(August 16, 2011)
Just saw an L.A. Times article “Elvis Presley, Who Died 34 Years Ago Today, Spurs Fresh Tears”. I didn’t read it, but the headline brought back memories of that day. Powerful memories. I was working at a place in Fullerton, way out in Orange County, trying to make as much money as I could before heading off to U.C. Santa Barbara in the fall. My family was broke, I’d gotten a couple small scholarships, a student loan and anything else had to come from my summer job. You can imagine the wages in 1977. Nothing. Anyway, I was upfront in the office and heard that Elvis Presley had died. Wow. The King is dead. That’s all anyone could talk about. I went out into the warehouse a bit later and all the women were crying their eyes out. The manager out there was this bitter old geezer. Look at ’em, he said. They all lost their cherries with Elvis on the car radio. No wonder they’re crying. He said that aloud, and they cried even harder. He spouted some more vile crap. I couldn’t stand the guy, nearly hated him, but half the gig was working in the warehouse so I kept my mouth shut. I stayed away from the lunch table that day, it was too sad. Later the ladies were all red eyed, tearing up but in control of themselves. I don’t remember if I said anything smartassed. I was twenty and in college and probably did. Elvis was this ridiculous bloated thing by the end anyway. Though secretly I liked him. Burning Love, the Ghetto, Suspicious Minds, I loved those songs. And of course the 50’s hits, Hound Dog and Little Sister and like that. Not much later I picked up his Sun Sessions album, all the first stuff he ever did. That was a life changer for me, hearing what rock’n’roll was like at the creation. You have no idea how it sounded back then in contrast to all the phony, pretentious, coked out, utterly bogus crap that rock had become by the mid-seventies. To this day it’s one of my favorite records ever. Even played some of those tunes in a band or two. That death of his, though, was something else. The country went mad. Utterly mad. They mobbed Graceland. Bought all his albums, even the awful ones, as if in their grief all those movie soundtracks sounded listenable. And the funeral was crazy. Cadillacs, whole herds of Cadillacs. He’d bought them by the dozen for people he thought deserved them. Hell, you could serve him hamburgers at the drive-in and voila, a brand new Cadillac. That was Elvis. The women cried and cried. Soon Elvis walked again, appearing all over the South. Turns out he wasn’t dead at all people said. But he was. So they made him a saint. Some kind of Baptist saint, there’s churches and everything. The preacher, of course, is an Elvis impersonator. You can’t avoid them. There’s a Thai Elvis on Hollywood Blvd. There’s a father-son Elvis at the farmer’s market in Eagle Rock. There’s fat Elvis impersonators and thin Elvis impersonators…the fat ones do Aloha From Hawaii, the thin ones do the ’68 Comeback Special. I saw a fat one do the thin Elvis once, he was squeezed so tight in that leather outfit he looked ready to explode and was sweating like the fat Elvis. We had a painting contractor come to our apartment once. He was Elvis. Elvis in painting duds. He was all business. Ya gotta make a living somehow.
Still though, almost every time I see any off these Elvises, or hear Elvis on the radio, or catch a glimpse of one of those stupid, stupid movies Colonel Parker made him do, I remember him dying and the ladies crying and crying. And then I remember his very first single, and sing to myself That’s all right mama. That’s all right for sure. And I wish to hell I’d been smart enough to say it that day to the crying ladies. Just said that’s alright, mama, that’s alright for sure.