Today marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the death of Elvis Aaron Presley, the King of Rock and Roll.
Thirty-five years is a decent amount of time. It’s strange to think that Elvis lived, laughed, loved, performed and perished all before I was born, before my parents even met, before I was even a thought. Yet, here I am, mourning his death and spending an entire day reminiscing, watching corny films and old news reels, flipping through photographs and listening to scratchy, dated recordings. Elvis and his legacy and his story have captivated me for as long as I can remember. My father loves him, and I can remember watching a rebroadcast of the Aloha from Hawaii concert with my father, my mother and my twin sister crowded on the couch with the speakers vibrating from the effort of amplification. My twin – who would absolutely murder me if she knew I was writing this in a place where anyone could see it – would sing along to “Fever” while shaking her hips as she stood on the couch, and I would pretend to be a crazed female fan, screaming at all the right times. My twin was Elvis for Halloween one year, even. He was, undoubtedly, an integral part of my childhood.
I made a pilgrimage to Graceland with a good friend, college roommate and fellow artist. I spent hundreds of dollars and took hundreds of pictures. I am dying to go back to experience more and learn more.
And as a result, Elvis is an integral part of who I am. All my wildest dreams of not only becoming a successful, popular and beloved writer but of finding romance and connecting with someone as beautiful and talented as he was stem from watching him perform and researching his biography. He is such an epic and elusive figure. He was an enemy of the state, sure to corrupt the youth with his gyrating hips and soulful music. But at the same time, he loved his mama and served his country. He was a miraculous kind of contradiction that revolutionized popular culture, celebrity status, sex and music with an air of humility and authenticity that has yet to be replicated. Sure, there were revolutionaries who came after him: the Beatles, Michael Jackson, my own beloved Bruce Springsteen, but he was the first. Elvis is an original.
And because Elvis was a phenomenon unfamiliar to our culture, we didn’t know how to truly deal with him. Parents scorned him, adolescent males wanted to be him and dyed their hair dark and gelled it to perfection and adolescent females cried and swooned and held out glossy photographs in quaking hands. We loved him, but he was removed because he was rich and famous – wildly so. Thus, his story turned tragic and he became one of the first, but unfortunately not the last, victims of the machine of Hollywood. Everyone watched him implode and mourned the loss.
I’ve pontificated at length about Bruce Springsteen and how he is a romantic hero of mine. I have to admit, and not just because I’m mourning the anniversary of his death, that Elvis is a greater romantic hero. His songs and his personal life meld together in my mine to create a kind of colossal figure that is to be loved and admired and feared and pitied and mourned. As always, Bruce said it best: “…it was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody’s ear, and somehow we all dreamed it.” John Lennon, another performer gone too soon, said: “Before Elvis, there was nothing.” Bob Dylan said: “When I first heard Elvis’ voice, I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss…Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.” Hell, even 50 Cent bowed to the King when describing the difference between him being in Vegas and Elvis being there: “That period was different. When Elvis was there, they were stopping everything. Elvis had the moment for real. While I’m here, it’s not all about 50 Cent, but it was all about Elvis.”
Elvis is an inspiration and a cautionary tale. He is the stuff of American legend. He is greatly admired and missed tremendously. Of course, I am speaking personally and would never dare presume to speak for anyone else. I really would love to meet a boy who looks like Elvis, who performs like Elvis, and who is as passionate as Elvis was.
I’ll leave with you a few quotes from the King himself, and wish you all a good night.
“I ain’t no saint, but I’ve tried never to do anything that would hurt my family or offend God…I figure all any kid needs is hope and the feeling he or she belongs. If I could do or say anything that would give some kid that feeling, I would believe I had contributed something to the world.” –Elvis commenting to a reporter, 1950’s.
“When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream I ever dreamed has come true a hundred times…I learned very early in life that: ‘Without a song, the day would never end; without a song, a man ain’t got a friend; without a song, the road would never bend – without a song.’ So I keep singing a song. Goodnight. Thank you.” –From his acceptance speech for the 1970 Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation Award, given at a ceremony on January 16, 1971. (Elvis quotes from copyrighted material with lines from the song “Without a Song”.)
“Man, I was tame compared to what they do now. Are you kidding? I didn’t do anything but just jiggle.” –From the press conference prior to his record-breaking Madison Square Garden shows in New York City, 1972
“…the image is one thing and the human being is another…it’s very hard to live up to an image.” –From the press conference prior to his record-breaking Madison Square Garden shows in New York City, 1972