How Would You Manage The Elvis Comeback?
It’s 2014 and Elvis Presley is still alive. All the conspiracy theories and campfire stories are true, and he is 79 years old. Yours is the marketing firm tasked with engineering the last hurrah of American monoculture.
Let’s start at the beginning. Nobody fakes their own death. Except for Olivia Newton-John’s husband. And probably Ken Lay. Definitely Hitler possibly. OK, a lot of people fake their own deaths. Why would Elvis do it? He was in a heavily medicated stupor 24 hours a day, and he lacked the lucidity to carry out a decision like this.
Presumably the decision came from above: a doctor or a wayward psychiatrist who convinced Elvis that faking his death was the only thing that could save his life. It was the only way, a reduced Elvis was persuaded, to concretely become estranged from his toxic circle of handlers. So Elvis signs off on some paperwork, and some shady people are hired, and he goes into hiding.
So from 1977 to 2014, Elvis Presley got ragged and old and inconspicuous in Santa Monica, cut his hair a little different, and grew a beard. He walks along the Santa Monica pier sometimes and nobody cares. And he’s friends with Willie Nelson, who has inexplicably been able to keep this a secret for decades. Willie convinces him to get back on the road now that he’s 10 years on the wagon and Colonel Tom Parker is long dead.
And now the King is calling you from a quiet west LA apartment, and it’s your job to orchestrate a comeback. You’ve done a DNA test with Lisa Marie, you’ve got him insured, and now you get to bring a man back from the dead.
You’ll need to keep everything secret. Don’t let anything leak to the media. Send Elvis to a discreet North Hollywood studio.
Fly in his band. Make them sign non-disclosure agreements, and have them rehearse a reasonable 40 minute set. Thirty minute set, ten minute encore. All hits, and close on a spiritual.
When he’s ready to play again, take to social media. Have Johnny Depp get on Twitter and insist it’s gonna be the show of the decade. Do a couple more social media teases. A geocaching game leading to Graceland, where contestants will find a photo: a strip of gold lame pinned to the back of a tour bus, with the caption “2014.” Then prepare the inevitable Super Bowl ad spot. Keep it simple. Have Jerry Lee Lewis sitting in front of a piano, like he’s on the set of the Johnny Cash “Hurt” video. He’s reading a Bible. Have him stare at the camera and say “the king is dead; long live the king.” Then list the tour dates and cut to black.
The beauty of bringing Elvis Presley back from the dead is that money will be no object. It will be the absolute last monoculture entertainment event, so you can pretty much get the NEA to fund this. The NEA’s 2011 budget was $150 million, so let’s say you can get $120 million. You’ll need $5 million for the Super Bowl time slot, $15 million for whatever lavish visual effects shots you could possibly need, and $100 million for Jerry Lee Lewis to leave his house.
Do the Hollywood Bowl dates.
Let everybody freak out during his brief and uneventful concerts (where nobody will be able to hear him anyway), then immediately helicopter Elvis out to rural Italy and shield him from the press. Keep him as enigmatic as possible, or the stunt will lose its mystique and people will become angry over the decades-long deception. If he wants to do an interview, then he can do 5 minutes with Letterman via satellite. If you’ve done your job right, he’ll be unable to set foot in America ever again.
Now you can start working on the comeback album. Bring in a low-key producer who can navigate a legacy artist without going insane, like T-Bone Burnett (who produced B.B. King and Willie Nelson) or Joe Henry (who produced Solomon Burke and Bonnie Raitt). Record as many standards as you can, and do one crossover pop song for the single. Metric’s “Help I’m Alive” will work nicely here, with its Elvis-friendly lyric “help, I’m alive / and my heart keeps beating like a hammer.”
Elvis will live out the remainder of his days in rural Europe. He’ll never go back to Graceland. His drab, unadorned Santa Monica apartment will become a worldwide tourist destination until it gets torn down because of the traffic. Elvis Presley will lead a boring existence. He’ll record an album with Led Zeppelin and die of a heart attack at the ripe old age of 84, and monoculture will die with him.