Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I have reason to believe we all will be received...

"Tigers eat antidotes, Mom." The Kid just told me that. I think he meant antelope (which, do tigers eat antelopes? Do they even live on the same continent?)... Tigers eat Antidotes. Sounds like a good band name, huh?

Speaking of bands, or at a stretch, of Rock and Roll, I think The Kid has decided to dress as Elvis Presley for Halloween this year. I have a good amount of Elvis memorabilia about the house, which The Kid has noticed and ultimately has come to love. I have some great Christmas decor w/ Elvis on it, several books, photos, magnets, stuff like that. We do have some odd tastes here in the Soapy Water household, and the Elvis Presley thing, is, well, a kind of good story (kind of). Seeing as it is a slow news day as far a progress in the whole "The Kid at School" narrative, consider this my big Elvis apologia.

I am not a huge, die-hard fan of The King (I am more of a Woody Guthrie is the roots of rock and roll type of gal, I like them RAW rock n rollers). I am, however, emotionally linked to Elvis. Like all good stories, this one starts in the middle ages...

When I was a senior at DePauw University, a hybrid Art History and Archaeology major, I took a course on Romanesque art and architecture. A great deal of the church building that took place in the 11th and 12th centuries that are considered "romanesque" in Europe were linked deeply to the popularization of religious pilgrimage from Paris to Santiago de Compostella in Spain (cool links about it here and here), and the resulting churches that were built were stations along the routes (camino). While it was a deeply religious experience (and continues to be), it was also a well-organized cash cow for the Church. See this as the advent of tourism, if you will, the churches and towns along the camino saw windfall profits. Small churches, in order to attract pilgrims, contstructed elaborately decorated churches and made up -er- were devinely gifted exotic and important relics. The art of the time exploded with enormous tympana (the decorated interior of a classic Romanesque arched doorway) carved in deep relief with reminders of man's earthly sins , the sublime possibilities of heaven, and the judgement that awaited them all.

Our final project and paper was to create either a pilgrimage church, its place in the route, its place in history, etc... We were to write a paper and then, with visual aids (most of us were art majors of some kind or another, so greatness was expected, not just toothpick-cathedrals, yo), present our paper, filling up a 1-hour time slot with our material--yikes!!! (and quite obviously the best class I ever took at DePauw...)

As I sat up one night thinking about my final project for this class, I read again what Saint Bernard of Clairvaux had said about the art of that time... That the images were profane, filled with "deformed monstrosities and monstrous deformities" and that the art was simply created for "the concupiscense of the eyes." He believed that the images were so seductive and so explosive that they would distract the pilgrims' minds from the worship and into fiery orgies of sin and decadence.

So, clearly, Romanesque art was totally rock and roll. I instantly knew what needed to be done for my final project: a pilgrimage of my own, to quite possibly the only true American reliquary shrine, Graceland. The home of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, the owner of the dynamic pelvis who's movements inspired in parents (echoing the concerns of St. Bernard) the fear of the concupiscence of the eyes (not to mention minds) of American youths. Elvis resided at Graceland, the decor of which remains in tact, frozen in time with his death in 1978, giving entirely new meanings to the ideas of "deformed monstrosity" first fretted over in the 12th century...

I was bartending at the time, and started asking everyone I met or served what they thought about Elvis. I found that tiny Greencastle, Indiana, was literally filled with Elvis fans, and more than that, a large number of people who saw him as more than a man. My bar patrons loaded me up with books (my fave was a cookbook called, "Are You Hungry Tonight?"), tapestries (so very medieval!), black light velvet paintings and even a 10-pound bust that doubled as a whiskey decanter. Most of these things were loans, although I made off with a few things inadvertently, and still keep them in safe places. If there was a fire in my home, I would make a concerted effort to salvage them.

I documented my pilgrimage (which of course doubled as a full-on college road-trip) w/ super 8 film. We couldn't film at Graceland, but I taped with a voice recorder interviews with a few pilgrims there. It was spookily somber. There were people literally weeping when we walked in the front door.

One man I interviewed had come from Holland. It was his first visit to America, and had come straight from Rotterdam to Nashville, followed by Tupelo, MS and finally culminated at Graceland. The next day he flew back to Europe. He insisted that while he was a fan, he wasn't one of those "cultish freaks." As we left Elvis's gravesite, I watched the man reach over a fence, grab a pinecone and quietly put it in his pocket.

I presented my paper as a kind of Elvis-loving High Mass, extoling the virtues of the relics I'd collected from the folks around town, showing my film, playing a song, but mostly talking about the amazingly mystic bent of mind required to turn a man into a legend, and the spaces that he inhabited into shrines. I will be forever in awe of the power that this very simple Mississippi hick holds over us.

So, as I assemble The Kid's chosen costume for the season, I have to laugh. The Kid sees around our house my picture of Elvis's grave, my magnets, my books, and while I, myself, do not subscribe to his cult or am even a huge fan of his music, I've just as quietly and surreptitiously kept my relics of Elvis, only to breed a new generation into it all. How do you explain to a 5-year old your bizarre academic interest in a cultural phenomenon?

I suppose I don't, but instead closely watch as my clandestine child transforms himself on Halloween into that most wicked and ghoulish role to play: that of the American Rock Star.

Rock Star Scare, Indeed!!!

1 comment:

mister lady said...

I weep. That was beautiful.