The First 100: Where TCBCast Came From and Is Going

I know, I know. I first teased a write-up about TCBCast back in April 2018, promising to do it after finishing up “A Mammoth In Harmes Way” that spring. Well, better late than never, and just as we’re coming up on our 100th episode of the show.

TCBCast has its origins actually way before even Never Been to Graceland’s earliest drafts. Back in 2007, during the initial wave of internet reviewers like the Angry Video Game Nerd and Nostalgia Critic, I told Skeeter Bite vet Matt Luebeck (Dr. Lawrence from Jamie Klotz’s Diary/Mountain Dew Monster from Adventures in Hot Springs) that I should hop on the bandwagon and review all of Elvis’ movies, since that was the one topic and niche I knew enough about to do! Just one problem: I didn’t own all of Elvis’ movies. Plus, I was in the midst of hemming and hawing over getting The Week in Hot Springs made anyway, so the idea fell by the wayside, with me thinking: “well, it’s Elvis. Someone else is sure to do this, and I’ll enjoy watching it.”

No one did.

The original Blue Suede Reviews logo

By mid-2013, I had finally finished collecting all of Elvis’ films on DVD, with the final one being 1957’s “Loving You.” Over the years,as I started finding more and more films, I kept waiting for a series to pop up but never felt the pull to do it myself. I was uncomfortable putting myself out there. I very much felt that although I knew a lot, I didn’t know enough to be taken seriously, and didn’t have fully formed opinions to say something interesting about the topic at hand that a million better critics and fans had already said. But with how well Jamie Klotz’s Diary was turning out (for what it was), I finally started to think more seriously about doing the Elvis review series. I even created a logo for the show, calling it “Blue Suede Reviews,” and even filmed an introduction to the series. I felt awkward on camera, though, and not only never posted the intro, but also deleted the raw footage, setting the idea aside again.

By the end of 2013, I had started writing “Never Been to Graceland” in earnest, and used the scripts as a way of working through my feelings and opinions about Elvis’ career and legacy, as well as grappling with things going on in my personal life as well. Creatively energized by Christmas Heist at the end of 2015, I finally felt confident enough to try again, but this time in a video essay format, and moreso as a way of connecting with other Elvis fans who might enjoy “Graceland” if it ever got finished.

In the new format, I didn’t appear on camera and instead read from a script, which I felt more comfortable with. Reviewing Elvis’ films chronologically, I started with Love Me Tender, released the day before Elvis’ 81st birthday, and found a good rhythm, being able to produce an episode weekly, and even did a one-off episode to review the Elvis-themed episode of HBO’s “Vinyl”. My favorite of the entire run was the Jailhouse Rock review, where I took the film’s popularity to task over feeding an iconography that arguably hurt Elvis’ career more than helped. I pretty much gave Jailhouse Rock a bad review in many ways, and I finally felt like I had found a unique and interesting perspective.

But the series only made it as far as Flaming Star, in late May 2016. Flaming Star kept getting takedowns from FOX, blocking the video entirely, so I kept re-editing it and re-uploading the episode. This constant reworking ate into the normal schedule which could have been put towards continuing into Wild in the Country, Blue Hawaii and others. The last version of Flaming Star to be uploaded, in frustration, featured only still images from the film and still managed to get a content takedown just for bits of audio from the film. Finally, I gave up. I stubbornly refused to move forward unless Flaming Star was up and in the backlog. The series would be incomplete if it didn’t have crucial fans in the Elvis movie canon. Besides, Never Been to Graceland was going to be filmed that fall and I wasn’t going to have time to do the series and make the movie at the same time anyway.

In the meantime, I picked up the RCA Albums Collection box set and got inspired again to put some content out for the anniversary of Elvis’ passing. I did miss doing Blue Suede Reviews, but still didn’t want to budge on picking up the film reviews unless Flaming Star could get up. So I had a crazy idea to review all 60 albums in the set, off the cuff and on-camera, over the course of the 6 days leading up to August 16. I kept them under the banner of Blue Suede Reviews, but aside from getting sick toward the end of filming, all 61 albums got a review, plus at the end I did a recap, essentially asking myself “what did I learn from this experiment?”

