"Transistor Healing Elvis" Mural, Memphis Tennessee

In this murky $1-camera photo, Fourth International Elvis Conference Director Vernon Chadwick stands near the "Transistor Healing Elvis" mural, painted August 10-12, 1998.

The Fourth Annual International Conference on Elvis Presley, held in at the Radisson Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee August 9-12, had the theme "Are You Lonesome Tonight? Elvis and the Dysfunctional Family". The conference schedule promised to tackle "a sensitive topic often too painful for Elvis's loyal following to discuss but one that promises to reveal much truth about the present age he exemplifies...to engage a subject heretofore confined to sensational journalism: Elvis's self-destructive cycles of addiction, depression, violence, boredom and obesity, ultimately resulting in premature death."

At the Conference I gave a talk "Guitar Army Brat and Three-Chord Murals", discussing twenty years of collaborative artforms, rock n' roll motifs and simplified community artwork processes. The talk was intended to set the stage for the development of an 8' x 8' mural panel "Transistor Healing Elvis" at the three-day conference.

Discussion of the project and its intial planning began online, with my posting of the project's concept and suggested visual motifs, including the electronic circuitry which I've used in paintings since 1985 and in a kids' mural project in Mountain View in 1994. At times in the discussion process I was severely flamed ("We don't want a Piss Christ in Memphis") by traditional Elvis fans who did not value deconstruction of his mythic persona.

Yet in person Conference participants cheerfully painted or suggested imagery to include around the border of the mural. Motifs contributed by Conference participants include Col. Parker and his hotplate-dancing chickens, Priscilla Presley, musical notes, Elvis' father Vernon Presley and the bad check that got him imprisoned. The owner of Tupelo Hardware, where Elvis bought his first guitar, contributed its picture, while someone else accurately sketched the mobile home on the edge of Elvis's estate in which daughter Lisa Marie was probably conceived.

Bi-polar brain lobes symbolic of Elvis' manic-depressive condition were depicted, and three portraits of Elvis from the '50s, '60s and '70s were painted by a Florida art student who confessed being diagnosed with bipolar syndrome himself. Imagery of Cadillac hubcaps and tailfins, the Holy Bible ("He loved it so"), fried banana sandwiches and the Coumbus, Mississippi toilet seat on whch Elvis died were all suggested by women in their sixties; Elvis Presley would have been 63 this year.

In the center of the mural Elvis' unhappy mother Gladys was symbolized as a rotund guitar in which Elvis and his stillborn twin Jesse were fetal parts of a yin-yang in her abdominal soundhole. The schematic microphone Elvis sang into was hooked up to his burning , star-spangled heart. A unifying design of semiconductor circuitry schematics (like the transistor radios which did much to carry forth Elvis' voice) was intended to serve as a metaphor of connectedness, though was interpreted by psychologist Richard Koenigsberg--a presenter at the Conference--as confining and imprisoning Presley.

Detail, "Transistor Healing Elvis" (8 ' x 8 '), showing the circuitry--diode, capacitor, resistor, battery, ground and leads--linking the singer to his mother-guitar (whose belly soundhole contains both the fetal Elvis Aaron and stillborn twin Jesse Garon) and his star-spangled heart.

The grisaille mural panel was completed by the Conference's final day, though I left before its intended installation in the Memphis Greyhound Bus Station. A photographer went to shoot it in March, 1999 and found it in storage there, not yet installed; when he returned a week later, the mural had disappeared.

A more detailed description of the Elvis Conference appears in Bad Subjects #39.

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