ca conrad interview for Advanced Elvis Course from THE MORNING NEWS

In his new book, poet and self-described“vegetarian sin eater” CAConrad develops a theosophy based on the music and celebrity of Elvis Presley. Using prose poems, found art, and snippets of conversational dialog, Advanced Elvis Course details CAConrad’s excursions to Memphis where he interacts with acolytes of the King.

TMN: What prompted your journey to Graceland?

CAC: It was actually many trips, and they weren’t prompted—not at first they weren’t. Although there were several trips friends wanted to take with me, I said no, because Graceland is a meditation into the best parts of the soul of America, and you feel it and meet other pilgrims much easier when alone. 

The book isn’t a travel book, or a guide to Graceland. It’s actually about the investigations into what’s happening with this spiritual leader Elvis Presley in the bigger picture of our world. The book sets out to investigate “out loud,” so to speak, or investigate with everyone “out loud.”

The queer content of the book has prompted an angry stir from some of the more conservative minds surrounding Elvis and his legacy. I’ve taken to sending a reply to all hate mail with this linkwhere I break down for them the lyrics to “Jailhouse Rock,” which really pisses them off. It’s no surprise though, sadly, since reports show that gay bashing is up by 29 percent. But I’ve been tested by fire; bring it on, I say!

TMN: It seemed as though you were openly welcomed into the community of Elvis fans in Memphis. Was this as it actually happened or were anti-gay aspects of your experience omitted?

CAC: Oh, I would never leave such things out, if they happened. If I met any homophobes there I didn’t know it. Everyone’s so high on Elvis at Graceland; no time for the haters. It’s funny you say this, though, because the book was reviewed by a gay newspaper and the reviewer was annoyed that some people in the book acted like I was a unicorn or something. But I just figured that the reviewer doesn’t get outside his immediate circles much. When I’m outside big cities people often act like I’m cool because I’m gay. That’s funny because a lot of gay people are not cool at all—gay Republicans for instance. And trust me when I say that straight Republicans are even cooler than gay Republicans!

TMN: Why is it so easy for so many people to see Elvis as a divine figure?

CAC: In her memoir, Elvis and Me, Priscilla Presley recalls Elvis asking, why, out of all the people in the universe, had he been chosen to influence so many millions of souls? Elvis was a Capricorn, born January 8th, and eight rules the center of Saturn, the ruling planet of Capricorn, which is all about getting things done, no bones about it! Never forget Elvis’s signature, “TCB: Taking Care of Business!” He was also born a twin, and Elvis knew he absorbed his dead brother’s life-force at birth, setting his course and setting the high-octane engine for that course.

CaConradTMN: What’s your favorite object in your office?

CAC: The photograph my friend Heather Raquel Phillips took for the book, and not because it’s a picture of me, but because I really feel that picture, reaching for the giant blue E of Elvis in the sky! I told her about the dream I had and she said, “Let’s do it!” She’s a terrific photographer; she can do anything!

TMN: Do you think a person has to choose a side in the Beatles/Elvis debate?

CAC: I just quote John Lennon, who said, “Before Elvis there was nothing!” John answered it for us.

TMN: Why format the book as you did, as a series of prose, poems, and snippets of conversation?

CAC: My main voice is as a poet, and any poet worth his or her salt knows the true value of breaking the rules. By allowing the book to come out of me just as it wanted to, instead of forcing it into the restraints of formally acceptable forms, much more was able to be expressed. I believe strongly in the hybrid-genre building of a book. It’s a joy to write this way, and so far the feedback has been that it’s a good read as well.

TMN: What’s something you’re not good at but wish you were?

CAC: Bringing the dead back to life. I despise death, hate that we are so temporary. There’s so much to do! It seems impossible to do it all. And there are so many people I’ve loved who are dead. I really hate death. I’m opposed to death, more than anything else in life!

TMN: What are you working on next?

CAC: Another long-term project, The Book of Frank, recently came out. But I’m hard at work on my (Soma)tic Poetry, a poetry which investigates life between Soma, or the divine, with Somatic, or the flesh of things. (This is something updated monthly.) And I’m in the middle of finishing a very exciting collaborative (Soma)tic experiment with my friend Thom Donovan, and this involves the music of Arthur Russell.

I’m also working on a book of Astral Projection poems, poems written as a result of out-of-body experiences. Also there is a collaborative book I’m working on with poet Frank Sherlock titled The City Real & Imagined: Philadelphia Poems, and this is coming out in January 2010 from Factory School Books. I’m very excited to be working with so many brilliant poets, and I wouldn’t trade this time for any other!

TMN: Would you be willing to relocate if necessary?

CAC: But I relocate every day, keeping my mind open to the undiscovered beauties. And I don’t care if that sounds corny, I mean it! —