker's of advertising-- whatever they may be-- you’ll either walk away from shop to shop in frustration, give up the very reason you got into this business which was to make cool shit with cool people, or the biggest tragedy of all, become toxic poison that makes us hate this business so much.

Now don't mind me but I'm gonna put on The Sun Sessions.

Kidlseepy, out.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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Maurice Colgan's picture

Looking for attention?

Using Elvis Presley's name ensures you get some. Funny that, is it not?

Elvis stunned the whole wide world with his extraordinary voice and dominated the music charts for at least six years. In spite of a hostile media!

Nick Simard's picture

Thanks for sharing his story. Its an inspirational thing.

Brian Quinn's picture

Elvis Presley was the Greatest Entertainer/Singer who ever lived. He was the complete package - he had the talent, the looks, the charisma, the humour, the moves, the stage act and was extremely humble with it. He could also sing in virtually every musical genre he cared to which is more than 99% of singers do today. His early Vegas years from 1969 to 1972, and tours during those periods, were phenomenal and he looked FANTASTIC in his regal jumpsuits and sang FANTASTIC.Of course Elvis was much more than a mere entertainer but quite an historical figure. It was he alone who broke down social and cultural barriers in 1950's U.S.A. making it easier for all performers who followed in his footsteps of whatever race, colour , creed or political persuasion. In doing so he paved the way for Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr.,and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's. Elvis remains the biggest selling recording act of all time worldwide and he has more Gold and Platinum record certifications in the U.S.A. than any other performer or group. Without Elvis there would have been no Beatles, Rolling Stones, Madonna, Michael Mackson, Bruce Springsteen, Beach Boys, Rhianna, Jay-Z etc. His music and image are everywhere in today's culture and he remains the template by which success is measured in the music industry. He gave away millions of dollars to charity and served his country in the Army for two years during the 1950's, some of his peak years. His mansion, Graceland, is the most visited home in the U.S.A. after the White House and last week a Motion was raised in the House of Representatives for Elvis to be honoured with 'Elvis Presley Day'. Sooner or later Elvis will gain this honour - and will be the only entertainer to get it so far. There will NEVER be another Elvis Presley as he was truly 'sui generis'.

Cory Cooper's picture

Elvis did not pass away on the toilet. He was found on the floor and actually pronounced dead at Baptist Memorial Hospital.

Also, Col. Parker did not launch his career. Elvis was first managed by Scotty Moore and Bob Neal and was already a rising star by the time Parker came around.

While I understand the point of your article, I think it would have been nice to have your facts correct and been more respectful to the memory and legacy of Elvis Presley.

Cory Cooper
Elvis Historian and Consultant

kidsleepy's picture

Ah, fair enough. Elvis passed away near the toilet. In the bathroom. And yes, Elvis was a rising regional star in the south before Colonel Tom Parker took him to rest of the country, which is why every last person on Earth knows who the Colonel is, and why only Elvis buffs knew about his former managers. Both comments are duly noted.

I'm glad you understood the point of the article. It's happened to pop stars and people in advertising alike. Fame and wealth can, if you're not careful, trap you. Be careful what you wish for, or at least be careful how you attain it. I believe the whole reason he had Graceland built not to luxuriate in new found wealth so much as to create a haven to escape the throngs of fans which were an uncomfortable byproduct of fame. You might be the better judge of that last point.