I figured out why women (still) love Elvis.

I’ve never given much thought to Elvis Presley. I guess I’ve just pictured him hanging out somewhere near the top of a list of “most overrated musical artists of all time.” But I recently acquired a three-disc record album called Elvis: 50 Years, 50 Hits (I got it for free) and have listened to it twice now, and I’ve come to a better-informed opinion. I still think that for someone called “the king of rock and roll,” he has a pretty poor output of actual rock and roll songs. I’ll give him “Hound Dog.” That’s a rock and roll song, and a good one. And he’s got a few others along the same lines, though not quite as good. But his repertoire largely consists of excruciatingly maudlin ballads and swoony doo-wop numbers. It’s the latter category I want to focus on in this post because in listening to them, I think I’ve discovered why Elvis makes women…well, swoon.

It’s the lyrics, first of all. The aforementioned “Hound Dog” has this wonderfully bitter refrain (“well, they said you was high-class/but that was just a lie”) that puts in it the same category as Bob Dylan’s triumphs of nasty schadenfreude (OMG, I just spelled that word without looking it up–high five to me), “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Idiot Wind.” But that song is an exception in more ways than one. Most of Elvis’s songs have a tone not of ill will but of a plea for good will. He creates this persona of a heart-bruised lover who’s been hurt in the past and who is now turning to the unnamed female addressee of the song (with whom many female listeners identify, not by accident) and asking her to be gentle. You don’t have to go any further than the titles of some of the songs to see this persona: “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Love Me Tender,” “One Broken Heart for Sale,” “I Beg of You.” It’s as if he says to each fan, “I’ve been hurt in the past, honey, but I know you won’t do that to me.” (I’m pretty sure that’s not an actual Elvis lyric, but it could be.)

And there’s something incredibly endearing about that. I won’t make an overgeneralization and say all women, but many women are attracted to a man who is hurt, whether physically or emotionally, and needs our help. The cynical interpretation of this phenomenon would be that we like the power this gives us over a man; the more generous interpretation would be that we (everybody, but especially women) have an innate desire to nurture and care for people. The truth is that it’s probably a combination of the two. I have no idea whether Elvis Presley gave conscious thought to the psychology of all this, but I think he instinctively knew these things.

There’s an implied subtext in most of this songs–occasionally made explicit, as in “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear”–that goes something like this: “If you treat me gentle, baby, I’ll treat you gentle too.” (Shoot, I think I missed my calling as a songwriter.) And this message, I would add, is not only sweet but also essential in a culture like ours in which masculinity is often portrayed as mutually exclusive with kindness and tenderness. If that message is sentimental, maybe we need a little sentimentality.

Let’s talk about the zombie apocalypse.

Classes started at my university today, and even though I’m not even teaching on Mondays, right about now I’m really relating to that song in Fight Club, “Where Is My Mind?”  (See my post from the beginning of the spring semester, “This is my brain on the first day of classes.”)  So in honor of not having a functioning brain—but also because I’ve been working on this particular project lately—let’s talk a little bit about my zombie apocalypse story.  I’ve been going to a creative writing group and getting some awesome feedback, but I’d love to hear your thoughts as well on a key issue: the title.  My working title for the story, which I eventually want to turn into a screenplay, is “Sam and Adrian in the zombie apocalypse.”  That’s nice for helping me find my Word document, but that’s about the extent of its usefulness.  Here are some other titles I’ve considered:

  • “Jungleland,” as in the Bruce Springsteen song.  It evokes the proper sense of chaos, but that song is very much about a city, and my story takes place mostly on rural roads and in a small town, so the title may be misleading.
  • “The Pursuit of Happiness,” an ironic reference to the central plot device: a man is running out of his antidepressant medication and is searching for more in a world where there are no doctors and most pharmacies have been depleted by looters.  But this title could also be confusing; I can just see audience members grumbling, “I thought this was the movie where Will Smith solves the Rubix cube!”
  • “The Road to Hibbing” because roughly the last half of the story takes place in Hibbing, Minnesota, the hometown of Bob Dylan and also of one of my protagonists.  (The first half is about getting there.)  The title accurately describes what happens, but I think it sounds a bit too whimsical.  It also makes me feel like Irish ballads should be playing during the movie trailer.  That’s not really the musical tone I’m going for.
  • “Life Is Hard,” which is going to be a recurring line in the story.  (It also gives a very subtle nod to a line from a Bob Dylan song: “Life is sad, life is a bust.”)  Effective, but a bit heavy-handed, perhaps?
  • “Sam’s Town,” as in the Killers album.  The name of my character who grew up in Hibbing and returns to his hometown is Sam, so again, an accurate description.  However, this title might lead to more disgruntled viewers—this time, people who were expecting to see a Killers tribute (though I do like the idea of using one or two Killers songs on the soundtrack, along with Dylan and Springsteen).  A similar option would be “Sam’s Home”; I like this one because it can be interpreted two different ways.  I think of this story/screenplay as, among other things, a supernatural twist on the “30-ish guy moving back in with his parents” plot, and “Sam’s Home” riffs on that a bit.

Titles are important, so I’ll probably be thinking about this for a while.  I’d love your feedback on these suggestions, along with other title ideas you may have.