“Just a hunk of rhymin’ love”—That’s what caught my eye when I stumbled upon a news article in my local newspaper. The article mentioned a poem about the legendary Elvis Presley, penned by none other than Irish musician Bono. Titled “Elvis: American David,” this poem was written back in 1995, but it’s making headlines again as Bono reads it as part of the BBC’s poetry season.
Although Bono’s Elvis poem may be news to most, it has been around for quite some time. Bono recorded it at the end of an interview over a decade ago, and it was later reprinted in an Elvis fan magazine. Bono, best known as the lead vocalist and lyricist of U2, has always been vocal about his admiration for Elvis and his musical influence.
In a 2004 essay in Rolling Stone, Bono reminisced about his first encounter with Elvis as a young child. He vividly described the impact of Elvis’ ’68 comeback special, revealing the essence of what made Elvis unique. Bono highlighted how Elvis changed everything—musically, sexually, and politically.
When Bono speaks of Elvis’s influence on today’s rock music, he stands in the minority. Many young rockers fail to recognize or acknowledge the connection. Bono captured this sentiment in his essay, stating, “Elvis changed the way people feel about the world.” He emphasized Elvis’ role as the blueprint for rock ‘n’ roll, with his gospel highs, Delta mud, and sexual liberation.
During U2’s visit to Memphis, they recorded at Sun Studio, the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. Bono aimed to reproduce the rawness he had heard in Elvis’ Sun recordings, a blend of lean and haunting music. He marveled at how Elvis didn’t know he was a king yet, and that uncertainty is what captivated Bono.
While Bono recognized the Vegas period as “underrated,” he also lamented Elvis’ loss of control during those years. Bono astutely observed that we often want our idols to die on a cross of their own making, and Elvis was no exception. He concluded, “Elvis ate America before America ate him.”
Now let’s delve into Bono’s poem, “Elvis: American David,” which dates back nine years before his Rolling Stone essay. This 661-word poem may not be a masterpiece, but it is a heartfelt tribute to Elvis. Each of the poem’s 108 single-line stanzas begins with the word “elvis” and offers a mix of biographical statements, Elvis song titles and lyrics, and reflections on his cultural impact.
Some lines in the poem rhyme, while others stand alone as observations about Elvis. Bono shares his opinions on Elvis’ career, from being the world’s most famous singer to his movies and musical influences. The poem also features numerous testimonials about Elvis’ legacy, emphasizing his role in delivering the world from crooning, inventing the Beatles, and bringing rhythm to various genres.
The most captivating aspect of Bono’s poem lies in its figurative expressions, capturing the essence of Elvis through metaphors and contradictions. Lines like “elvis lived on his own street” and “elvis is alive, we’re dead” offer thought-provoking insights into the enigmatic figure of Elvis.
The poem concludes with a set of three lines that encapsulate the contradictions of Elvis’ life: how he could hurt those closest to him while also touching the hearts of millions. Bono acknowledges, “elvis broke priscilla’s heart, elvis broke lisa marie’s heart, elvis woke up my heart.”
Bono’s poem may not be a classic, but as a high-profile and respected advocate for Elvis Presley’s legacy, he deserves the appreciation of all Elvis fans. His words about Elvis’ continuing influence serve as a wake-up call for the younger generation in the music industry to recognize the impact and connection they may have been missing. Bono finishes his “Elvis: American David” with a plea for forgiveness, prayers, and a heartfelt tribute to Elvis Aaron Presley, forever etched in musical history.
Alan Hanson | May 2009
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