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RockNotes: Dead Elvis vs. Dead Zeppelin

1. Even 30 years after his death, Elvis Presley continues to be a never-ending cheese factory. It's amazing how he's managed to do that. Then again, unlike fellow ubiquitons (my brand-new term for movie and rock cultural icons that are so overexposed their relevance has changed from who they actually were to the fact that they are ubiquitous) Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, Presley's handlers - like "Colonel" Parker - seemed as if they were cynically planning for the post-mortem nostalgia market from the get-go. How else could you explain the fact that Dead Elvis raked in $52 million in 2005, according to Forbes, the most of any deceased celeb?

blue_elvis.jpgThe latest whiff of Dead Elvis fromage is coming from a pretty likely source - the TV Land Network, which is according him an honor that Minnesota folk such as myself call the Mary Tyler Moore Treatment: a cheap-looking statue on or near a public spot associated with the celeb's rerun-dependent fame. In our case, it was TV Land's truly awful 2001 sculpture of Mary Richards, frozen in bronze with a weird smile, tossing her "tam o'shanter" in the air just as she does in the opening credits of her show, right at the spot on the Nicollet Mall where Reza Badiyi filmed it in 1970. In Chicago, it's a bronzed Bob Newhart sitting in his psychiatrist's chair, now thankfully moved from Michigan Avenue to an area, Navy Pier, that was already smothered in nacho-cheesiness (and at least that statue is honoring someone who's actually from the city that's stuck with it - Mary's only connection to Minneapolis came from the fertile imagination of James L. Brooks).

With Elvis, it's Hawaiians who have the honor of hosting the "life-sized" replica of a replica of something that at one time was a real person, somewhere under the countless diamond-hard layers of glitter and froth. The sculpture is being erected in Honolulu in part to honor Elvis' general status as a ubiquiton, and also to mark an event that helped usher in the very era of uber-ubiquity: the Jan. 14, 1973, broadcast of Elvis' "Aloha From Hawaii" NBC-TV special, which was the first live TV show ever to be broadcast worldwide on a satellite. The show was beamed from what was then called the Honolulu International Center, now renamed the Neal S. Blaisdell Center.

To celebrate the elevation of another ubiquiton, TV Land will pretty much devote all of August to Dead Elvismania, showing, of course, the Hawaii special, as well as the '68 Comeback Special and, in addition to pretty much all of the famously bad Elvis movies, an original documentary called Myths and Legends: Elvis, in which TV Land promises to take "an in-depth look at some of the most popularly held mysteries about the King of Rock 'n' Roll and dissect them to separate fact from fiction. Are Oprah Winfrey and Elvis really related? Did he really approach President Nixon in the hopes of becoming a federal drug agent? These, and many other mysteries will be answered in this special." I guess I question whether either of those questions are really mysteries. The answers seem pretty obvious to me - Oprah, "no"; Nixon, "yes". To me, the biggest mystery is, how much cheese can one culture eat before the arteries become fatally hardened? So far, the answer to that seems to be at least $52 million per year's worth and counting.

2. Part Two in today's episode of my never-ending, doomed-to-fail fight against rock cheese brings us from Honolulu to another sun 'n' fun capital, Myrtle Beach, S.C. There we mark another "occasion" that's ostensibly about music but is really about the still-very-lucrative rock 'n' roll business: Hard Rock Park, the world's first (but probably not last) rock 'n' roll theme park, set to open next spring, has reached a landmark in its construction.

A real rock 'n' roll theme park would, of course, be built mostly around the other two-thirds of the holy troika: sex and drugs. I'm thinking of something like the Rock 'n' Roll Smackdown ride, basically a water slide shaped like a giant syringe in which the flume riders play the part of the smack, being shoved down a progressively narrowing plastic tube and then flying out the skinny end into a red-colored pool representing Jim Morrison's bloodstream. Or, in a Chicago-related touch, theme park patrons could check out the Groupie Grotto, where they would pay to enter a replica of the room at the Hilton used by Cynthia Plaster Caster, while a highly-paid theme park professional in a period-perfect '60s hippie chick costume does to dad what the real Cynthia did to Jimi Hendrix. Lots of fun, and the family gets to take home a priceless rock 'n' roll souvenir!

zep_coaster.jpgBut no, instead of cool stuff like that, the Hard Rock Park has, well, a big roller coaster. But it's called "Led Zeppelin - The Ride," so it must be great, right? Right? They "topped out" the construction of the thing this month, which was worth a press release and some coverage in the local papers. I'm trying to envision how a roller coaster could really incorporate the experience of a Led Zeppelin album or concert, and I'm coming up empty. A giant animatronic Jimmy Page poking a huge double neck Gibson at the cars? A two-story-tall Peter Grant taking a robotic swing at the tracks with a steel-framed cricket bat? I don't know. I'm reaching here. Apparently, what the Led Zeppelin roller coaster does have is size (150 feet tall) and a giant loop (120 feet around). The real Led Zeppelin also had size (well, heaviness) and plenty of tape loops. You can see the roller coaster for miles - you could hear Robert Plant scream for miles. I could go on. Yet I won't.

Actually, what Hard Rock says the ride will have is a "six-and-a-half minute experience, partially over water. Reaching speeds of 65 miles per hour, the coaster will boast six breathtaking inversions, the largest of which will be a 120-foot loop. Every moment of the ride, including thrilling drops and loops, is timed to Led Zeppelin's hit single 'Whole Lotta Love,' creating an unprecedented sensory experience and an adrenaline rush rivaled only by a live Led Zeppelin concert." Comment: Now it's possible to have a Zeppelin-themed LSD trip without the pesky LSD! We really have made great strides in fighting drugs.

But that's not all the Zep worship involved. No, no. Before you get the big LSD-adrenaline rush, you get to enter a "huge silver airship" that supposedly gives you the sensation of walking into the cover of Led Zeppelin I, with band-related murals adorning the walls, music videos blasting from TV screens, all topped by a "moving multimedia tribute" to the boys in a space designed to resemble a recording studio. It must also be noted that the ride is located within the theme park's Rock & Roll Heaven zone, which I'm guessing is a tribute to Bonzo, the only Dead Zeppelin.

I think you'll also be able to get your very own mess o' rock 'n' roll cheesy poofs right there in the "studio." That is, if the Elvis fans haven't scarfed them all.

3. And finally, this item from Beachwood Reporter Editor Steve Rhodes:

I'm just catching up with the sad news (via a recent post on Crickets, the Reader's music writers' blog) that Nancy Rideout, the original guitarist of Chicago's very own Moonshine WIlly, one of the original Bloodshot bands, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Manhattan in May when someone ran out onto the West Side Highway causing her to swerve and be thrown from her bike.

I was a bit mesmerized by Rideout's playing back in the day; it always evoked barbed-wire to me. That's all I ever thought of watching her, like she was playing barbed-wire or shredding wire or just slicing and dicing raggedy electric edge-filled guitar that could slice you open and leave you bleeding, happily, on the floor. I had a fan crush on Rideout and her playing, and I'd just like to note for the record that she delivered precious moments of happiness to strangers with her work.

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Comments? Send them to Don.



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Posted on July 16, 2007


MUSIC - At Home Chicago Blues.
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PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Suffering With Stoics & Cynics.


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