Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In the Army Now – Elvis Presley Joins the Army

Today in 1958, Elvis Presley was conscripted into the U.S. Army as a private at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. He wished to be treated like any other soldier during his stint in the army saying: “The Army can do anything it wants with me.” He was adamant about taking on regular duties, and turned down offers to serve as mainly an entertainer to the troops (which would have also allowed him to keep in touch with the public). The army wasn’t prepared for the media attention Elvis’ conscription would create, and a small army of reporters descended on Fort Chaffee on the first day to see Elvis take his oath, try on his uniform and cut his hair.
            Elvis served mainly in Germany during his two- year stint in the service. Although he wanted to be treated like everyone else, he did have certain privileges. For a time, he lived apart from the base in his own apartment with family and friends. He also was able to provide his base with televisions and bought an extra set of fatigues for everyone in his unit (and donated his army pay to charity).
            Two interesting developments occurred while Elvis was in the army: he learned about amphetamines and was introduced to karate. The interest in karate would continue and later become a part of his stage routine. The interest in and use of amphetamines would later have serious consequences for his health, and contributed to his death. Beyond these developments, he also met a girl named Priscilla during his time in Germany who he would later marry. Interestingly, in the video below he claims there was nothing serious between them.
            I think it was John Lennon who said that once Elvis entered the army, his career was never the same. Elvis had those same fears, and worried about his own ability to recover his career after leaving the service in 1960. From 1960-1967, Elvis made a series of mostly laughable films, and moved further away from making serious rock and roll. He would try to recapture his musical career with his 1968 comeback special, but it was never really the same. Here is a video showing footage of Elvis’ first few days in the army.

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