"A display of neuroses," is how Lisa Marie Presley describes her third live performance. On stage in front of a small audience at SIR soundstage in midtown Manhattan, sporting a safety-pin-and-patch-covered denim vest and black pants with a silver wallet chain swinging at her hips, Presley looks more like a Portland street punk than the princess of Graceland. The crowd, which includes her friend, designer Anna Sui, Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein and actor Fisher Stevens, seems curious to find out if Presley can rock the house. She belts out the single "Lights Out." Her red-lipsticked mouth twists from a snickering snarl to a smirk to a full-blown grin. The petite (5'2") singer's genetic heritage is written all over her face. The crowd cheers. Presley often shoots her arm up in the air, curling her fingers in a "Bring it on!" gesture, just like her father, Elvis, used to do. But the musical comparison ends there. Lisa Marie's deep, throaty timbre and heavy-metal wail, spiked with a country twang, are more Sheryl Crow-meets-Courtney Love than "Hound Dog" diva.
This is her moment. Though she has been a tabloid staple since her birth in Memphis on February 1, 1968, while her father was making his career comeback, it is only now that Lisa Marie Presley is coming into her own as an artist. Intuitive and surprisingly down-to-earth, she's an enigma that leads from Elvis and Priscilla to Scientology to Michael Jackson to Nicolas Cage and on to a stage at a venue near you. She doesn't censor herself in conversation. In fact, she's so open you may begin to think that she might be better off if she were a little more tight-lipped. She knows that people don't quite know what to make of her ballsiness. "I have to break through this shit," she says. "I need to tour. I want to do small clubs -- shitty little hole-in-the-wall bars where people aren't even necessarily coming to see me."
The songs on Presley's impressive debut record, To Whom It May Concern (Capitol/EMI Records), are personal and heartfelt, if not downright autobiographical. She makes references to Graceland ("Lights Out"); her children Danielle, 13, and Ben, 10, from her first marriage to musician Danny Keough ("So Lovely"); and in "Nobody Noticed It," expresses rage at how her father's final days were viewed by a scandal-hungry media. "It took me a long time to find my way as a songwriter," Presley admits. "I didn't want to do it in public and humiliate myself, so I quietly got my shit together. It's enormously cathartic and therapeutic. Each song represents something. I pull from something and purge it out, and, oddly enough, it goes away when I'm done."
Yet there is always more to purge and always a willing public waiting to consume every ounce of gossip contained in the magazines, TV shows and Web sites that document the wicked ways of our entertainment royalty. A few days ago paparazzi snapped Presley leaving Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she was getting an MRI. At that time she had a "giant, cystic zit" on her left cheek. Vanity aside, she's not comfortable in front of the camera under any circumstances. "It's probably one of the most grueling things I go through," she says. "I'm really not into myself that much, where I can actually enjoy it. I'm not an egotistical maniac. I don't like attention on myself."
You wouldn't know it from her live performance. As she takes to the microphone and the cooking six-piece session band behind her, you can tell she's not acting the role of pop star. She's not faking. She really feels it. Presley despises bullshit. She'll tell you this several times, and you will believe her. She rarely smiles or laughs, so when she does it lights up the room and feels like a gift. She swears constantly, punctuating her sentences with "fuck" and "shit." After decades of running from the press, this record is enabling Presley to settle the score. Her marriages to Michael Jackson and Nicolas Cage, along with her involvement in the Church of Scientology, have swamped scandal sheets. And once again, Presley is eager to clear up all the bullshit.
"I've developed a reptile skin to it," Presley says of the media. "I didn't want to address them. I went: 'Fuck that! Fuck them!' It got out of control. Jesus, its all a misconception in some sense. The biggest misconception is that I married Michael [Jackson] for some reason, that I'm some wannabe pop star, wannabe whatever. And Nic [Cage] and I -- they love to say we got married because he is an Elvis fanatic. That really pissed me off -- and that I could marry somebody for any other reason other than the fact that I fell in love with them. There's nothing in me that's a pretense. Everything's right there, almost to a fault. The biggest misconception about me is to even look for a fucking motive. I'm not trying to climb some ladder."