I tell you all of this long, rambling backstory (about a long, rambling Elvis series) to get to this point: on that final recap video, one of the folks who watched me dig into all 60 CDs in the set, commented on the final video and left this very kind message, which I responded to.

Never Been to Graceland got filmed a month later, in September 2016, and eventually was released 11 months later on August 16, 2017, the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ passing. During the making of Never Been to Graceland, the original person cast as Michael, who dropped out and was replaced by Stephen Farruggia, was actually a huge Elvis fan. After our first conversation during auditions, we tossed around the idea of doing a podcast together at the insistence of Stephen & Bridgett, who were mutual friends, and had been trying to get us together in the same room to talk Elvis since they knew we’d hit it off well. But between his leaving Never Been to Graceland, over which there were genuinely no ill feelings held, and some creative disagreements (I felt the pod’s name should be “No Jumpsuit Zone” with the idea of leaving the pop culture expectations of who and what Elvis is at the door), the idea of two enthusiastic young Elvis fans doing a podcast together fizzled out.


I was browsing the /r/Elvis subreddit in mid-January 2018 and came across a 5-day-old thread about someone asking if there was a good Elvis discussion podcast and even throwing out there the idea that if anyone was interested in starting a show up, this person would be up for trying it. With Graceland being done, I was sort of creatively direction-less (I honestly had not expected to finish Never Been to Graceland as soon as we had, it was more of a 10-20 year goal rather than a 3-4 year achievement in my mind), so I took a shot in the dark. I wasn’t paying attention to usernames – if I had, I’d have seen this individual had the same handle as the person who’d commented on the final episode of the album reviews. To my surprise, he messaged back right away and said, let’s call each other and see if we hit it off and if it works, let’s try recording a discussion.

Our first phone discussion was nerve-racking – here was a mid-aged dad from Vancouver and a 29 year old guy from South Dakota – and we managed to find some common ground and common interests, including Elvis. So after that first conversation, we got Skype and a recording program figured out and gave it a whirl, dubbing our podcast TCBCast: An Unofficial Elvis Fan Podcast.

The first episode is almost entirely raw and unedited, except to add a handful of short samples of the songs discussed in our Songs of the Week segment, a section of the show we created to do a deep dive into the history behind a single song from Elvis’s catalogue each and every week, making sure that at the end of the day, every episode left listeners with an appreciation for the music and a desire to hear more. I think I listened to the episode about a dozen times before publishing it because I was so thrilled with how it turned out.

And then the hard work began. We decided to do a weekly show, recorded every Wednesday night and released roughly (depending on my work/theatre schedule) every following Tuesday. We began developing a format for the show, and came up with a list of topics we wanted to cover, ranging from album and movie reviews to discussing Elvis’ influences and contemporaries. The first 20 episodes of the show really solidified what TCBCast was going to be.

After two general discussions, we picked up the dropped thread of Blue Suede Reviews in assessing both films starring Elvis & films about Elvis. We discussed general fandom interest topics like the best Elvis books and websites. We lucked out that the start of our show came very near the release of HBO’s “The Searcher” which led to a lot of people finding our show – our review of the second part came with a heavy but interesting discussion featuring a student journalist who had written a negative review of the film and who had come unexpectedly under fire from many Elvis fans for what they viewed as an uninformed critique for voicing opinions commonly held among young people today about Elvis. That episode remains one of most downloaded, and is among my favorites.

But the one I remain most proud of was the full episode on the influence of Roy Hamilton’s music on Elvis, a subject that featured heavily in “Graceland.” Not only did we get to highlight this influence, but to our surprise, we learned that Roy Hamilton’s son, Roy Jr, who has been working tirelessly for decades to get his father’s accomplishments acknowledged by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, had heard the episode and commented on it to express his gratitude!

Over the course of 2018-2019, we expanded to include the regular guest co-host Ryan Droste, whom I had informally met on the For Elvis CD Collectors forum years earlier, and who hosted his own wrestling show, Top Rope Nation, and we’ve featured guests from many walks of life, including some young Elvis fans just learning about the man, some lifelong Elvis fans (including musician Jamie Kelley, who’d previously been gracious enough to allow me to use his song “Coming Back to You” during the end credits of “Graceland” when the music for the credits was unable to be completed just before the premiere), and in 2019 even did crossover shows with Jaime Kay, the host of The Jungle Room, another Elvis-related podcast that started up around the same time we did.

