Any artist that has ever faced criticism of their work or had to listen to very convincing reasons why their art wasn't good enough and couldn't possibly be successful needs to know the story of Elvis Presley and Rock n Roll. It may sound totally ridiculous now but when rock n roll music first hit the scene it was only supposed to last a year according to some critics. Singers were supposed to sound beautiful and the music had to match. When this new musical genre debuted it was not predicted to last more than a year, that is until Elvis Presley hit the mainstream with a song that every music executive at RCA hated.
Elvis had just signed to a major record company, RCA, and started recording new songs for his upcoming album. The second song he recorded was completely unlike anything he had recorded before at his previous record company, Sun Records. "Heartbreak Hotel" was a song inspired by a man that committed suicide and left a note saying "I walk a lonely street." It was not the upbeat rockabilly style of Elvis' previous recordings; this was a song that was blues inspired and talked about death, not the kind of song people were listening to on the radio. Elvis fell in love with the song when he first discovered it, however his version ended up sounding completely different, and when he took it to his producer, although reluctant to play a part in such a risky song choice, he believed Elvis knew what he was doing enough to record the young singer.
When executives at RCA heard the song and were told this was the first single, they said it was a horrible song choice and there was no way they could release such a song. The only one that was confident in the song was Elvis. Everyone else didn't understand it. It didn't measure up to what they were used to and so they did not want it. Eventually Elvis had his way and the song was released in early 1956 and once again a few critics called it morbid and bad. Remember, at the time, rock n roll was not supposed to last either, according to several of the same critics, but once Elvis performed the song on television and people heard it on the radio, it went to number one, charted high on three billboard charts, was the biggest selling song of that entire year, completely solidified rock n roll as a movement and is widely considered one of the greatest songs of all time.
Listening to "Heartbreak Hotel" made a couple of young men in Liverpool, England want to be rock n roll musicians and they started a band called The Beatles. Bob Dylan and countless others up to the present day were influenced by Elvis Presley and rock n roll music not only survived but completely permeated throughout the world and influenced practically every nation on Earth. And interestingly, this almost didn't happen if you remove Elvis' confidence in his artistic work. If he had just said, "well, these guys are the professional music executives and they know better than me, i'll just let them choose what songs I should sing," we'd be living in a completely different world right now.
Fortunate for us, Elvis was a true artist that knew what he wanted to create and didn't let an entire world convince him he couldn't create it just because they'd never seen it before. As an artist/creator I can relate to this story because my own music doesn't fit nicely into what people are used to, if you're interested in listening to it go to www.xraypoetz.com. I take a lot of inspiration from "Heartbreak Hotel" because if we as artists don't stand up for our art, we'll be the ones walking a lonely street.
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I remembered a friend in college gave me a CD that had some Bob Dylan on it and I didn't really like his singing at first. A short time later I was consuming a very high volume of music in general, exploring every genre and really diving into the greats and there was no escaping Dylan. I think it was watching D.A. Pennebaker's documentary "Don't Look Back," considered one of the greatest rock documentaries of all time, that got me hooked like I was a kid when my dad showed me comic books. Bob Dylan has released over 40 albums and I have most of them. Why? He's the greatest rapper of all time.
Before Bob Dylan, most mainstream music contained simple lyrics with simple themes. After Bob Dylan, mainstream music changed dramatically. He influenced the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and most musicians since. When he hit the world stage no one had heard music so complex and significant. His words painted pictures that did not match up to reality or matched up too frighteningly close to home. Up until this time most mainstream music was Frank Sinatra type love ballads or "How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?" or early rock n roll music. What Bob Dylan did was make it okay to make lyrics that did not have to be easy to understand or simple or apologetic or any of the other safe ways songwriters approached writing. His words were puzzles, left scattered across our paths for our minds to play with.
Listen to "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and tell me Bob Dylan isn't a rapper. And if he's a rapper, name one greater. His lyrics and music transcended popular music and created an entirely new kind of popular music, one where the lyrics mattered and the songs meant something more than just background music you calmly and politely listened to while having dinner. No, his music and all that came after carries with it the idea that you must push some boundaries somewhere, you must work out a way to describe things better so in some way you can find a way through the ever evolving landscapes of living on our planet.
What is hip hop? It is the idea that despite the dangers of our environment we can find some good in it and overcome all obstacles through the power of art and self-determinism. Bob Dylan was a musical prophet, spitting unmatched verses about our world so resonant they remain just as valid now than they ever did. How do you determine a man's impact? Look at his products, his art, his works, his creations. If you haven't had the pleasure of partaking in the genius of Bob Dylan's music, do yourself a favor and run to his canon of music history as well as the current hits he still churns out (they're just as good). He's over 70 years old and tours constantly, catch him if you can, he's a real OG.
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I'm David Carus. From overcoming one of the most dangerous cities in the country and graduating from one of the most prestigious colleges in America to leading an educational movement as a teacher and running for Congress at the age of 25, I decided the best hope our world has is through art.