Remembering Elvis

I remember the precise date that Elvis Presley died. I knew even before hearing the radio tributes on the car radio this morning, because today Daughter #1 turns 37. We were celebrating her 7th birthday 30 years ago when Walter Cronkite told us on the CBS evening news that Elvis had been found dead early that morning.

News didn’t travel as fast those days, at least in my circles. So until approximately 6:30 that evening Elvis was just fine as far as I knew. We were coincidentally expecting a guest from out of state for the evening. Satyo, who was a former colleague of Hubby’s and a family friend from our Connecticut days, was on a business trip to Columbus and joined us for birthday dinner and cake. Why I remember all these details about a singer I wasn’t particularly fond of, I’ll never know.

It was around 1954 that I first remember hearing a then nineteen-year-old boy from Memphis, who called himself Elvis Presley, literally shake up the music world with a new kind of music radio DJs were calling “rock and roll.” So while the news of his death was sad, certainly, since I’d been around to more or less witness his phenomenal rise to fame and fall from grace, I had never been a huge fan. 

Although Elvis seduced most of the girls I grew up with, he did not seduce me until I was nearly 50 years old. When he came on the scene I was into broadway music and liked my ballads sung by people like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. I was even into some of the more romantic classical music at the time. It was only after we were living in Tennessee, after Hubby and I attended a MEMORIES of Elvis tribute show in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee in 1993, that he finally seduced me with his music.

It was surprisingly easy to forget that the man up there on the stage in Elvis-knock-off costumes wasn’t the real Elvis. Women (not me) fell over each other trying to catch the sweat-stained scarves the impersonator threw out in the audience. They lined up mid show, tears running down their faces, to hand him a teddy bear. To judge from their faces they really felt that Elvis was standing before them, reincarnated in the made-up man in sequin jumpsuit that stood before them. And for the first time, I think I really began to understand the appeal of Elvis Presley.

A few years later in 1998, after we’d moved to Las Vegas, I flew to Ohio to help Daughter #2 load up her new Saturn with all her possessions. She was moving to Austin, Texas to begin her Ph.D. program at the University of Texas. On August 15 we set off together, along with her cat, Friday, to drive to Austin. Not until we were nearly at the exit for Memphis the next day, where we planned to spend the night, did we realize that it was then August 16, the 21st anniversary of his death.

Of course we had to stop off to see Graceland before proceeding to our hotel! Since we had Friday with us in a cat carrier and it was late in the afternoon by the time we arrived, I volunteered to wait outside while Daughter toured the famous mansion. That’s about all we had time to see before closing time, and we didn’t have tickets for the extra festivities for the evening. That’s what happens with off the cuff, last minute plans. 

But the whole if hurried trip turned out to be a wonderful people watching opportunity for me, one I’ll never forget. I chose a comfortable, shaded spot to sit and enjoy the cool breezes and watch the memorable events unfold as the sun began to go down. It wasn’t long before I began to feel I was caught in some weird sort of timewarp.

Busloads of Elvises began filling up the park hoping to be caught by one of the waiting TV cameras. I had heard of the flying Elvi in Las Vegas, but never had I seen so many in one place, all sizes and shapes! They all had one thing more or less in common: their sideburns and tight, rhinestone-studded jumpsuits. Not even the patrons coming to the park for the evening’s festivities were immune to the Elvis fashion influence. Most of them were in their late 40s, early 50s, all sporting jet-black pompadours and sideburns, and most–but not all–with a proud little woman, also caught in a fashion time-warp of their own, hanging onto their arms.

Today, several years since our MEMORIES concerts, I own an impressive collection of all his music–including the religious and vintage years–that I still love listening to. But I can’t help wondering what Elvis would think about it all if he could see the mansion today. I hear they’re going to spend an extensive amount of money re-decorating it. What? No black and red game room anymore? And what would he think of little Lisa, who’s now charting a music career of her own?

Lisa Marie Presley is commemorating the 30th anniversary of her father’s death by singing along with him in a video of a posthumous duet with her dad on his classic ‘In the Ghetto’ Thursday night at the the 30th Anniversary Elvis Presley Tribute Concert in Memphis. Starting on Friday, it will be available for viewing on Spinner, as well as for purchase on iTunes for a Presley charitable cause. I think he’d be happy that his little girl seems to finally have her act together, and now at age 39 has grown up a little bit maybe. I’ll bet he would even be proud.

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