For nearly two years, we’ve produced a 1.5 to 2-hour show every week, with only occasional breaks (usually filled in my compilation episodes, which in the tradition of Elvis’ Golden Records compilations, feature past Song of the Week segments). And that’s on top of everything else like “SideQuests” and the other theatre shows, and, you know, getting engaged to Deana! Gurdip has, I’m proud to say, become one of my closest personal friends and someone I’m very honored to get to do this with every single week. I’ve been blown away looking at the analytics and emails we get from listeners that come from all over the world.

TCBCast is the culmination of an idea that started as long ago as some of the earliest Skeeter Bite projects, but it leaves me re-energized and excited every week. We’re no longer the only Elvis podcast on the block, but Gurdip & I are both proud that TCBCast is reliable and consistent, both in content and release schedule. We’ve made it to 100 episodes because we’ve got listeners that inspire us to always keep learning more about our topics, and because we keep each other accountable. When I’ve only had myself to answer to, like on Blue Suede Reviews, any one moment of frustration or hiccup could cause it to go off the rails. Gurdip, Ryan & I have a great working relationship and more importantly, good friendships that keep us wanting to continue to do the show. It’s a level of collaboration and artistic fulfillment I hadn’t found in any other medium – film, writing, theatre – so I’m just as excited for the next 100 episodes of TCBCast as I was for the first.

Why I Want to See the Documentary “Promised Land”

If you took one look at the premise of Eugene Jarecki’s newest documentary, “Promised Land,” which premiered to generally positive reviews at Cannes Film Festival, and then looked at my work, you’d go “oh duh, of COURSE he wants to see it, it’s about Elvis.”

Well, yes, this is true, but it’s a little more complicated than that. The concept behind Promised Land is that Jarecki uses Elvis as a metaphor for America and the American Dream, in a documentary filmed in the middle of the political turmoil of the 2016 election. Early reviews indicate a hypothesis that by this metaphor, America is in its “Fat Elvis” stage, an era of decadence and the cult of celebrity

Here’s where I struggle with a documentary like this. Logically, as a filmmaker and writer, I understand I should walk into this film open-minded. I think Jarecki’s going to present some very interesting arguments from a gamut of talking heads and celebrities, and I think it will be a nuanced film. What is more frustrating however, is where the media is focusing – as is usual with Hollywood, it’s on the most extreme.

Case in point, early reviews frequently mention Chuck D’s appearance in the film – Chuck D having famously hurled an explicit insult at Elvis in Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” – but very few of those same reviews actually get to the content of what Chuck D had to say in the film. Knowing myself that Chuck D later gave a more nuanced perspective, stating:

“As a musicologist — and I consider myself one — there was always a great deal of respect for Elvis, especially during his Sun sessions. As a black people, we all knew that. My whole thing was the one-sidedness — like, Elvis’ icon status in America made it like nobody else counted. … My heroes came from someone else. My heroes came before him. My heroes were probably his heroes. As far as Elvis being ‘The King,’ I couldn’t buy that.”

This is a completely valid perspective, and one I completely, entirely, 150% agree with, and it’s also a far cry from the edgy lyrical content of “Fight the Power.” And yet all over the Cannes reviews “Straight up racist” is what is reiterated yet again in front of an America with a 12 second attention span.

I want to see the film because I believe there can still be nuanced conversations about celebrity, culture, and music. I want Eugene Jarecki to prove to me that he’s got more in him as a filmmaker and storyteller than to draw on old cliches about Elvis based on unfair iconography and symbolism that don’t reflect the man behind the image. I’m desperately hoping the reviews are only reflective of Hollywood’s love of focusing on the most extreme elements of Elvis’ life and legacy. I want to believe a 40 or 50-something director has something new or unique to say about Elvis and his place in our culture that a hundred other books, documentaries and articles haven’t already said.

