Almanac Poetry: Elvis Presley’s Late Cheeseburger Period

Elvis Presley’s Late Cheeseburger Period

 

The fat man
with the black hair
and the big sideburns
spread his lard across the divan,
ate cheeseburger number five,
shot the television with a magnum handgun
because he hated the six o’clock news,
farted,
took an upper,
got one of his southern air-head aides
to bring the limousine to the front door,
farted again, long and resonantly,
ate a creampuff,
had a heart attack
and died …
Picasso had his blue period,
Van Gogh his early social realist phase,
but the king of rock ‘n’ roll did not enjoy
a time so elevated
– he simply fell from innocence,
blew up like the Goodyear blimp
and, for a brief time, became his own
middle-aged impersonator.

 

Acknowledgements: initially appeared in Muse magazine, 1995, then in my first poetry collection, Vigorous Vernacular, Picaro Press, 2008; this collection then reprinted by Ginninderra Press, 2018.

 

A young, lithe Elvis in a promotional photo for the film, Jailhouse Rock, 1957. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

 

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About

Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His work has appeared in print in Australia, the UK and the USA, as well as on many online venues. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, will be published by Ginninderra Press later in 2020. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press.

Comments

  1. Quite the Renaissance man at that stage Kevin; we all know and enjoy the hits, but where would the culinary world be without the Elvis Sandwich (Bacon, banana and peanut butter – fried)?

  2. Love it, KD! A biting (!) critique of the worst excesses of the American dream.

  3. John Campbell says

    Can’t understand why most impersonators at the Parkes Elvis weekend do gaudy Vegas Elvis … the King in black leather, 1968, was sensational … Dig the poem.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, Jarrod. Thanks for your response.

    Yes, I’m familiar with the Elvis sandwich – from reading about it, not actually eating it!

  5. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your comments, Ian. I love your encapsulation of the poem – that’s precisely what I was aiming for.

    One of my favourite bits – out of all the reviews of my poetry books – was when a reviewer highlighted this Elvis poem and described the King as “the Southern boy who ate America”!

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Many thanks, John. Glad you got into the poem.

    And I agree with your sentiments regarding Elvis impersonators … the 1968 comeback concert black leather look was fabulous!

  7. Love it.

    Especially the final line.

  8. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, JTH.

    I really like the idea that the first Elvis impersonator was Elvis himself!

  9. Very good. Elvis – like Warne; Gary Snr; Mozart; Ben – should only consider their public performances. Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom ruthlessly exploited his talent and simple nature. Fame and fortune robs us of the consequences of our actions until its too late to learn from them – Phil Spector, Michael Jackson, George Best………

  10. Hi KD

    The idea of what Elvis is and what he aint is probably too close to home for me and it definitely would be better making my point over a beer. As a comment it may come across as sterile and even po-faced.

    I struggle with this poem’s interpretation of Elvis, even while appreciating the wit, tongue in cheek commentary and personal interest displayed in your poem. If you haven’t read Peter Guralnick’s two books on Elvis, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love I highly recommend them.

    At the very least, I would contest whether Elvis had an elevated period in comparison to other great artistic innovators. I would say he had three. The first being the most significant. While he in no way created rock’n’roll (and us white and privileged have a huge ongoing debt to Chuck Berry) he did light a lamp so bright that it attracted not just the rest of the US singer/performers at all levels and across all genres to emulate or add to their style a little of his but the lamp lit enough to attract artists across the world.

    I liked the poem’s jokiness but worried that by default it therefore defined Elvis.

    Cheers

  11. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your response, Peter B – such interesting and apposite thoughts.

  12. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Rick. I respect your comments. Reading a poem can be like reacting to a painting – there’s often the scope to view it in one’s own way and then say a range of relevant things in relation to it. In fact, I think that in general good art of whatever kind should be capable of a range of interpretations.

    My main point with this poem was to critique aspects of American culture and some excesses of celebrities (e.g. the rock star throwing the TV out of the hotel window kind of thing) – I did write the piece over twenty five years ago, too, but would still stand by what I have to say in it in general terms, even if my overall view of Elvis himself has modified a little over the years. (I do like his music and talent, too, but dealing with that would form the basis of a different poem for me.)

