Elvis Lights Up Las Vegas

The King returns to the stage after a ten year absence

February 21, 1970 12:00 AM ET

Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 52 from February 21, 1970. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.

Elvis was supernatural, his own resurrection, at the Showroom Internationale in Las Vegas last August. Everyone complained that Las Vegas was a bad choice, but you only have to look at the old color publicity photos of Elvis to know why it was the only possible place for him to make his debut after nine years of hibernation: The iconic, frontal image, completely symmetrical, stares out of the glossy blue background. The glaring eyes, the surly mouth, the texture of the face completely airbrushed out, the hair jet black with blue metallic streaks — these are superhuman attributes. It is the disembodied face of Krishna, Christ, Mao, where the image dominates the reality. The adherence to this formula has been so dogmatic that until recently you were in danger of a lawsuit from the Colonel if you used a photo of Elvis that was not the officially sanctioned publicity handout.

As you drove in from the airport, the giant neon billboard for the Showroom Internationale flashed ELVIS NOW (IN PERSON) in 20-foot letters of solid light. In person, in the flesh; the word, the voice, the image, made flesh. The distinction has to be made, for Elvis has been invisible for nine years.

Like the Temptation of Saint Anthony Las Vegas bristles with absurdities; it reeks of unreality. Its suddenness in the desert is a thirst-demented prospector's hallucination; the neon totems on the Strip pumping liquid light into the brain like pulsating neurons, the endless chrome dispensers of fate in the casinoes, and the total absence of time (there are no clocks in Las Vegas).

Even the room you are staying in is wildly improbable; the color TV on its Renaissance stand, an octagonal quattrocento breakfast table under a fake Renoir. From a distance of five feet everything seems to be made of some incredibly ancient worm-eaten wood. In fact, it's not even wood.

It's just the ultimate transsubstantiation, some synthetic substance that can be excreted into any conceivable shape. It's obvious — Las Vegas is the only place for the materialization of a Hollywood divinity, the re-entry of the celluloid image into the real world.

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