SUNDAY TRIBUNE: 18 AUGUST 2002
The hits keep on coming
IT doesn't seem like it was 25 years since Elvis died. Last Friday 16 August 1977 to be precise and today marks the end of a commemoration week (some fans call it Holy Week) in honour of the white boy who could sing gospel. And there's one aspect to his passing that's worth holding a mirror-ball up to.
In the 'dead entertainers' category on the world wide web, Elvis can put the most bums on seats. He truly is the king and has managed to do in the virtual world what he did in the real one. Although toward the end of his life, even he had great difficulty in telling the two apart.
Elvis was the first giant superstar whose name and music conquered continents and generations. He was fortunate in that his rise coincided with a booming youth culture and the birth of rock 'n' roll. He was again lucky that he surfed a technology wave, particularly the rise of television in the late 1960s/early 1970s.
And technology has enabled his name to remain very much alive. During a very whimsical search last week using Google, the words 'Elvis Presley' revealed 475,000 sites. When just the word 'Elvis' was entered, the result was a staggering 2,490,000. Okay he's lucky in that his entire name is so unique.
If he had been called Elvis Murphy he wouldn't have had things all to himself and might have to compete with someone in Dublin who wants to share his experience on pigeon racing with the rest of the world.
This problem is similar to the one which Bono has. His name scores well on a search (740,000 sites), but he has gotten himself all mixed up with lawyers, wrestlers, former mayors and philosophers. On his full name, Bono Vox, he scores only 7,350, but he has the field pretty much to himself.
So onward to the highly-anecdotal, Ethos Top 10 Dead Entertainers on the web:
1. Elvis Presley (475,000)
2. John Lennon (383,000)
3. Frank Sinatra (341,000)
4. Jimi Hendrix (296,000)
5. Miles Davis (260,000)
6. Louis Armstrong (236,000)
7. Buddy Holly (135,000)
8. Jim Morrison (130,000)
9. Janis Joplin (129,000)
10. Kurt Cobain (108,000)
It is understandable that the closer the person died to when the web took off in 1995, the more material there is about them. It becomes much harder with artists like Buddy Holly and Bing Crosby to keep their name popular with generations who never heard of them.
So Elvis Week gives a glimpse of how the web and new communications technology are shaping the future. The past is now not so quick to disappear. The internet and access to the web has created mountains of information on musicians and artists who influenced previous generations.
On the Irish side of things, U2 top the poll (2m) with Enya following up (309,000). There's a big jump then to Boyzone (159,000), though searching using this word can trigger all kinds of filters and is not for the faint-hearted. Van Morrison has a respectable 141,000, Altan get 108,000 and Riverdance has 92,500.
Irish bands that are no more, reveals an interesting pecking order. Thin Lizzy (51,700) are way out in front, followed by Rory Gallagher (18,300), Horslips (17,100), The Boomtown Rats (15,500), Planxty (10,500), Moving Hearts (8,490) and The Clancy Brothers (6,380).
In the lap of the gods
These results don't really mean an awful lot one way or the other and search technology is still very, very primitive. The best publicly-available search engines can still only match like for like, without any real regard to context or meaning. In time, that technology will improve and will probably develop toward what Tim Berners-Lee describes as the Semantic Web.
In the meantime, there is someone somewhere, somehow doing their thing on their own current favourites and anecdotal figures such as the above should move into the millions for some artists in the future. But at this stage, a good name counts for an awful lot.
Take Ireland's first Eurovision Song Contest winner for example. Dana was a great stage name. One word and easy to remember. Worked wonders for her singing career. But alas, the web returns a huge amount of sites, but trying to find references to the former singer brings the same results as a Norwegian Eurovision entry. If a band wants to live on in cyberspace, they had better steer clear of names like The Band or The House. And solo artists called, say, John Smith had better do a bit more than soul searching if they want to have a web career.
But if entertainers don't mind getting down and dirty, they can come up with any name that has the word sex in it. Sex is the undisputed heavyweight champ of the weird and wonderful world of search engines. At just over 76m results from Google, nothing comes even close.
Even God must be spinning in his grave. Well, very upset in any case. God is stuck with the recreation of original sin all over again on the web. At just over 36m sites, God has to look on and see sex taking over the web garden of eden. But maybe those figures don't tell the full story. If search results for the world's main religions are added together; Islam (3.7m); Christianity (2.7m); Buddhism (1.07m); Judaism (989,000) and Hinduism (479,000), God begins to gain some ground.
The son of God, however, doesn't fare too well under his full name of Jesus Christ (1.9m). Using just his first name he gets a whopping 12.6m returns and joins the heavy hitters on the web. Not so his nemesis.
The best results for the prince of darkness are found using his professional name Satan (2m). Lucifer only manages 431,000 and Beelzebub a measly 139,000. His stage name, The Devil, has become diluted, linked as it is to lawyers, kitchen implements and some soccer team from Manchester. He has got the edge though on the afterlife, with Hell (9.1m) outshining Heaven (7.7m). Atheism, however, has a poor showing (280,000) and Agnosticism can only manage a tiny 63,000. Perhaps people haven't made up their minds about whether the web really exists or not.
So at the end of Elvis Week the web comes into its own for his fans. At deadelvis.com they even have sightings: "This may sound weird but my science teacher is really Elvis! He always says, thank you, thank you very much after announcements and his room is filled with Elvis memorobilila like clocks, calendars, and always says "oh i remember when that picture was taken- oh never mind." he even has us call him "Mr. E". (sic)
Seek and ye shall find.