Of No Concern

Lisa Marie Presley is a singer-songwriter to be reckoned with

If Lisa Marie Presley had the last name of, say, Jones, would the Dallas Observer be speaking to the singer who put out the album To Whom It May Concern? Given the music on her now gold record, maybe, maybe not.

Then again, Presley hardly needs to strive for any further media attention; she's been news and tabloid fodder since soon after her conception. Yet she was more than willing to find time to speak to us prior to her State Fair show this weekend. "It's the same thing for me as anybody else," she bluntly offers. "It's the right thing, and I'm coming there, and it's part of the deal. I don't mind." Nor does it seem that she minds that people want to talk to her because her name is Presley.

On the other hand, wouldn't it in some ways be far easier as a new artist to not bear her father's surname of Presley--a source of massively daunting expectations--and simply be taken on her own terms? "There's good and bad connected with it. It still all ends up being on me, regardless of the name letting me through a door possibly or getting me attention. It still all ends up on my plate, whatever ends up ultimately happening," says the 35-year-old woman whose plate had already been piled miles high long before she went into her father's profession.

Remember when Lisa Marie Presley kissed Michael Jackson on TV that time? Yeah, still pretty gross.
Mario Testino
Remember when Lisa Marie Presley kissed Michael Jackson on TV that time? Yeah, still pretty gross.

"I don't wish I was someone else," Presley says. "But I did think of not using my last name on the album and trying to go for a band name or something like that." Not that she could have escaped who she happens to be. Besides, "the record company didn't like that idea very much."

Welcome to the newly hatched musical career of Lisa Marie Presley. As with every artist, and especially with debut acts, she has to deal with her record company's wishes and whims. And she has to deal with the fact that her father was the true American rock and pop singing idol, as well as her well-publicized teen years on drugs, marriages and all the other events that have made her a tabloid headline favorite.

Despite the fact that Presley has lived a life that has made her the punch line for more than a few late-night TV monologue jokes, To Whom It May Concern has forced at least part of the world to seriously consider her as a singer and songwriter. It has gotten generally positive reviews in many marquee publications, as it should. It's a solid work of modern pop-rock, with a couple of genuinely hooky numbers alongside some more somber tracks. Its lyrical bent and concerns are not all that far removed from Alanis Morissette, Meredith Brooks or even Liz Phair--contemporary female anguish. And Presley sings rather well in a husky and feminine baritone sax of a voice that at times reminds of Cher (and, we are told, was not digitally pitch corrected).

So if she were Lisa Marie Smith or Jones, To Whom It May Concern likely would have gotten some positive attention, though hardly anywhere near as much as it has. After all, she's Lisa Marie Presley. She's as rich as a Saudi sheik, and all she has to do is something out of the ordinary to land on the cover of The National Enquirer. So, then, it's rather ballsy of her to put out a record and hit the road. She doesn't need the money or the public attention. And launching a singing career could have just painted yet another target on her chest. But Lisa Marie Presley wants to be taken seriously as a musical artist and maybe earn what is certainly in her case some hard-won credibility.

As Presley tells it, singing is what she has always felt fated to do. As a child, she would spend hours in her room with her record player being a mirror star, microphone in hand. It's something many kids do, but when your bedroom is in Graceland, suddenly that innocent act becomes invested with a huge psychic weight.

What would she listen to? "When I was real, real little, it was the Sweet Inspirations--they had their own record out at one point. I knew all the lyrics," she recalls. "I was really into the Partridge Family as a kid. And my dad's records as a kid when I was tiny. And then later on, at about 7, I got really into Elton John and went on from there."

During her first marriage in her early 20s to musician Danny Keough, Presley took her first tentative steps as a singer. "He was someone that I was really comfortable with and could sing in front of," she explains of the father of her two children, who remains a close friend. "I had been doing vocal scales with this woman and still really hadn't tried to sing. Just exercising, and I don't know what that purpose was." But one day, "I pulled [Keough] in the car, and I said, I want you to listen to this. And I sang a song. And he went, wow. And then I said, I want to go in, and I want to record something. But if it doesn't sound good, we're going to walk out and act like nothing ever happened. And I don't want anybody to know about it."

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