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The things we don't know about Elvis

Saw The King the other day. Do we need another Elvis Presley documentary? Sure! Who doesn't love an Elvis documentary?

Director Eugene Jarecki's theme is, basically, if you take seriously the idea that Elvis' life is a metaphor for the American Dream then we're not so far away from our overdose. His point is well taken and yes, there's lots of Donald Trump in this documentary.

I've often thought there's a lot of crossover between the characters of Trump and Elvis, the main difference being that Elvis was good at his job. But both men are these bizarre repositories of people's hopes/fears/dreams/condemnations of America while largely being boring people. Don't get me wrong. I'm a prolific consumer of Elvis documentaries, biographies, and, of course, music. I largely credit discovering Elvis with teaching me about being a singer later in life (I have trouble listening to the first Piñataland albums when I'm singing...) but at no point, despite finding his life fascinating and revolutionary in many ways, have I ever thought, "Man, I'd like to sit down and talk to Elvis!" He seems like kind of a boring guy.

Similarly, I am hard pressed to think of an American who's views on virtually any topic I have less interest in hearing than Donald Trump's. A great tragedy in society right now is that we hear everything he has to say about everything. My greatest hope on election night in 2016 was that I would never have to listen to him again, and I still believe deeply that the this country desperately needs him to just shut up. And yet, perhaps because there's not much inside them, these men have become vessels for other things. People fill them with their own stories. At least Elvis had the good sense to fill his void with other people's songs. Trump just fills his void with himself, creating larger and larger voids to fill.

For his part, Jarecki has the good sense to know that his vehicle for the movie is a shaky one. He basically drives around the country in Elvis' old Rolls Royce and invites people to drive around and pontificate about Elvis or sing songs or whatever. The car breaks down a lot as people point out to him that his metaphor is a little wonky as well. But there's a nice point in the movie when Jarecki's just driving through large open land between California and Memphis with nothing in sight. He mentions that at these moments it seems like the country still is waiting to be discovered. More than anything else, it's this moment far from Elvis or Trump or any of our culture that seems to hold the most hope for me. Just an open road and nothing in sight. A vast empty landscape still filled with possibility.

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