Jackson had aggressively courted Presley with flowers, presents and phone calls. They got married in May of 1994 in the Dominican Republic. At the time, Jackson had been accused of sexual misconduct with a 13-year-old boy. More jaw-dropping than the couple's seemingly staged smooch at the MTV Video Music Awards was their televised interview with Diane Sawyer in 1995, where she professed her love for Jackson. "I was really naive," Presley explains, narrowing her blue eyes into slits. "Its like if you watch yourself talking with a blanket over your head and you pull it off and go, 'Aaah! There you are.'" Presley and Jackson have had a few "benign" conversations recently, but, she adds, "I wouldn't consider us friends." They didn't speak for four years, and Presley doesn't seem surprised or saddened by the recent downpour of negative Jackson publicity.
What hurt Presley the most about that relationship is that, as his wife, she supported Jackson during his darkest hours. Her face twists with visible pain as I press the Jackson issue further. "I didn't want to get into this," she moans, shifting in her seat. "But I want to say this because it's important: I didn't feel appreciated [by Jackson]. That was why I left. It might have hit him later because I never took or wanted anything. He may have realized that at some point. I have no idea." When Presley and Jackson's union dissolved 19 months after they wed, she suffered a physical breakdown, which she attributes to stress and mercury fillings that were in her teeth and "poisoning" her body.
As for her 108-day marriage to Nicolas Cage last year (the pair dated for about a year before tying the knot in 2002), Presley says, "The guy got a really bad fucking rap as far as I'm concerned. He did over 50 fucking movies and won an Oscar and all that goes to shit and [the media] turns him into an Elvis freak." Presley calms down for a moment, gazing out the window. "We're still friends. I care about him a lot."
The last item on my laundry list of Lisa Marie scandals and rumors is her devotion to the controversial Church of Scientology. Presley and her mother, Priscilla, joined the church when she was young, and she attended the Scientology-run Apple School at the age of 11. But she didn't find her way as a Scientologist until she was 18, when she was coming off a drug-and-booze binge that had started when she was 13.
"I was on a 72-hour bender," she recalls. "Cocaine, sedatives, pot and drinking -- all at the same time. I never got my hands on heroin, but its not like I wouldn't have taken it. I just couldn't be sober. I don't know how I lived through it. I woke up one day with a bunch of people on the floor, and the coke dealer was in the room, and I said, 'Everybody get the fuck out! That's it. I'm done.' I drove myself to the Church of Scientology and said: 'Somebody fucking help me right now.' They jumped in, not in a rehab way. It wasn't that. It was like, 'Help me, I'm fucked, and I want to stop. I want to know what I'm doing here. I want to know why I'm here. What's wrong with me? I want answers to all these questions.'"
Presley credits Scientology not only for getting her off drugs, but for showing her how to be a better person. "I've figured out who I am. I have an understanding of sanity and insanity." She bristles when it is suggested that Scientology's reputation is less than sterling. "It's fast growing, and people don't know what to do with it. There's all this other bullshit that gets confused with it. It's not all 'Hail to the leader.' There's no strict regimen. [Founder L. Ron Hubbard] researched every religion, and he credits all of them. He broke down a path, incorporating a lot of different things. I can only say that if it didn't work, I wouldn't be in it."
"Forlorn," "dark" and "deep" are words Presley employs to describe her childhood. Priscilla and Elvis separated when she was four, and she moved to Los Angeles with her mother. But she often visited her father at Graceland in Memphis. "I wasn't a kid-kid. I was more sensitive than others," she elaborates. "I thought about death very early on. I was obsessed with mortality. I was exposed to a lot at a very young age. I was in an unusual situation, surrounded by men who were cheating on their wives and doing drugs. I saw a lot, and that jaded me. And I dealt with death very early my father, my grandfather, my grandmother. If a car would show up at school or the phone would ring, I just knew: Someone else is dying. I had a very close friend when I was 13 who just fucking shot himself." Presley takes a long, slow breath, then goes on: "It kind of stopped. I've had a dry spell now for ten years." When Elvis died of a heart attack brought on by drug use on August 16th, 1977, Lisa Marie was 9. She was always terrified of losing her parents as a child, and his death had a strong impact. "When you love someone so much, you worry that they are going to die or go away. I feel the same way about my kids. God, it hurts!"
