Wednesday, August 16, 2006

ELVIS PRESLEY: 29 YEARS LATER

It would be nearly impossible for a music writer from Memphis like myself not to write about the anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. It's part of our culture around here--just something we take for granted.

I was listening to XM's 1950's channel, and one of the DJ's during an Elvis tribute said, with no irony whatsoever, "this is a special time for people in Memphis."

My first thought was "no...it's not." And it really isn't. Of the thousands of people who thronged Graceland last night for the candlelight vigil, the vast majority of them weren't from here. A Memphian's first thought, upon being reminded of the anniversary of Elvis' death is generally "great, more people to screw up traffic." To most of us, Death Day is a time when nobody can visit us because all the hotels are booked up. 99 percent of us wouldn't go anywhere near Graceland on two days out of the year: Death Day and Birthday. The 1 percent of us who would only do so because of living in the general vicinity.

Most of us stay out of Elvis' old neighborhood these days anyway. Graceland's grounds are beautiful, but outside those fences is a stinking cesspool of gang violence and ghetto living. It's not a place you want to be after the sun goes down. I used to live there, so I know. Gunfire and sirens provide the soundtrack of the night.

It's not that we don't care about Elvis. Elvis is part of our day-to-day lives here, from his music, to the geography we share across the plane of time. We've learned to live with him and accept him as part of our environment.

I don't mean to sound jaded. I made my visit to Graceland when Memphis people go, which, like I said, is any day besides those two. I marvelled at his body of work, his fleet of cars, his almost innumerable gold and platinum records, his extremely gauche decor, and his excess. I love his music, and I am glad that he pioneered many of the things we have in the music industry.

But the adulation...let's face it, the worship...they weren't how he would've wanted it to be. I certainly don't believe, from what I've seen, that he would've approved. And I know he wouldn't want us to remember the ugly scene that Ginger Alden found in the upstairs bathroom, as the once and future King lay dying in his own vomit, unable with all the money in the world to buy one last gasp of air.

If you want to remember Elvis on this, the anniversary of his death, do like this Memphian did. Pop in "Love Me Tender" and stay home with your loved ones.

7 Comments:

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

I always remember this day - its also my parents' wedding anniversary.

 
At 10:44 AM, Blogger Bathroom Hippo said...


Wise men say.... blah blee blee something about love...but I can't help... ah wait a second... I should make a movie about Elvis! Thanks for inspiring me JD.

 
At 3:54 PM, Blogger Stacy said...

I never knew someone from Memphis was called a "Memphian". That was an interesting tidbit.

I have always wondered if I'd have loved Elvis more or less if I was around during his time. I was just a baby when he died but have known and loved him for as long as I can remember. I've never been on the grounds of Graceland but drove (rode) past there on a way to a Bama game against Memphis State. I really did want to see inside.

I realized how much I probably would have been absolutely ga-ga for him when I saw the "Tribute To A King" performance a year or so ago. Even my girls realized a bit about how awesome he must have been....although they were more infatuated with the actor/singer who PLAYED Elvis because he was more real to them. I knew however, that it was the character that they were actually falling for. I got goosebumps and teary-eyed at numerous numbers that were performed. It was something...

 
At 10:05 PM, Anonymous michael said...

I think for the generation that was so heavily influenced by Elvis' work, visiting Graceland and Memphis was/is a way to cope with the loss of someone who was a massive part of the American musical and cultural landscape.

At the time, I'm sure his death was completely incomprehensible. This was an era before the larger-than-life-celebrities had available to them the kinds of deadly temptations that are available to them now on such a large scale. Now, we're shocked, but not completely crippled by the untimely death of celebrities.

I worry, though, that for the new generations, visiting Graceland is more of an attempt to be campy and celebrate the caricature of Elvis (severely overweight, eccentric, jumpsuit-bound Elvis), and not his cultural and musical contributions.

In short, the younger masses are celebrating the black canvis oil painting Elvis, and not the human Elvis, the poor kid turned truck driver turned larger than life icon, artist, and humanitarian.

That said, I would still love to visit Graceland, which I understand is well-maintained, albeit commericially, by his family.

 
At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Jordan said...

I love Elvis.

I've never been to Memphis, and if I went, I'd be more excited to get face-time with you, JD than seeing Graceland (okay, maybe the two are a tie) but I have to say I love The King.

Suspicious Minds is perhaps my favourite Elvis tune, but I have so many of them in my ipod that Elvis is truly in "heavy rotation" when I hit shuffle.

The anniversary of this death always reminds me that I was just a year old when he passed, and yet I feel like a true fan. (Not a velvet-print hung on the wall fan, but a singing-along, pelvis gyrating, true appreciater of his music and legacy)

 
At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Screw you, Elvis is Awesome

 
At 1:15 PM, Blogger Kelley Donner said...

Interesting blog. Found you in an odd way. My mom has an old Elvis autograph and I went in search of it in the internet. So far, I've only found this pic on your blog. Still don't know exactly when it was from or how much it's worth, just that my mom's sis was a fan back then. If I may ask, where did you get that pic?

 

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