An Exclusive Interview with the King of Rock ‘n ‘Roll
August marked the 25th anniversary of Elvis Aaron Presley’s self-imposed exile within the shag-carpeted walls ofGraceland, his Memphis refuge. On August 16, 1977, publicists announced that the bloated, drug-addicted, and fast-fading superstarhad died of heart failure at age 42. As the world mourned, his visage became a lucrative merchandising icon; countless books andmovies analyzed his troubled life and culture-defining art. Then, in September 1980, a camera crew caught Presley surreptitiouslyboarding a chartered 747, apparently bound for West Africa. Disgraced, he has not made a public appearance since. Even the bighunk of burning hype timed to commemorate Presley’s quarter-century of silence failed to coax him out of hiding. After that,nobody expected to hear from him again. But you don’t get to be the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll by being predictable. Late one recentautumn night, I was instant- messaged by someone who identified himself only as “E” and asked if I wanted to hear an MP3 of anew Elvis song. When I responded, “Costello?” he placed me under arrest and claimed that he was “sending someone to pick meup.” Thirty-six hours later, I found myself at his Memphis home. Dressed in a green tracksuit, white sneakers, and much gold,Presley looked damn good for 67.
Elvis Presley: I smell smoke on you. You can’t smoke in here. It’s bad for the plants.
Spin: I gotta say, Elvis, you look fucking great.
Don’t cuss in here, man.
It’s the meditation room.
It won’t happen again.
Hang loose, baby. Have a scone. Nancy bakes ’em right here. I can’t eat ’em cause I’m in training again. But I have her cook a batch every day so I can smell ’em bakin’.
You seem to be really in touch with smells.
Shoot, smells changed my life, man. Dig this. [Presley pulls out a gadget, hits a button, and a mist fills the room.] Smell that?
Your mind tells you there’s a mess of bacon fryin’ up. It’s called “aromatherapy.” It’s much healthier than eatin’ yourself a pound of bacon.
So your whole house is wired to smell like bacon at the push of a button?
Bacon. Cheese. Anything you can fry, man. Next question.
Well, as you know, the 25th anniversary of the stunt just passed and I have to ask…
Stunt? That weren’t no stunt. That was the real deal.
Your fake death?
Oh, that. Naw, that was a stunt. You’re right. I thought you was talking about me joining the Army.
No, I was talking about August ’77. What were you thinking?
I was out of it, man. I wasn’t doing much thinking. The Colonel [Tom Parker, Presley’s manager] came to me and said “Elvis, we got this great idea.” He coulda said, “We’re gonna put you in a dress and make you sing like a girl,” or one of them Bee Gees, and I probably woulda done it. I wasn’t compos mentis, man.
Do you regret it now?
I don’t believe in regret. Plus, I learned a very valuable lesson. When people think you’re dead, they don’t offer you much work.
Right. Instead they treated you as if you had died, what with all the Elvis-related merchandising.
Well, I’ll tell you, I was very touched. Problem is, it’s hard for a man to compete with all that. I was ready to come back around ’83, ’84, but they wanted Andy Kaufman and Kurt Russell doin’ Elvis. I had Kaufman taken care of, but that Russell is crafty, boy.
Speaking of work, what have you been doing for the last quarter-century?
Playing piano. Watching my televisions. Practicing kara-tay. Racquetball. Going to meetings.
You mean AA meetings?
Yessir. I’ve been clean and sober for 18 years. I still go to meetings every day, ‘cept I have ’em all come here.
Isn’t it hard to preserve your anonymity?
Naw, in here you’re just another addict. When it’s my turn, I just tell ’em straight, “My name’s Elvis. And I’m a drug addict…. Welcome to Graceland.” “Hi Elvis.” That’s the way it is.
Since you haven’t spoken to the press in 25 years, I was wondering if you would comment on several major events in rock. How did you feel about John Lennon’s death?
When it happened, I could only think about the difference between him and me.
That his death was real?
No, that he was unarmed, man. Some Lee Harvey type steps up to me, I’ve got a present for him tucked in my boot.
Were you upset when Michael Jackson proclaimed himself the “King of Pop”?
No, sir. He can have it. He’s a very talented man. Smells like cherries. Aretha can have “Queen of Soul.” Just leave rock’n’roll alone.
How about Run DMC announcing that they’re the Kings of Rock?
Who? [Picks up phone] Red? I need you to look into something for me.
Did you give your blessing when Michael married Lisa Marie? You didn’t attend the wedding, so I wondered if–
Listen, man. That subject’s off-limits. Don’t ask me nothin’ ’bout my family. Or cats. I won’t talk about cats.
Lisa Marie recently remarried. What do you think of Nicolas Cage? He’s a big fan of yours.
He was great in Valley Girl.
So when are we gonna see Elvis on stage again? That video projection IMAX tour was kind of wack.
I was huge, man.
But it wasn’t you. People want to see the King in the flesh.
I sensed that. Now’s the time. I’m ready to give the people a real rock’n’roll show, man. We’re gonna open with “Also Sprach Zarathrusta” from 2001: A Space Odyssey, except we’ve got a disc jockey who’s gonna make it swing in that 21st-century style.
Speaking of which, did you like that JXL remix of “A Little Less Conversation”?
I like the checks from Nike. Brings home the fake bacon. That was a joke, man. [Waits for me to laugh. I do.]Then we’re gonna go right into “That’s Alright Mama” and a medley of contemporary hits.
Well, we’re gonna do “Alive.” You know that one? The Pearl Jams. [Sings] “Whoa-ho I, yeah, boy, I tell ya, I’m still alive.” That’s a good one. “Son, she said, have I got a little story for ya.” Don’t know what the hell it means, man.
Yeah, nobody does.
Then we’re gonna do “With Arms Wide Open” by Creed.
Have you heard the Eminem song where he claims to be “the worst thing since Elvis Presley?”
Mr. Dre played it for me, yes. I was very flattered. He’s been kind enough to lay down some beats for me.
It seems important for you to connect with a young audience again on this new album.
Well, I’m not gonna do none of that rappin’. I’m not gonna cuss, man.
What about current rock. Have you heard the Strokes?
Strokes. I had a few of them couple years back. I’m all right now.
Good, because with the way things are in the world, E, America needs you now more than ever.
Thank you very much. I believe that’s true. In fact, I’ve been thinking about making some calls.
Yeah. Straightening out that mess they got for ’em.
Can you do that?
You don’t believe me, you go ask Mr. Nixon.
Dang. Sometimes it seems like everybody’s gone and died.
But not you, E.
No [laughs]. Not me.