Presley cherishes many memories of being with her father at Graceland, but she won't single out one. "Any time I was with him was a favorite or best memory," is all she'll say. "Its a little hard for me to talk about; its taking away something that I hold inside." Presley still returns to Graceland, where her room and her father's room have been left intact, like time capsules.
Presley's relationship with her mother, whom she describes as conservative, reserved, well-mannered and "politically correct," has been a bumpy ride. As a teenager, Presley rebelled in every way possible, from dressing like a punk rocker to experimenting with drugs. "My mom and I are like oil and water, black and white -- literally," Presley says. "She didn't know what to do with me. She was going to put me in a kibbutz in Israel or a finishing school. Ha! She's a beautiful spirit and from a very different time period. She sweeps everything under the carpet. She's just perfection, and I'm a complete fucking nightmare, you know? I'm a bull in her china shop. I speak in certain ways, and she's not used to hearing those words. It took a long time to find how not to upset or offend her. Now we're fine. We found our way in my 30s, sort of."
Later I contacted Priscilla Presley by phone, and she added, "The day Lisa turned 13 was the day I didn't know who she was. She had her own mind. She rebelled; she tested the waters quite a bit. It was a four- or five-year period. I think that's normal, though."
School and Presley were not a great match, and she usually didn't click with the other celebu-kids in her class. Two of the friends she did make, Victoria Sellers (daughter of Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland) and Catya Sassoon (daughter of Vidal), had their own scandals. Sellers had an alleged business relationship with Heidi Fleiss, and Sassoon died in her sleep at the age of 33 after a prolonged battle with drug addiction. "I escaped that," Presley notes with visible relief. "I would always hook up with the bad kids, though. I would have nothing in common with anything that would be superficial, which is what I was surrounded by." Presley is still drawn to rebels. "I have a special place in my heart for misfits, artistic usually, and tortured and different. People who are willing to rattle things up, which can explain some of my antics. It requires balls, and I think it's cool."
Two things that Presley seems most proud of are her children. Danielle is 13 and has an active social life, and Ben, 10, listens to rap, plays video games and practices karate. They are both being home-schooled at her house in Southern California, by their father, musician Danny Keough. Presley lives in Robert Blake's former house with three peacocks, three dogs and her kids. She reads biographies Frances Farmer, Helen Keller and Nancy Spungen (of Sid and Nancy fame) are favorites and listens to everything from Johnny Cash to Audioslave to Heart to Tori Amos. She mentions that Pink Floyd's Side of the Moon and The Wall were her "bibles" as a teenager.
As owner and chairman of the board of Elvis Presley Enterprises, she is already incredibly rich and famous, so this album isn't about making money or becoming a superstar. For Presley, it's about getting cred in the music world and expressing emotions and ideas that have been percolating inside her for a long time. "I want to affect people," she concludes, staring directly into my eyes. "To have people say that a song did something for them or inspired them or helped them." The bottom line with Lisa Marie Presley is that there is no room for bullshit.
Styling by Jodi Leesley for Margaret Maldanado Agency I makeup by Steven Aturo at Magnet for Shiseido I hair by Renato Campora for Great Lengths at the Wall Group
* Page 1 (top to bottom): Lisa Marie Presley wears a ring by Tom Binns, necklace by Chrome Hearts. Lisa Marie wears a shirt by Roberto Cavalli.
* Page 2: Lisa Marie wears a shirt by Roberto Cavalli. Lisa Marie wears a ring by Tom Binns, necklace by Chrome Hearts.
* Page 3: Lisa Marie wears a jacket by Rick Owens, tank top by Hanes, pants by Dolce & Gabbana, chains by Skkins, and sunglasses by Chanel. Lisa Marie Presley wears a shirt by Tom Ford for Yves St. Laurent Rive Gauche, ring by Roberto Cavalli, necklace by Tom Binns. Lisa Marie wears a ring by Ada Gems for the Ross Group, wristband by Hot Topic, necklace by Tom Binns.
* Page 4: Lisa Marie Presley wears a shirt by Tom Ford for Yves St. Laurent Rive Gauche, ring by Roberto Cavalli, necklace by Tom Binns. Lisa Marie wears a ring by Ada Gems for the Ross Group, wristband by Hot Topic, necklace by Tom Binns.