I want to walk into that movie with an open mind, but if the filmmaker isn’t interested in making a film with an open mind and creates the film with a foregone conclusion – that America IS Elvis and Elvis IS America and that the man matters less than the image – and every question asked of the talking heads is a loaded question and every answer shown hand-picked retroactively in the AVID to support that conclusion… well, here’s what the Hollywood reporter has to say about the grand finale:

At least Jarecki is generous enough to allow Presley the last note, almost, towards the end of the film where the aching, exquisite interpretation of “Unchained Melody” he performed for the 1977 Elvis in Concert CBS special is allowed to play out over a montage that includes footage of nuclear explosions, Elmo, the aftermath of Katrina, Miley Cyrus twerking and Monica Lewinsky. There might have been a kitchen sink too, but in the flurry of edits I probably missed it.

And they say Kissin’ Cousins is corny. I can’t wait to see it.

On Rolling Stones 100 Greatest

This is an older article but I found myself re-reading it today… my two cents… I wish they had gotten someone else other than Bono to write the Elvis piece. Bono, when called upon to discuss Elvis, always likes to wax poetic more about the celebrity culture that surrounded Elvis and his downfall than to celebrate the uplifting spirit of Elvis’ music.

That’s not to say I disagree with Bono, there’s a time and a place for it. But the Beatles have a glowing “look at how great they were” from Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan gets a “what an amazing songwriter” from Robbie Robertson…
Bono talks about “a voice even bigger than his gut” and “self-loathing” and the breaking of spirit. Quoth Bono, “The big opera voice of the later years — that’s the one that really hurts me.”
Even if you find it underrated, why bring it up if it hurts you? Why not talk about the amazing work at American Sound Studios in Memphis and during That’s The Way It Is, when Elvis was storming Vegas. We get it. He felt trapped by it later, but let’s not act like he didn’t also fucking own Vegas.
Why not talk about a man who, despite the heft of unprecedented fame, loved and respected his fans? Who never forgot where he came from, and never forgot who made it all possible. Why not talk about a man with a generous heart – generous with his money given to not just his hangers-on, but to fans and random people, to the point of breaking the bank?
I get it. We shouldn’t white-wash history. And that’s absolutely correct. But the character assassinations that started in the 80’s led to a stereotype that has now done irreversible damage to the perceptions of, not only the cultural impact, but the music itself. The perpetuation of the mythology by Bono illuminates nothing; teaches nothing to a generation of music fans about the music.
Exactly one song of Elvis’ is mentioned, “Mystery Train.” Dylan and the Fab Four get five songs and eight songs mentioned, respectively. How can you possibly have a discussion about the supposed third greatest artist of all time without talking about his art? Why talk about the voice in terms of scale when you can talk about the voice in terms of message?
Let’s talk about Bridge Over Troubled Water, a song about which Paul Simon is quoted (in Rolling Stone) as saying “When I first heard Elvis perform ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ it was unbelievable. I thought to myself, ‘How the hell can I compete with that?'”

Let’s talk about Tomorrow Is Such A Long Time, Dylan’s personally precious cover. Quote: “That’s the one recording I treasure the most… it was called ‘Tomorrow Is A Long Time.’ I wrote it but never recorded it.”

Let’s talk about In The Ghetto, Walk A Mile in My Shoes, and If I Can Dream, socially conscious songs with powerful messages regarding urban poverty and echoing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. These songs say more about the man than the man ever said about himself.
Let’s talk about You’ll Never Walk Alone, a standard Broadway song Elvis sang with such fervor and passion he turned it into an almost religious inspirational tune tune.
Yes, you can talk about how Elvis was a social and political game-changer, you can talk about the what-ifs, the missed opportunities, the undeveloped potential, and when things “went wrong” and where he might have been “saved.”
But here’s my point: talking about those topics with such disillusionment is easy when you grew up with Elvis, when you are a Bono. But it means absolutely nothing to generations of potential listeners yet to come because they have no frame of reference. It reinforces the false idea that Elvis should only be mentioned in the same breath as “impersonator,” “fat guy in a jumpsuit” and “died on a toilet.”

Bono (and Rolling Stone) completely missed the point. The music deserves to be heard and judged on its own merits. It is, ultimately the reason why people have been drawn to Elvis for over 60 years now. The only explanation needed for why Elvis is #3 on that list has nothing to do with anything Bono wrote. It’s the music. Let it speak for itself.