Editorial: Return to Sender

8 April 2016 Alan Attwood

Editorial: Return to Sender

Elvis Presley and I go way back. As a youngster, when all other boys were taking up drums or the guitar, I opted for a…glockenspiel. Clearly taking the desire to be different too far. One of the only tunes I ever learned to pick out was a German folk song that provided the tune for the Elvis hit ‘Wooden Heart’ (1960). In 1997, while working in the US, I made a pilgrimage to Graceland, his former Memphis mansion. The most interesting feature was something not mentioned on any of the brochures: messages scrawled all over the exterior wall. Dolly and Manuel came to see you Elvis… Elvis, when I was eight years old, I wanted to marry you. Now I’m 30 and still feel the same. Forever yours, JudyHere to see you all the way from Wichita, Kansas. And more. None of them written to a man who had died almost 20 years earlier. All composed as if, yes, Elvis lives.

Now, for all my time here as Editor (since November 2006), and a few years before then coming and going from The Big Issue’s Melbourne office, I’ve worked quite closely with Elvis. A portrait of The King hangs next to our office. Nobody has ever been able to tell me who was responsible for it or why or how it got there. Like Everest, it’s just there. Opposite, over the stairs, is a huge portrait of a former vendor, Hans, entered long ago (unsuccessfully) in the Archibald Prize. Somehow it seems appropriate – a vendor and rock’n’roll royalty sharing the same space. And it helps explain why Elvis is back on our cover. The timing is right: a new movie has been made about the surreal event late in 1970, when Elvis arrived at the White House asking to see President Nixon (who said later, as if assessing a potential political rival, “Elvis had the power over people’s imaginations that would enable him to obtain high office”). More importantly, this is the 60th anniversary of Elvis’ breakout year, 1956, when he had his first no.1 hit, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, and released his first and second albums.

For a man who would have turned 81 last January – had he perhaps shown a bit more restraint with those fried peanut-butter and banana sandwiches, and cocktail of drugs – he’s still current. The Guardian recently compiled an “all-time top 20 selling singles” list, amalgamating both old-style charts and modern streaming services. Proving that there’s no accounting for tastes, Mariah Carey came in first with ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’. Bing Crosby was sixth with ‘White Christmas’, The Beatles 10th (‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’). Elvis was 13th with ‘It’s Now or Never’. Thirteenth may not seem like much, but it puts him ahead of Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber and Madonna. ‘It’s Now or Never’, which played on the mini-bus taking me into Graceland, is from 1960, the year he turned 25. He was only 20 when he first heard ‘Heartbreak Hotel’; many who dealt with him back then were struck by what a polite, shy young man he was…until he got on stage and unleashed his signature moves. Later, he became a bloated parody of himself. But in this edition we celebrate the Elvis who took the musical world by storm 60 years ago. And with this edition, I bow out.

My first Editorial appeared in Ed#267; this is Ed#509. (You can do the maths; I’ve never been good with figures. Or the glockenspiel.) It has been a joy and privilege to do this job, working with a wonderful team, working for all the remarkable people who sell the magazine or prepare it for subscribers. I leave you in the capable hands of Melissa Cranenburgh, who steps in as Acting Editor.

Like Elvis, I’m now leaving the building.

Alan Attwood, Editor

This article first appeared in Ed#509 of The Big Issue.