Picture this scene. An American delegation is assigned the responsibility of formally accepting the Japanese declaration of surrender ending Japan’s involvement in the Second World War. As a nation, Japan was decidedly beaten and thoroughly humiliated. The American commission led by General Douglas MacArthur stood on the deck of the USS Missouri, the largest battleship in America’s fifth fleet, anchored smack dab in the heart of Tokyo Bay. On September 2, 1945, Japan submitted and bowed to their loss. A nation intensely bound by pride and wrapped in honor of their long history and heritage had seen annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing to a close the war in the Pacific. They now marched onto the deck of the American beast in total submission.
Penning an emotional, heart string tugging, sappy, dripping, saccharine article about Elvis Presley is a simple task. The man is easy to love. The beautiful subject matter never ages, the insights never cease and the heart of those that understand the truth of this man and all he meant to us will never back away from the intense joy he provided. In short, his fans never tire of him and that will always remain. But that is only surface work. The true depth and real meat has much intensity.
In order to fully appreciate his many facets, I easily divide by three – a number to which I’m partial, just ask my threesome born three minutes apart over twenty years ago. Good things come in three’s. I view it as Elvis, the man and the legacy, Elvis, the music and the movies, and with considerably more grit and aesthetically driven, Elvis the artistic focus.
Someday soon, as his first contact circle continues to narrow, the stories of his antics and his legacy left will change – many already forgotten and some ridiculously embellished folktales pointing toward deity. This is far too evident among the casual fan, those that believe he had healing abilities and psychic powers. They’re out there. The songs and the movies will happily stand as a testament to his commercial musical endeavors, unchanged. Cherished concert footage will paint a colorful but partial portrait of his on stage persona with broad brushstrokes, but it’s only a small glimpse. It is incomplete.
What remains is the narrow and sadly unknown definitive lines which can color in the missing mystery shades of dark and light pertaining to our man. It is this show of the artistic worldwide tribute which will bring the total canvas to life and fill in the absent portions of the thrice divided pie chart. This artistic portion forever illuminates the universal reciprocal respect and love between the boy from Tupelo and the rest of the world who only needed one name, Elvis.
For submission, one “THE WESTERN CARAVAN” EP-1146. Were you aware it is the very first Elvis Presley EP ever released? Not “That’s All Right Mama, not “Blue Moon of Kentucky, but a small foreign piece with a huge significance highlighting “Mystery Train” and “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”.
Back to my beginning statement, how does a World War II historical moment have anything to do with a then ten year old poverty stricken Mississippi boy, still light years away from even thinking of Rock and Roll royalty?
Only a mere decade after their gut wrenching and humiliating surrender, still well within the confines of their rebuilding stage, in December 1955, Japan stunned the music world by introducing the very first Elvis Presley EP ever released, entitled “The Western Caravan”, volume 4.
Looking back, it seems astonishing that a country so vanquished and defeated would move on so quickly and become the flag bearer for a young American singer who represented the country which had devastated them. Japan quickly established itself as the gold standard by which all other countries would be measured when it came to Elvis. The bar was set high by their many vastly superior record covers with crystal clear photography highlighting unique artwork both front and back as well as numerous song and logo variations, most of which the Elvis world has never seen.
The 70’s and 80’s saw album covers and record design as statement pieces, generally offering a message from the artist or band to their public. Before it’s time, Japan and other international entities stated exactly the opposite. They presented it as a love letter from their country to the artist, to their man Presley.
Japan poured it’s heart and soul into every Elvis record. The intense love and careful devotion is fiercely evident. The artwork and detail is not happenstance nor accidental. The third piece of the Presley pie I referred to, the reciprocal art portion, the “Beauty Missed”, should really be assigned the title of “Beauty Discovered”. Once you view it, you can never miss it for what it is and what it denotes. This initial offering represents only the tip of the International idolization iceberg.
“The Western Caravan” was simply a beginning personification of a universal movement of individual Elvis art work on records and albums that deeply demonstrated and showcased to the rest of the world how much he was truly loved. Art departments worldwide followed suit toiling long and hard to produce uniquely innovative offerings of great beauty and creativity. Run of the mill was not good enough for illustrating their devotion. It was their method of a reciprocal love for the American born singer who was quickly adopted worldwide. The love for this man knew no borders and to this day, that remains true. A quick trip to Graceland shows just that. Visitors from around the world make the pilgrimage, showing the same degree of respect he always displayed for the ones whom he knew put him in that “house on the hill”.
Just as the rich voice of Elvis will never be replicated and his unique showmanship can never be duplicated, some things are one off priceless. It’s not possible to assign a value to rarity. It doesn’t exist in the marketplace because there is no replacement. Can the Mona Lisa be replaced? It cannot. This piece is much the same. In 60 years, none have come available for sale, unopened, mint and it’s likely none will. But what it embodies is in many ways far more meaningful. It’s a love note that cannot be copied because it’s only written by the owners’ heart. It’s an engrained memory of beauty and devotion belonging to and cherished by the possessor.
This is the last and greatest part of the Elvis Presley story still begging to make it’s mark, so anxious to return the love with which it was given. If a country so beaten and torn loves so greatly that it swallows it’s pride because it cannot NOT show it’s adoration, then this story must be proudly followed.
“The Western Caravan” is only the beginning paragraph of many worldwide Elvis narratives which sadly are yet to be recited. Time and time again, country after country, unconsciously strived to outdo one another in proclaiming their love for their favored child. EPE knows of it’s worldwide contingency and for them to bypass the opportunity of establishing a respectful International bonding exhibit borders on criminal disrespect.
It’s these authentic visual anecdotes and others that make up the artistic division of a man who withstands the test of time and will forever reign as King, not just a cultural and musical icon but also a testament to international cohesiveness. To rightly honor and display these symbols of love absolutely must be done. These stories cannot die with the few who know them. Just as light should illuminate the dark rather than being hidden under a bushel basket, an exhibit showcasing the reciprocal respect and adoration deserves to shine brightly. It must make it’s home at Graceland, the Presley Mecca for fans worldwide. His International fans deserve it and even more so, he deserves it. This is a beautiful love story and “The Western Caravan” is just the beginning…..
(photo credit: George Cooper)