My Page: Elvis Perkins ‘The Telling of Creation Myths’
For a time, Elvis Perkins did not exist.
There are, of course, the four and a half billion years the planet Earth existed before humans made their dramatic appearance, and the other 200,000 or so years before I was born and named. But those are different stories. This story, of course, is about what happens to one’s good name once their tellurian time is all up.
Set in a relatively ancient Southwestern United States high-desert town, it deals with a somewhat modest span of maybe a year and half, when Elvis Perkins did not exist.
For all of our sakes, I would love to be able to go on from here with a tale of off-world and/or other-dimensional encounters, for there I was a mere three-hour driving tour from Roswell, N.M. But, again, this is not that yarn. I am, however, fairly confident we will all—in our ways, in time— get around to the possible telling of the like. And who knows? This year is surely volatile enough.
At the time in question, around the turn of the millennium, I was already thoroughly accustomed to the very first utterance from a newly encountered person being: “I thought you were dead.” So it wasn’t a great leap of the imagination for me to do as my namesake had in legend done and, after feigning his death, disappear.
While you could have still seen me walking down the street, clear as day, Mr. Presley’s fabled move and my own were in essence self-same. Neither of us wanted to be Elvis anymore. I have no doubt his process was much more complicated than my own. As an all but complete unknown in a new town, mine consisted only of deciding to give “Elvis” a rest and experiment with calling myself by my middle name. It was under this name, and with a sense of out-from-under my proper given name relief, that the artist formerly and then again, known as Elvis Perkins essentially created himself.
I wrote the first half of my first record, Ash Wednesday, during this moment of identity bending. My first performances, at one of Bar B’s Sunday open mic nights, were given by someone other than Elvis Perkins. I still come across 1-track and 4-track cassettes of my early recordings, and they are credited to that other someone.
I bring this all up now on account of the fact that my new record, Creation Myths, is populated with songs dating back to that period. The record can be considered a collection of covers: a future self reinterpreting the work of a past self. And this page can be seen as Creation Myths’s creation myth.
As they tend to, this one begins with a void.
There was the void created by Elvis Perkins when Elvis Perkins decided to cease to exist so that another Elvis Perkins might someday fill it. And behind this void was the kind of Black Hole that’s left behind when a massive star can no longer abide by its own heft and radiance and collapses on itself. We speak of growing up in the shadows of this or that, of him or her, but when dealing with such a blown-out figure and phenomenon as Elvis Presley, it rings truer to me to instead go right to the source of shadows.
When I arrived on this earth, Mr. Presley had only about one and a half revolutions around the sun left to his name. In considering the lifecycle of suns, I’m also inclined to start Elvis’ supernova period not at his death but somewhere around the advent of The Beatles. I’m inclined to say he drifted in rainbow and rhinestone trails of stardust from there all the way through Las Vegas. He last appeared in Vegas just shy of two months before my birth. His death opened his Black Hole period and, as metaphysically melodramatic as it may sound, as a toddler, I had no choice but to unwittingly wander into it.
One of the main riddles of my existence, and any existence can only be riddled with them, has been this: If we all can agree who Elvis is, then who, and why, am I? (In just writing that I see myself echoing “Anonymous,” the first single released from Creation Myths: “I know who you are, but who am I?”) There is the curious case of Mr. Costello, of course, a very bright light in his own right. Funnily, it seems he became Elvis the same year I did. And when I reached the age he was when his manager made that fateful suggestion to him, I was saying to myself: “Why not try not being Elvis?”
And so I did, and so it was. And so, for a while, I wasn’t Elvis, and it was good.
On May Day morning 2001, I got in my car with my Burmese cat, Calypso, and we drove in a straight shot from the foothills of this ancient Southwestern highdesert town to the Southern Californian city of my youth. I set up a studio in my thenvacant childhood home with the intention of making the record that is now out. The “what followed” and “why so long” is a different story, or another chapter, for another time.
The Genesis’ rainbow, as I see it, is that these songs traveled just long enough to find themselves in the hands of their evidently ideal producer, Sam Cohen. And they traveled just long enough to be graced by a host of exceptional musicians, none of whom I knew in 2001, save for Vera Sola, who would have not yet been a teenager.
I’m all but certain the record would have had another title. This one nearly did. It was almost Early Works (too painterly and too ponderous). It was not quite almost The Babbling Brooke (too past-self-deprecating). It was nearly (the) Light Years (too light). It ended up itself to contain the time and the invisible creator above, in an ouroboros’ embrace, each song singing itself into being.
Elvis Perkins self-released Creation Myths, his first record in five years, in October. Produced by Sam Cohen, the album is billed as a spiritual sequel to his 2007 debut, Ash Wednesday.