by Andria Lisle
Midtown-based husband-and-wife writing team Robert Gordon and Tara McAdams collaborated on the liner notes for the reissue, tapping into Elvis' psyche and documenting the dynamics of Memphis' burgeoning studio scene in the late 1960s.
This afternoon, I sat down for a brief interview with McAdams, author of Elvis Handbook and numerous articles about Memphis, music, and pop culture.
Flyer: Who was Elvis when he walked into the door at American Sound Studio?
McAdams: He was someone who, at the first part of the session, was very comfortable in not trying. Resting on his laurels, like any poor kid would have, and getting away with very little. But at the same time, I think that the act of the '68 Comeback re-energized him. It gave him enough confidence to be able to be scared again, and i think he was scared when he walked into American. It's like he was nervous and arrogant at the same time. Elvis had a lot of respect for the people in that room. They made him try.
I'd be interested to know if Elvis got that his retinue, his entourage, was so off-putting and ridiculous, so self-indulgent. With the situation at American, he was able to go into a room with people that he respected, that he could expect some real feedback from. He had proven that he could still sing, still perform, but he hadn't been in a recording studio with real material for a long time. It was a real challenge. I'm sure he was worried about what the fuck he was doing there, instead of just sitting at home watching TV.
How difficult is it to find something new to say about Elvis?
Obviously you should know your stuff. You don't want to be repeating what someone else said, and it's really hard to find someone who doesn't have an opinion about Elvis Presley. At the same time, it's great to have someone of such stature to write about, because each paradigm shift in the world today brings a new understanding of his character. Certain parts of Elvis appeal to people in different stages of their own lives. Elvis himself was so many different things — he was iridescent, and a very reflective sort of person, and he changes when you look at him from different angles.
That said, every time you come back to Elvis, you just sort of roll your eyes and think why... What possibly could you say about him? But then it turns out you can say something new about him. It's like life — there are so many different things you can come back to, and understanding them again and again is an enriching process.
Can you describe the writing process that takes place when you and Robert collaborate on a project?
Usually, one of us writes something and the other one takes it and adds stuff. We keep the first draft available so we can argue over it. It's very collaborative. Robert is a much nicer editor, and he's much nicer about being edited. He's not as cranky, and he doesn't have that obsessive sense of ownership. I think I have a much thinner skin than he does.
Do you have a favorite Elvis track from the American sessions?
"Long Black Limousine" is my favorite, but I like the whole album. What I really like about [this reissue] is that you're listening to it as an album, but you're also listening to it as the session progressed, so you can hear Elvis as he really gets into it.
Read more from the Flyer on From Elvis in Memphis here.