Elvis and the Song He Couldn’t Sing
Whenever Ernie Roberson and/or Cedric Glover come into the studio to talk Shreveport history, you never know what you might learn. They've told us about everything from Centenary's years as a power house football team to Shreveport's Bloody history. Well, this morning, I got to drop some knowledge on Ernie about Elvis Presley.
Its well known that Elvis spent many of his formative years as performer on stage at Municipal Auditorium as a member of the Louisiana Hayride. Its really where Elvis learned and crafted the act that soon after lead him to become the biggest and most influential performer in American history.
But, what you may not know is that Elvis literally could not sing one of his biggest hits...'Are You Lonesome Tonight?'. There are about 10 to 12 known recorded live performances of the song and in every single one of them, he screws up. Now according to psychological experts, the reason for this is parapraxis. Parapraxis, in short, is the technical term for a Freudian Slip. Simply put, parapraxis is an error in speech, memory, or physical action that is interpreted as occurring due to the interference of an unconscious subdued wish or internal train of thought.
Now, there is WAY too much to dive into about the reasons why this happened. For a more in depth look, you can listen to the Revisionist History Podcast or read a psychological study of Elvis and his relationship with the song here. But, as a quick overview, Elvis had some deep seeded abandonment issues and an obsession with death related to his mother and twin. There are countless interviews with Priscilla that really goes into some of Elvis' extremely odd behavior...including one of their first dates being a trip to the morgue.
Anyway, these psychological experts believe that when Elvis hits the bridge of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", the point where the lyrics shift focus to the singer, this is when Elvis loses it. (You can watch the "Laughing Elvis" version of the song at the top of the page.There's also 'Crying Elvis' and several others) His fear of abandonment paired with lines like "Honey, you lied when you said you loved me" causes him to, on an emotional level, completely lose control of the song and performance.
Like I said, there is a lot of resources you can find online about the subject. But, to me, the most interesting thing about all this is that he never quit performing the song. Despite him blowing it every time, he played it every night. I don't think anyone would have complained if he dropped the bridge. But, no matter what, Elvis attempted to perform it as written.