Last week, Erica Landau, a music blogger for Broward-Palm Beach New Times posed a familiar, but hefty, question to her readers: Elvis or Beatles? As Landau said, it's a decades-old argument and both sides give compelling arguments.
Why are we talking about this on a visual arts blog? Well, the impetus for Landau's good-natured rabble-rousing was two upcoming photography exhibitions at Palm Beach County cultural institutions - Elvis at 21 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art and Give Peace a Chance: John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Bed-In for Peace at Old School Square Cultural Art Center in Delray Beach.
Landau used the two exhibitions - which both include important and iconic images of the two biggest icons in rock history - to ask her readers "who was the most popular artist," the most influential, etc. If the comments are any indication, the readers recognize the cultural significance of photographer Alfred Wertheimer (American, 1929- ), but music-wise, they tended to side with the Fab Four above the King.
Record sales could be considered an objective signifier of "importance," but these don't offer a clear-cut winner, as the numbers are subject to some limitations, including any number of bias and statistical flaws. For the sake of argument, both The Beatles and Elvis are considered in the top three best-selling artists of all time (Michael Jackson is No. 3) with claimed worldwide sales of one billion units.
An examination of "who was more influential" is entirely subjective. Ask any well-versed music nerd to name the most influential musician of all time and they will probably be able to construct a convincing case for his or her own choice.
I say, why choose? The exhibitions don't need to compete, Give Peace a Chance starts next week and concludes later this month and Elvis at 21 opens April 20, 2010, leaving plenty of time to see both. Upload some Beatles AND Elvis tunes to your iPod - or, break out those records, if you want to do it right - and make time to see both exhibitions.
But, simply for the sake of snark, one could say that this is the first time that The Beatles have arrived on the scene before Elvis.
ALFRED WERTHEIMER (American, 1929-), Going Home, digital pigment print on watercolor paper by master printer David Adamson, 37 x 42 inches. All rights, including copyrights, are the sole property of Al Wertheimer/Govinda Gallery. Elvis at 21, an exhibition developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and Govinda Gallery, is sponsored nationally by The History Channel.