I have never liked getting haircuts. There is just too much room for miscommunication. Too much of a chance for a top-of-the-head surprise that won’t go away. Recently, I have figured out a way around any chance of miscommunication.
“Just make it look like Elvis.”
Shake, Rattle & Turn that Noise Down! is a beautifully illustrated coming-of-age story by Mark Alan Stamaty. He is best known as a political cartoonist, and here his caricatured drawings serve his personal story of discovering Elvis Presley, to the chagrin of his poor mother.
Now I have to admit something. I don’t even like Elvis all that much. If I had it my way, I’d be asking the barber to make it look like Joe Strummer. It’s basically the same style, but the thing is, everyone knows Elvis. Regardless of age or language, they know him.
What this book does best is explain the importance of that wailing young hooligan with his jumpin' and jivin'. Stamaty's art captures his sheer boyhood excitement and his mother's terror of this rambunctious alien music. He draws faces with great big grins or cavernous frowns, depending on the listener.
When Mark's mother hears the sweet sounds of "Love Me Tender" she exclaims "He does have a voice! Why does he waste it?" She breaks her No rock 'n' roll records rule and lets Mark purchase the slower song. Unfortunately she didn't think about the B-side. Before you know it, the stereo is hootin' and hollerin'! Will these tunes turn Mark into a juvenille delinquent?
But the story goes beyond the music. Elvis' clothes, his dance moves, and, yes, his hairstyle are all featured. Mark figures out how to comb his hair into a Presley pompadour. By the end of his school week, he's combing everyone else's hair the same way. Mr. Strummer certainly wouldn't look that way if it were not for Elvis and the people he inspired.
Soon Mark performs at a Cub Scout talent show, swinging and shaking it every which way and finding that his mom finally accepts his taste.
I appreciate Stamaty's decision to feature lesser-known pioneers of rock 'n' roll, but certainly hope that they get their due. Shoving them into one corner of a page is a small gesture, but a gesture none-the-less. Still, none of those figures made as stark an impression on young Mark as Elvis. There is a nice, little epilogue which shows childhood photos of Mark and how Elvis influenced him, as well as him doing his Elvis impression for former President Bill Clinton.
If you like Mark Stamaty's work and want to see more, he wrote and intricately illustrated another children's book, Who Needs Donuts? As for Elvis....some say he's still out there, and he may even still be shakin' it.