Thirty-one years ago today, Elvis died in his bathroom — a fact, unfortunately, that will be the only one recalled by the minds of today’s youth. It kind of depresses me, but I guess that’s the way celebrity deaths go.
I don’t hold vigil on this day the way I did, say, in 1987 when I was a brand new Elvis fan (10 years too late, after all) and obsessed with all things Elvis. I probably won’t dust off the Elvis documentaries and immerse myself in familiar information and factoids. And I will probably not remember it’s the “death date” after this point unless I hear a blurb on the news about it or see an Elvis movie playing on TV — inevitable, I guess. But still, it’s a day that lodges itself into my memory, along with other somewhat meaningless dates and birthdays of people I no longer even see. (I’m kind of wishing my math ability was related to my number memory. School would have been a whole lot easier.)
All it took was a chance viewing of Elvis’ “That’s the Way it Is” tour documentary. I was mesmerized by this man jumping around in a white bellbottomed suit (that I made fun of, woefully unaware that bellbottoms would someday be back in style, and that I would wear them) with fringes that hung off every limb. I distinctly remember (thinking, as a youngest child, that everything I did was cute and funny), going up to the bathroom, getting long strips of toilet paper, and recreating the suit. Oh, how creative. <sigh>
That concert didn’t leave my mind. I became obsessed with this man Elvis, whom my parents didn’t even like. Until that moment, I don’t remember having heard the name Elvis. I began watching all the shows about him, reading every magazine, and buying into every “Elvis is alive” theory. (I mean, after all, it was kind of a let-down to become a fan of someone who had died a decade earlier. I would have been a happy girl to find that he was named John Burrows and he lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan.)
The tragedy factor gripped me: how someone who had it all ended up destroying himself. Even today there’s one concert that gets me every time I watch it — it’s from his last tour, and he was playing in Indianapolis, I believe. (I could be wrong, but that city sticks in my mind for some reason.) Elvis was a bloated, sweaty mess, and it was unbelievable that someone like him could even walk, much less sing. He sat down at the piano to play “Unchained Melody.” As he sang, the sweat ran down, and you could tell that every single person on that stage with him was terrified that he would forget the words. You can see Charlie Hodge mouthing the words as he held the microphone for Elvis, almost willing him to remember. At one point, he paused as he drew out a note, looking up at his friends questioningly, then he launched into the next line, muttering “I’m with it” in between words. The look on his face was priceless — that telltale glimmer in his eye when he was mischievous was there. He knew the words, and he was going to belt them out with every ounce of strength he had left in him. He barely scraped out the high note at the end, but he did it, and you can see the utter relief lodged on the face of those around him, along with Elvis himself. As he looked triumphantly at those around him, you can see him again mouth “I’m with it.” What a way to go out! You can watch the performance here on You Tube.
Last year, a long-time goal had finally come true. My hubby and I were going to Graceland — a selfless act on his part, since he was not a fan. I wanted to go partly out of curiosity and partly out of a desire to say I was there, ranking myself with all the other true fans. I went, suffered through Memphis heat and humidity, walked down Elvis Presley Boulevard, filed through Graceland like a true tourist, stood by the wall (but didn’t sign my name), and met one of Elvis’ friends, George Klein — truly the highlight of my trip.
And while I’ll probably never go back to Graceland in this lifetime (too much cheesiness), it was great to finally be able to say, “I was there, man.”
PS — I never knew this until today, but I noticed the You Tube video I linked to said that the performance of “Unchained Melody” was from June 21 … a date that also happens to be my wedding day. There’s another little factoid to stick in my brain.