22. The Promised Land
Written by Chuck Berry
Performed by Elvis Presley
From the LP The Promised Land, [RCA, USA, 1973]



Reverse migration three.

It is December 15 1973 and Elvis Presley is standing in a vocal booth in the recording studios of Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee. The King may just have cleared his throat. It could be day or night.

Of course, Elvis is no stranger to Memphis. He’d spent the first eight years of his life in Tupelo Mississippi, then his mother and father moved to Memphis and that’s where he grew up, learned to sing and dress and dance, fell in love with music, and in 1954, at the age of nineteen, made his first, and some would say purest, recordings. Elvis Aron Presley was born in 1935, an identical twin. And there he is now, not that far from where he started. It could be 1954.

It is December 1970 and Elvis Presley is standing in the White House Oval Office. It had been quite a year. The best of it was the deal he’d struck with the International Hotel, Las Vegas. He would perform in Vegas two months a year for five years, at a million dollars a year. Viva Las Vegas. But everything was working: the movies, the records, the new jumpsuits – he was even touring again. It was a good time to be Elvis Presley.

The worst of it was what brought him to the White House. At home there were the hippies, abroad the Viet Cong. There was Ohio and there was Cambodia and there was a story in a magazine about a network of spies, a thousand plain-clothes investigators who went around America snooping on political agitators and protest groups. One newspaper said that at one time in Illinois these domestic surveillance fellows were spying on 800 people. Having a quiet moment to himself while waiting for the President, there’s no telling where his mind was. He could have been thinking about anything or nothing at all. He could have been inside himself, lost in music. Maybe the King had songs that played in his head whenever and wherever his mind wandered or because he was so musically inclined and that in fact that was the mark of his mind’s discipline, to be always thinking about music, to be inside music and to keep music inside himself, to always possess and be possessed by the music playing somewhere in his head.
Someone had tried to kill him.

The King of Rock and Roll is here, in the Oval Office of the White House, to offer his services to the President, Richard Nixon – to share with his President his love of his country, his disdain for drugs and his loathing of hippies, whose organisations he would infiltrate, possibly free of charge, and for which he would be made an FBI agent at large and given the gift of a badge for his collection, the desired badge being none other than that of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The King and the President shake hands, Presley having also spoken ill of the Beatles.

It is January 23 1973 and Elvis Presley may well be at home, watching President Richard Nixon on the television, speaking to him and indeed all of America, from the Oval Room in which the two men shook hands. A week earlier, on January 14, Presley had performed in Hawaii in the world’s first satellite broadcast. One billion, five hundred million people in forty countries watched him sing selections from his vast repertoire of hits, big tunes like Hound Dog, Blue Suede Shoes, and new songs, like An American Trilogy. The President announces the official ending of America’s presence in Vietnam: ‘Peace with honour.’

From the BBC: ‘Statements issued simultaneously in Washington and Hanoi confirmed the peace deal was signed in Paris at 12:30 local time, bringing to an end America’s longest war.

The ceasefire will begin at midnight Hanoi time on Saturday, 27 January, monitored by an international force made up of troops from Canada, Poland, Hungary and Indonesia. President Nixon’s speech from the Oval office at the White House was broadcast on national radio and television.

He said: ‘Throughout the years of negotiations, we have insisted on peace with honour, I set forth the goals that we considered essential for peace with honour. In the settlement that has now been agreed to, all the conditions that I laid down then have been met.’

The conditions include the release of prisoners of war within 60 days and all American forces to be withdrawn within the same time period. An international conference will be held within 30 days, probably in Vienna, to guarantee the peace. American forces have been involved in the conflict in Vietnam for more than a decade. In 1967, there were 500,000 American troops deployed in Vietnam.

For the people of South Vietnam, the president had this message: ‘By your courage, by your sacrifice, you have won the precious right to determine your own future and you have developed the strength to defend that right. We look forward to working with you in the future, friends in peace as we have been allies in war.’

To the leaders of North Vietnam, the president said: ‘As we have ended the war through negotiations, let us now build a peace of reconciliation. For our part, we are prepared to make a major effort to help achieve that goal, but just as reciprocity was needed to end the war, so, too, will it be needed to build and strengthen the peace.’ [1]

On 29 March 1973 the last of 500,000 American troops left Vietnam and returned home to America. During the war 58,000 Americans died and more than 300,000 were wounded. They had fought – and lost – the most gruelling and unpopular war in living memory. Ticker tape receptions and street lined parades for their homecoming were few and far between.