  13. Enjoyed this poem, Kevin. It reminds me of a couple of Warren Zevon songs about Elvis and his fall from grace: “Porcelain Monkey” and “Jesus Mentioned”. The former refers to a porcelain monkey that Elvis kept at Graceland:

    “He threw it away for a porcelain monkey
    Gave it all up for a figurine
    He traded it in for a night in Las Vegas
    And his face on velveteen”

    I think there’s a bit of irony going on too – as Elvis supposedly died while sitting on the dunny (i.e. porcelain). That’s right folks, the king died on the throne.

  14. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Damian – thanks for your comments. Yes, the notion of a fall from grace (e.g. “fell from innocence”) is certainly something I touched upon in the poem. I really like the Zevon quote too – such a brilliant songwriter.

    And, believe it or not, I’ve written a brief poem about his (supposed) death on the loo! I may post it sometime.

  15. Hi Kevin

    Yes, I got the connotation to American excess and as I mentioned, this would be better over a beer, which I look forward to when we can! I don’t know if you’ve heard Dylan’s Murder Most Foul, but that is a view of American excess and our focus on pop culture at the expense of following grander dreams and ideals. (by the way, that was my clever attempt to draw Damian into the discussion and reference Elvis one more time!)

    Yep, big WZ fan here too.

  16. Kevin Densley says

    Fair enough to all that, Rick!

    I will try to get to an Almanac lunch (or something along those lines) as soon as one happens – and it would certainly be good to have a beer and talk music – and whatever else!

    KD

  17. Rick, you know I can never resist bringing Zevon into the conversation.

    And Kevin, would love to see the Elvis/loo poem. I had a go at this ‘king died on his throne” topic too once, but couldn’t quite get the rhyme and metre right.

  18. Someone pointed out the other day that if Jesus had died like Elvis Christians would all be wearing dunnies round their necks.
    Worth noting, I think, that Elvis was a very simple man who struggled to remember lyrics.

  19. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Damian. Here’s the hitherto unpublished loo poem, very succinct:

    Death of Presley

    The King died on the dunny,
    his silk pyjamas ankle-low.
    Just underlines the old saying, I guess
    – when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go.

  20. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, ajc, for your contribution.

    It might interest you to know that when my Elvis cheeseburger poem was originally published in an Australian magazine called Muse, it appeared alongside a poem that dealt with a, let’s say, “foreign” department store – in the store they’d mucked up their Christian Easter religious iconography, so that on their wall display Santa was nailed to a cross!

  21. Kevin Densley says

    Correction to my response immediately above, ajc – the “foreign” department store mucked up their CHRISTMAS display, such that they featured in it Santa nailed to the cross! (Even more absurd and funny, really.)

  22. Mr Stan Kluzek says

    Excesses of celebrity vs Lack of Ambition
    Elvis once said, close to his death, that he was tired of being Elvis. Due to his inability to jettison his management and hangerons, he had lost his ambition. Excesses of being a celebrity, maybe, but two of Elvis favourite songs were Walk a Mile in my Shoes and this Following one. It may explain a few things.

    You’ll meet many just like me upon lifes busy street.
    With shoulders stooped and heads bowed low and eyes that stare in defeat.
    For souls that live within the past where sorrow plays all parts,
    For a living death is all that’s left for men with brokens hearts.
    You have no right to be the judge, to criticize and condemn.
    Just think but for the grace of God it would be you instead of him.
    One careless step, a thoughtless deed and then the misery starts
    And to those who weep death comes cheap, these men with broken hearts.
    Humble you should be when they come passing by,
    For its written that the greatest of men never get to big to cry.
    Some lose faith in love and life when sorrow shoots her darts,
    With hope all gone, they walk alone these men with broken hearts.
    You’ve never walked in that man’s shoes or saw things through his eyes,
    Or stood and watched with helpless hands while the heart inside you dies.
    Some were porpers, some were kings, some were masters of the arts,
    But in their shame they’re all the same, these men with broken hearts.
    Life sometimes can be so cruel that a heart will pray for death.
    God why must these living dead know pain with every breath?
    So help your brother along the road, no matter where he starts!
    For the God that made you, made them too. These men with broken hearts!

  23. Kevin Densley says

    Many thanks for your interesting comments about Elvis, Stan – and for providing the song lyric, too.

  24. Hey Anson, that Elvis/Jesus reference reminds me of the brilliant Lenny Bruce joke re Jesus. If he was killed in our times it would be via the electric chair. He said, imagine rather than a crucifix, Christians would have electric chairs hanging from their neck.

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