Elvis Presley died August 16th, 1977. He died in his pyjamas, while reading a book. He was found on the bathroom floor, by Ginger Alden, and pronounced dead on arrival at Baptist Memorial Hospital, Memphis. The King was dead; long live the... well, nobody - nobody, not Mick, not Paul, not John, not even Michael. He was, like Jesus, irreplaceable. The King was dead.
Like Jesus, yes, but not in death. Jesus Christ carried his own cross up a hill. He was the messianic leader of a sect that professed the virtues of abstinence, of fasting, of eating moderately. He was lean, tough, a rebel, and if he took drugs then he was strictly a hallucinogens man – fly agaric, cannabis. He was nailed to his cross, and if he wasn’t, then he was tied to it. His knees were broken. He was stabbed in the stomach. He suffered. Then he died. And if none of it really happened, then it definitely happened to somebody now called Jesus. Have you seen Spartacus?
Elvis’s checkout was a tad different. According to Rolling Stone, he stopped by his dentist’s for a couple of porcelain fillings, drove home, played a bit of racquetball, did some work, turned in, had a half-hearted spin on his in-bedroom cycle machine and ambled off to the bathroom, to read and die. While the full post-mortem report remains unavailable (deep freezed until 2027), we know from the official toxicology report that Elvis had at some point in the day – by mouth and intravenously – whacked a whole raft of prescription drugs, the main buggers being ethinamate, methaqualine, codeine and a handful of unidentifiable barbiturates. When it came to it, Elvis was sitting on his bathroom armchair. He had a heart attack. He fell on the floor. It’s unlikely he suffered.
It took four men – the ambulance crew and a couple of the inner council – to carry Elvis out of Graceland. Unlike Jesus, who would, when taken down from his cross, have weighed less than the equivalent of a medium sized son, Elvis was big. Not, by today’s standards, super big, but - at around 230 – certainly clinical. See, Elvis ate round the clock. He ate junk, fried junk, any junk, and in quantities that defy belief. He was a food fiend, an eater of such capabilities that a single day’s worth of Elvis food would have been enough to have sustained Jesus and two of his disciples for more than a month – calorie-wise. Small wonder, then, that he was diagnosed as having hypertensive heart - plus coronary artery - disease. Drugs or no drugs, Elvis ate himself to death.
So, the point to all this? Well, it’s simple. Jesus and Elvis lived at very different times. Jesus lived in – and was the arch representative of – the time BE (Before Elvis). That’s most of our history, and it’s a time when hardly anyone got as big as Elvis. There wasn’t enough food, and if there was (like in a palace or something), you had to be an extraordinarily disciplined overeater to achieve anything close to a body mass index of 25 (merely overweight). It just wasn’t the same kind of stuff. Not in 0033. Not in 1542. And not in 1959, when Elvis – as the sleeve photograph for Elvis Presley, his debut album, so perfectly demonstrates – was still that half-starved country boy, a god-boy, the most beautiful face in the whole goddam history of rock and roll music. He was.
And then what happened? Even simpler. We stopped being Jesus. We became Elvis. Here's how. It’s an old story, and it’s all over the internet, so I’ll be quick: it’s to do with money, and corn, and corn syrup. Until 1973, and for much of Elvis’s lifetime, American farmers had been protected from the vagaries of free market economics by a price floor, something if you’re American you'll know all about (and if you don’t, then I am coming to get you), and if you’re not (American), and don’t (know about it), then Google New Deal + farmers + Agricultural Adjustment Act. Basically, government imposed scarcity meant a decent price for crops, which meant that agribusinesses (think Tesco etc) were rendered relatively impotent with regards setting unfeasibly low prices. All this changed in 1973, when Nixon, at the behest of a certain Earl Butz (Secretary of Agriculture, Google him too, not a good dude), and under pressure from an electorate unable to manage the high costs of food, deregulated the whole shebang, went hell for leather in the corn department (easy to grow and highly malleable stuff), over-produced and stored or exported the excess. Prices plummeted, all but the biggest went out of business, corn was fed to everything that lived and breathed, and also to the unbreathing, the dead – to steak, burgers, you name it. Don't laugh. This is real. Watch King Corn. It’s all there.
Then, OMG, they only went and found out how to turn the stuff into syrup - cheaper than sugar, yeah. Best thing since bread. They stuck it in EVERYTHING. The result? Super cheap, super tasty junk, junk that messes with your body's ability to turn food into energy, that fucks your brain, makes you high, makes you low, makes you want to eat what you’ve eaten again, and again. In 1974, Elvis was ahead of the curve: he knew his sodas; he knew his fries; he knew corn stuffed burgers by the 5. By 1977, when junk finally claimed its most famous son, America was up to corn syrup speed. Today, two thirds of the American population is - or is on the way to becoming - Elvis. Cos hey, check it out: it doesn't matter whether you fly, drive or walk to McDonalds, or Burger King, or wherever. You may be poor, you may be rich, it doesn't matter. When you get there, you're going to eat. This is America. It's Elvis time. Eat, king. Just eat.