Love Me Tender


Another edition of Where Were You Then?

Where were you 29 years ago today?

I had been flying for FedEx for four years and was on a trip to California – Burbank, I think. I had flown most of the night and slept most of the day. When I got up late that afternoon, I turned on the TV and heard that Elvis Presley had died in Memphis, at the age of 42. I flew back to Memphis that evening, landing just after midnight. At the time, I lived about 5 miles from Graceland. It wasn’t on my usual route to and from the airport, but I had heard something on the radio about some fans gathering there for a vigil of some sort, so I went a little out of my way to see for myself.

As I neared the house on Elvis Presley Blvd. (What else would you call the street that went by Elvis’ front door, after all) there were people as far as I could see! It was 1:00am and there were literally thousands of folks jammed into the little strip shopping center parking lot across from Graceland and more – the lucky few, I’m sure – crowded against the rock wall and large iron gates with musical notes on them that was all that kept the crowds from swarming onto the grounds and up to the front door. I heard the next day that a drunk driver had come by about an hour after I was there and veered into the crowd and killed one of the fans. Some time later, after the crowds finally died down, they had to sand blast the rock wall in front of Graceland because it was completely covered with people’s names and other graffiti.

For some reason, I was never a big Elvis fan. Not sure why. Maybe because he hit the scene a little before my peak teenage years. When he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, he caused a sensation with the young girls and a panic with their parents. By his third appearance, Sullivan would only show him from the waist up. All that seems a little silly today, but back then, it was serious business, and not just with the ignorant backwater Southern evangelicals.

Fast forward to 1977:
Needless to say, Elvis’ death was front page above the fold news in Memphis, and an invitation to the private funeral service was the toughest ticket in town. I knew a couple from chruch who were friends of Vernon Presley, Elvis’ father, and Vernon’s 2nd wife, Dee. They were invited, and the sermon was done by a well known local C of C preacher. He told me, years later, that the only recording of the service was made by him on a little cassette recorder that he put on the podium. He supposedly refused very lucrative offers over the years to copy and market it. He died recently, and I’ve wondered what became of that tape. As for Elvis, I hear that he is making more money now than he did when he was alive. He might have gotten very weird toward the last, but the Colonel and now the marketing team at Graceland were – and still are – very shrewd.

Were you (are you) an Elvis fan?
What’s your favorite Elvis song? Favorite Elvis movie?
What do you think of him as a cultural icon
Why do you think he turned into such a lonely and troubled soul and ended so badly?

As The King would say:

Thank you … Thank you very much!


9 Responses to “Love Me Tender”

  1. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I was in 2nd grade when Elvis died. All I remember is hearing about it in my backyard, somewhere in the vicinity of my little wire-mesh treehouse (really just a seat) and, since I hadn’t encountered much death before that point, kind of wondering what it all meant.

    I’ve never really been an Elvis fan, though he was obviously quite a talent. I’ve never really watched any of his movies (when I paused long enough to watch part of one while flipping channels, I thought they were horrible!), and when it comes to his music, I guess I’d choose as a favorite, “Blue Christmas” (in spite of the goofy background singing).

    It is nearly unbelievable how big of a cultural icon he has become, but as a transplanted Mississippian, I’m glad he is so famous (lots of good folks from Mississippi!). I think he just hit at that perfect time to make the transition from the much-heralded 1950s (by the establishment) to the 1960s (by the anti-establishment). He sort of embodied both.

    And I don’t know what made him such a troubled soul. Too much fame?

    Great post today, El Capitan.

  2. Mystique Free Says:

    29 years ago I was a year and a half old.

    My brother, born later that year, is a huge Elvis fan and still likes to do informal impersonations. Thank goodness he hasn’t bought any sequined jumpsuits *yet*…

    I’ve never been an Elvis fan myself but I keep thinking someday I might develop an appreciation for him.

  3. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I’m not much of an Elvis fan. I liked his music — and his movies — when I was a kid. The very first piece of recorded music I ever bought was an Elvis double-album (we’re talking LPs, here), which I ordered off a tv commercial by putting all $7 dollars of my birthday money — cash — in an envelope and mailing it off.

    I’d be hard pressed to come up with a favorite song, now. Largely because I just don’t remember so many of his songs. “Jailhouse Rock,” maybe. Or maybe that one about the shrimp that gets caught and hauled to New Orleans. 🙂

    I don’t have a favorite movie. Seems like they were all more or less the same movie, none of them very good.

    I have a hard time knowing what to make of him as a cultural icon. By the time I came along, he was already passe. Although he’s still recognized as “The King,” he hasn’t garnered the same posthumous respect as, say, Johnny Cash. Maybe that’s because Cash did some of his best work at the end of his career, while the end of Elvis’s career was a Vegas lounge lizard act.

    It’s also hard to know why he ended so sadly. My guess would be it was because he had become so disconnected from . . . everything. He was just this free-floating image, with no real life of his own that kept him rooted and gave him meaning.

  4. Terry Austin Says:

    It’s hard to garner posthumous respect when many fans aren’t willing to admit he actually humoused.

    Near the end, Elvis had become such a pathetic caricature of his former self, it was impossible to treat him or his career seriously. And this is why I found myself voting early and often for Fat Elvis when they had the postage stamp elections a few years back.

    I think it’s the last time I voted for anything, come to think of it.

  5. Terry Austin Says:

    P.S. — That double LP was the killer, killer album in a collection that included the musical stylings of Eddie Arnold, Shaun Cassidy and Perry Como, among others.

  6. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I’d like to state, for the record, that none of those were mine. Although, I have looked for that Eddie Arnold Christmas album a couple of times. Or was the Xmas one Como? I think it was Arnold.

    We also had some kickin’ 8-tracks around the house. Kenny Rogers and the Oak Ridge Boys leap to mind. Now there’s a couple of acts that haven’t gotten the posthumous respect they deserve.

    Oh. Wait. My bad.

  7. Terry Austin Says:

    You can disavow ownership of the Hardy Boy album all you want, but it was definitely yours.

    Perry Como Christmas. I only know this because the Eddie Arnold album had the “Battle of New Orleans” on it. Though I suppose it could’ve been the holiday version.

    I believe we also had a Chicago 8-track, and at least one other “popular” rock band. Maybe 38 Special?

    And given such musical torture, how in the world did Mom & Dad keep the child-welfare agents at bay?

  8. Terry Austin Says:

    (Capt MidKnight rolls his eyes and sighs deeply as Terry Austin ruins another perfectly good history post.)

  9. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Terry Austin said…
    (Capt MidKnight rolls his eyes and sighs deeply as Terry Austin ruins another perfectly good history post.)

    Not at all!
    With these History posts, you never know what direction they’ll take. I just put them out there and stand back out of the way and watch what happens.

    I do, however, sense that there is some “history” between you and Juvenal which rears its ugly head from time to time. The “Hardy Boys” comment seemed like a low blow to me.

    Have you considered counseling? I hear that Al is very good.

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