In the absence of his always-missing twin Elvis is hailed as a singular talent, a one off impossible incarnation of beauty, body, and voice. The space of the deceased twin, the space of sibling intimacy, of a companion both different and the same, is evoked if not in the body of Chuck Berry, then certainly in the foreknowledge Berry and Presley had of each other’s worlds, and the strange way in which they lived parts of each others’ lives – Presley enjoying the success and patronage racism kept from Berry’s reach, Berry writing the story of both their lives, of the two men at their inspirational, transformative best… ‘in a way, it was Berry’s story, because of songs like ‘Johnny B. Goode’ and ‘Promised Land,’ even though those songs came to stand as prophecies of Elvis, and finally as epitaphs for him. (It is especially ironic that those two songs were among the finest recordings of Elvis’ final years.) ‘Johnny B. Goode’ was a story Elvis, and Elvis alone, lived out to the hilt. ‘Promised Land’ must have seemed a plain fact to him — at least some of the time.’ [2] So wrote Greil Marcus in his obituary for Presley, Tragic News From the Mainland, August 18th 1977, Maui, Hawaii.

It is December 15 1977 in Memphis and the ghost of Elvis Presley is in the vocal booth at Stax Records’ recording studio. He doesn’t know he’s dead. He has just completed a take of The Promised Land, and he’s feeling alright.

We’d like to think that Presley recorded the song as much as an autobiographical statement, an acknowledgement of the distance he’d travelled, from poverty in the south to the White House and Vegas, as an acknowledgement, a salutation of what for the US soldiers had been a long strange trip, a way of saying welcome home. Patriot that he was…

The thing is, though, you very rarely see Chuck Berry impersonators, and maybe that’s because Berry was denied the success and patronage Presley enjoyed precisely because Berry was what Presley was not. Berry was black at a time when being an African descendant was enough to evoke the conditional nature of freedom in America.

When America’s South Vietnamese allies came to America after the fall of Saigon in 1975 they created the largest population of Southeast Asian refugees to have settled in the United States. With their American-born children, they number approximately 995,000.

The South Vietnamese supported the colonial rule of the French before the Americans stepped in back in 1950 and they backed the Americans against the FLN and North Vietnamese to the bitter end. Crushed by the North Vietnamese, the South Vietnamese sought refuge in America: ex-military and government officials, farmers and fishermen, Amerasians and political prisoners, anyone determined enough to claw their way onto any vessel headed for the USA. The refugees settled in Albuquerque, California, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Florida, Houston, and made America’s symbols of freedom their own. In 2001 John Newinn made a name for himself as the best Vietnamese Elvis impersonator in Houston, Texas. This is from houstonpress.com:

The white rhinestone-studded jumpsuit never looked better on Elvis himself. His throaty version of ‘Love Me Tender’ is a seductive swooner. And what 26-year-old ‘Elvis’ John Newinn began for fun seven years ago as an Elvis impersonator has taken him to performances in different U.S. cities (including Memphis, of course, twice a year — in January for the King’s birthday, and in August for the anniversary of his death), Canada and Vietnam. Parents Henry and Tania fled Saigon with their infant son when the embattled city fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975. When they came to Houston, they embraced Elvis as the epitome of the American dream, and played his music in their home. And they encouraged their then-shy son to step up to the microphone (yes, they had one for home use) and sing along. The result is perfect renditions of the King’s repertoire, complete with shaking hips and pouty lips. The junior in computer information systems at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches performs on request, but has had to curtail most weeknight appearances for his studies. But he doesn’t plan to hang up his jumpsuit, he says, as long as he can shake a leg.’ [3]

When John Newinn was four years old his parents may have come across a story in Time Magazine dated September 10 1979 titled The Not So Promised Land – Indochinese refugees fight suspicion and hostility. We wonder whether John performed The Promised Land, and what his audiences made of it, made of him, and what, for that matter, the Vietnamese who settled in Los Angeles and Orange County, Dallas, Washington, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Illinois, and New York, made of Elvis Presley. Were there, in any of the suburbs, towns, or cities in these states that make up America’s South Vietnamese community, any other Vietnamese Elvis impersonators, and did they perhaps feel that Chuck Berry’s story, told through Elvis, was in some way their story, the story of their lives, their journeys?

