Elvis Presley would have turned 83 today. You know who else would have turned 83? Jesse Garon Presley, Elvis’ identical twin brother, delivered stillborn a half-hour before Elvis arrived.
The birth of Elvis is the subject of today’s Gloomy Tunes, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds‘ monstrous “Tupelo.” Taking John Lee Hooker’s song of the same name (about the 1927 flood also immortalized in Charley Patton’s “High Water Everywhere”) as his model, Cave re-imagines Presley’s birth as apocalypse, a windswept, sodden Gothic tale, where no birds fly, no fish swim, and the streets are turned to rivers. But in a clapboard, tin-roofed shack, a child is born. But not before tragedy hits, and Cave howls “the firstborn is dead!” (which is also the title of the 1985 album that “Tupelo” kicks off). It’s a tale told though a corroded blues, the band hammering on a single stuttering, staggered riff, with pummeling drums and thunderous cymbal crashes, as the King is loosed on an unsuspecting populace (although “the lil children know”), in language that recalls both the Bible and Ancient Mariner. A great, powerful song and performance.