Friday, August 16, 2013

Thinking about Elvis

August 16th, 1977 marked the end of an American icon, an ignominious end for a man who set the world on fire with his devilish good looks and his hips that had a swing to make a clock pendulum jealous.  Of course, I'm talking about the greatest person to happen to American music, Elvis Presley.

It is sad to think back on my childhood and remember hearing the awful news.  In a world where there was not yet 24 hour news channels, the Internet, Twitter, Facebook (the places we can freely find out everything up to the second), the news spread like lightning in a summer sky.  In a flash, a large part of my childhood went away.  As word spread of where and how he died, the memory of this amazing man became fodder for hate mongers and worshippers alike.

I won't talk about where or how, because even after 36 years, that isn't the important part.  It was only the second time I had seen my mother cry.  The first time was the death of my precious grandfather, 3 years before.  When Elvis died, I saw tears again from a woman who had been always a pillar of strength, and often lacking in strong emotional responses (except maybe anger).  My mom was one of a generation who lost a huge chunk of their collective childhood when Elvis died.

I lost something that day too.  My first musical memories are of listening to Elvis and southern gospel.  My parents listened to some other music but mostly Elvis (Mom) and southern gospel (Daddy).  The death of Elvis impacted me almost as much as the death of my beloved grandfather, who was my first "boyfriend", lol.  You know how a girl and her grandpap can be one of mutual admiration, and that's how it was for me.
Elvis' death was as strong a shock to my life at that time as my grandfather's death.  It was the first time it actually registered that those people on the television screen, on the radio and singing from the collection of vinyl were very human too, just like the rest of us.  Movie stars, music stars...they were beyond real up to that point.  They were above the failings of 'regular' people, in my eyes at that age.  Then Elvis died, and I found out how just how human the famous and beautiful can be.

Even now, though not nearly as much as the years directly following his death, people still claim to have seen Elvis.  I was never one to give any credence to the 'Elvis runs a donut shop in Wisconsin' or 'Elvis owns a karate dojo in Los Angeles'.   Those National Enquirer-type stories only served to darken the legend of the man more.  Even after he was gone, he wasn't allowed to rest in peace.  Fans couldn't let him go, and that lessened who he was to our American culture, who he was to the world.

His ex-wife took the reigns of a meager musical legacy and made it an empire, worth more now than it ever was while Elvis lived.  His image has been plastered on anything and everything including the stamps we used at the Post Office.  Even another American musical icon knew how much impact the name 'Elvis' provided.  It's the reason Michael Jackson married Lisa Marie.  Sad really, two remarkable talents lost to ill prescribed pharmaceuticals.

Who is Elvis to me?  He will always be the running musical thread of my childhood and even my adulthood.  I can listen to his music any time, regardless of my mood.  I will smile and maybe shake my hips a little, like I always have.  He was handsome, talented and sad.

No, I'm not one of those fans that has plans to trek to Graceland.  I'm not planning to visit one of the thousands of tribute shows, though we have even had some good impersonators here where I live.  I prefer to remember Elvis with his jet black hair, gyrating hips and marvelous voice.  I'll listen to Elvis music while I work on my own legacy of a college degree.  I will smile and think about the handsome man with the heart stopping good looks and be a star struck little girl again for awhile.

This little Rock-a-Hula Baby is gonna opt for a Little Less Conversation, because I'm a Hard Headed Woman, feel like a little Trouble, so Don't Be Cruel.  I miss you, Elvis!  Hope it's rockin' wherever you are!


  1. Great post as usual, Judy! I can clearly remember where I was that day that Elvis died. We lived in Wayne Heights at the time and I was sitting at the kitchen table eating a snack, reading a book while listening to the radio, 1130 WEEO. I felt chills and then felt tears that he was gone. I grew up (as most of us did) listening to what our parents did until we developed a taste for our generation's music as well. I loved most of his music and his movies. I remember watching them all day on tv when there was marathon. I just might have break out the Elvis music today...

    1. Elvis music has been playing for a few hours here...including while I wrote the blog entry. I had just come inside from pulling weeds or picking some vegetable in the garden...don't remember which anymore. But my mother crying, that was a big deal. When I found out why, so did I. Can guarantee you my mother still has all the local newspapers with the news.