As it turns out, we might be wondering too late. In the last few years, well as far back as the 90’s, vast numbers of Vietnamese have been leaving America. Along with the Chinese, the Singaporeans, the Vietnamese have been reverse migrating. Here is an extract on the subject from a text by journalist David Heenan, titled Wake Up, America: The Alarming Realities of Today’s Reverse Brain Drain – you can read this and more at amanet.org:

The U.S. Is No Longer the Only Promised Land

Credit Taiwan for inciting the exodus. With the creation of its Hsinchu Science-Based Industrial Park in the 1980s, the Republic of China began cashing in on the knowledge-economy sweepstakes, recruiting hundreds of Taiwan-born engineers and scientists from the United States with valuable skills, experience and contacts. Located near top universities and government research institutes and offering low-cost land, green vistas and a minimum of bureaucracy, the Silicon Valley-style technology park helped spur a high-tech gold rush, building a critical mass of repatriated ‘brainiacs.’ Roughly one-third of its companies were founded by returnees from America. […]

Following the footsteps of the Taiwanese, Singapore also is rolling out the red carpet to foreign scientists and entrepreneurs. One highly prized globetrotter is Hong Kong-born Edison Liu, former director of clinical sciences at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, who was wooed to head the glitzy Singapore Genome Institute. ‘It’s a little like surfing—you see a great wave and you paddle like crazy to catch it,’ says Liu of his new employer. ‘What they have done in coordinating investment, immigration, education, infrastructure and medical systems has been masterful. It’s the most astounding social engineering I’ve seen in my life.’

Even Vietnam is trying to clone its transplanted talent. For years, its nearly 2.7 million emigrants—a community half the size of Ho Chi Minh City—were called Viet Kieu, or ‘overseas Vietnamese.’ More than half—1.5 million—live in the United States. In the early 1990s, they started to trickle back to check out the new, more liberalised Vietnam. Now, the trickle has become a flood, with up to 300,000 a year, many of them returning permanently.’ [4]

After spending most of the last century at war with the French and the Americans, Vietnam has, in a manner of speaking, gone into business with America. This is from english.vietnamnet.vn/tech/2008/06/789589/. It is by Vern Weitzel and is called Vietnam the Promised Land for giant Internet players:

People eyeing Internet trends in Asia often talk about what is going on in China, but China’s neighbouring country has the potential to steal some of the spotlight.

It is of little surprise that Vietnam is a place that wants to be connected. It is no doubt to say Vietnam is like a wonderland for Internet giants to land on when many Vietnamese versions of major sites like Yahoo!, eBay, Paypal and Friendster have come into place, making the country on the radar for high speed changes.

Observers say Vietnam now has many positive elements that lure U.S. Internet giant companies looking for a good fortune owing to positive changes in the recent past.

Firstly, the legal corridor has become wider. Under the bilateral trade agreement between Vietnam and the U.S., American firms are permitted to set up Internet joint ventures with local partners, of which they can hold a maximum stake of 50%. Such a move, according to experts, provides a major boost to the information and communication industry.

Just eight years ago, Vietnam had 500,000 Internet users, but the 2008 number indicates the country has more than 18 million Internet users, accounting for 21% of the total population. The U.S. IDG Ventures believes that there will be 36 million users by 2010, and the growth will continue strongly as more villages get hooked to the Internet.

The high rate of Internet users is encouraging more Internet service suppliers to come to the market. […] Dan Neary, vice president for emerging market at eBay, says that Vietnam is a potential market with annually ecommerce growth rate of 44%.

‘We are confident in making a good fortune here,’ he added.’ [5]



[1] http://www.news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/january/23/newsid_2506000/2506549.stm

[2] Tragic News From the Mainland, August 18th Maui, Hawaii, by Greil Marcus, Rolling Stone magazine, Issue 248, 1977, posted in

[3] Best Vietnamese Elvis Impersonator http://www.houstonpress.com/bestof/2001/award/best-vietnamese-elvis-impersonator-30611/

[4] Wake Up, America: The Alarming Realities of Today’s Reverse Brain Drain, by David Heenan, posted 6 December 2005

[5] Vietnam the Promised Land For Giant Internet Players, by Vern Weitzel, vern.weitzel at gmail.com 21 Jun 2008



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