August 17, 2007

The King

I like Elvis Presley music. I love Elvis movies. His acting is not as bad as critics would like you to believe because he was the same character in every single movie -- Elvis. I heard an anecdote about Elvis that sums this up. Supposedly he was talking during the break on the set of one of his movies. The director called for Elvis to return to the set. He stood up, shook hands and said " Time to go be him." Most of us do not know what Elvis was like in real-life. I cannot believe he was 'on' all the time.

I have been to Graceland twice. The first time was just a couple of years after he died hugging the toilet in the upstairs bathroom. The house had just opened for tours and docents led the tour through the house. I was struck by several things, the absolute worship of Elvis by many on the tour. As the guide pointed out the horses in the meadow behind the house, one of the tourists asked if those were Elvis' horses. The guide said that they were not, but they were just like the ones Elvis had. The tourist wanted to know if they could pet the horses or cut some hair from their manes. Good Gosh, they are not the same horses! I was struck by the racketball court filled with gold and platinum records. I laughed at the white jump suits tailored to fit around Elvis' gut. I marveled at the people sobbing and crying hysterically at the grave site.

I returned a few years later with a friend. The tour was partially recorded and a guide spoke at certain points in the tour. "Here is the piano where Elvis spent many an evening singing gospel songs with his closest friends." Sure, while he was eating handfuls of bacon and Quaaludes. "This is the Jungle Room. Elvis bought all this furniture in a twenty minute shopping trip to Memphis." You can tell. Graceland looks like it was decorated entirely by purchases at garage sales. My friend thought it looked exactly like it was decorated by a guy who was born in a dirt floor shack in Tupelo, Mississippi who suddenly had more wealth than he could spend.

In the end, perhaps only the Beatles could understand the life Elvis was forced to live. The immense fame eclipsed his talent, his personality. He was forced to be Elvis twenty-four/seven. Even when he served his country he was "Elvis". He had given up his life years before. I can understand the rumors of Elvis working in a gas station in Michigan, a Burger King in Maine. He must have longed for a private life, yet he was constantly pulled by the most powerful addiction of all -- fame. No wonder drugs and booze and peanut butter and banana sandwiches claimed his life.

I spent a good portion of last night watching Elvis movies. I looked for no lessons in life, no hidden meanings. I wanted to be entertained. Elvis came through. He always did. RIP Elvis.

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