curse of “talent”

From Careless Love, the second volume of Peter Guralnick’s Elvis Presley biography:

Elvis’ own attitude, on the other hand, seemed to Tony Brown to reflect a disrespect for himself and the fans that he had never shown before, even in his most erratic moments. “He’d be onstage some nights, and he’d suddenly just turn around and face us. He’d always pick out one person in the band, and he’d look at them and act silly. He’d just stand there, four or five minutes — not do anything. The audience would be screaming out song titles or applauding or stomping their feet. Elvis would have his back to the audience, and he’d be going like, ‘Just listen to them stupid people …’ and here we are with our hands on our instruments hoping he will call out something we know. Instead … he’s just being Elvis out of control, saying, ‘These people, they don’t care if I’m good or bad. I can do anything, and they still love it.’” 

Elvis was caught in a trap. He was so used to being loved automatically that he couldn’t handle any kind of criticism. He regarded a lack of a standing ovation as total failure. But at the same time, the unconditional love made him feel that what he was doing was meaningless, beyond evaluation, irrelevant. He needed the approval of other people desperately, but his own talent impeded his ever truly believing in that approval when it came. The more his fans loved what he did, the less he could believe that what he did mattered, until he finally ground into a state of paralysis. He could choose to do more and more unlovable things, or he could choose not to love himself and succumb to self-destruction. Apparently, judging by Guralinick’s narrative, he did a lot of both.


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