A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Brief Non-Middle Eastern Opinion: CNN's "Elvis or Johnny Cash?" Question

This has nothing to do with the Middle East, that I can immediately come up with, but I'm going to post it anyway. Besides, Marc Lynch has dropped Rap references into his blog posts, so there's a precedent.

Apparently during the US Republican candidates' debate on Monday, John King of CNN sought to break the seriousness of the debate by asking "Tea Party" star Michelle Bachmann whether she preferred Elvis or Johnny Cash. She fudged by saying "both," which is a correct answer to be sure (though I don't agree with her politics generally), but seems to ignore the real answer, which is to cite the "Million Dollar Quartet" jam session of December 4, 1956, in the Sun Records studio in Memphis. (Your blogger has stood in that studio, and yes, he's been to Graceland, and even to the King's Birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi.) On that day Carl Perkins (the great country/R and B singer who first recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" but is mostly forgotten) was jamming at the studio with a young, then-unknown piano accompanist named Jerry Lee Lewis, when Johnny Cash dropped in to pick up a guitar and sing along. Then Elvis, who had left Sun (which discovered him) for RCA, dropped in for old times' sake, and the four decided to wing it together. Conflicting contracts and licensing issues kept it from the public for decades, but when it was finally released as "The Million Dollar Quartet" it became a classic. Photo above (Perkins is second from left; if you can't recognize the others you're too young to be reading this).

By the way, B.B. King, the greatest of the Blues artists, was also a Sun artist at the time, too. Oh, what would we have had if he had dropped by? Memphis perfected: rock and blues and country and R and B which are all actually the same roots music when you get down to it. We can only dream.

Now that is the only correct answer to "Elvis or Johnny Cash?" Sorry, I needed to vent. Back to the Middle East. I have spoken.

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