my elvis isn’t all that schlock. it’s not the scary bejeweled white suits with those enormous collars. it’s not those oversized 70s sunglasses. it’s not the kitschy vegas wedding chapel. it’s not the pork chop sideburns and platform shoes. it’s not the guns, the pills, the dizzyingly buzzed about junk that came at the end.
no, my elvis is sublime.
he rocks around that clock, pelvis-ing in front of ed sullivan with a flip of jet black shiny hair. yes, i know he dyed his hair, but hey, so do i. he’s a southern boy with a maple syrupy voice. and that’s just when he’s talking. he’s sexy-lunging at that yellow bathing suit with matching high heels ann-margret…prancing around that vegas pool. he’s trying his best to melt the steely, stiff everything of that over-rated nancy sinatra. he’s making a million hearts swoon right along with shelly fabre. he’s cliff diving in acapulco to lure ursula andres into his cabana! go, elvis, go!
sure, i grew up watching those cheesy musicals. the formula was etched early on. once elvis moved through a few pretty powerful dramatic parts, that lousy colonel (if i could get my hands on that guy….) aimed his solid gold star towards the jackpot of pouring one dimensional musicals after another. the box office seemingly couldn’t get enough, (until, with a thud, it did…) and frankly, neither could i.
here’s a plot: poor boy who can sing is inadvertently mistaken for rich boy, meets girl, sings, falls in love, throw in a zany chase scene or two, kiss the girl, or get awfully close, until girl discovers true identity, then more songs, another zany chase scene, some dance moves, more singing, and then, hallelujah, land the girl. oh, sometimes have cute kid with an accent act as his sidekick…that’ll bring in the families, too! see elvis dressed up as a waiter, surf instructor, bullfighter, army guy, crooner, beach boy, race car driver, water ski instructor! who cares! keep those cameras rolling and keep those dollars rolling in, too.
i found him darling, goofy, charming, sexy, sincere, and adorable. so much so, i raised my children watching these zany movies. and you can be sure they each have their favorite. which then, predictably, compelled us to drive down to graceland to see it all right up and close. this is where he lived. this is where he died.
funny story. driving down to memphis a few years ago, corey lost a tooth. now, at 7, this gal owned a black guitar (“just like elvis”), and was a major force to both our trip, and our booking the “elvis suite” at the heartbreak hotel. i mean, when in rome…
after clobbering the gift shop with all of their college savings, touring the inimitable “lisa marie” private jet (where else is avocado shag carpet so delectable?), we made our way up to the house. the plan? try to pry the bannister of the jungle room railing up enough to put corey’s tooth inside. no luck. that thing was solidly built, wouldn’t budge. on with the tour!
tooth in pocket, we ooo-ed and aaa-ed through the gold records, costumes, round bed (!! round bed?!! naughty!), business office, knick knacks and on-site museums. we could have gone on forever, and were told that there are about 500,000 more elvis relics in storage, waiting for a place to call home (meaning: a place to be viewed by insatiable people like us)…but the tour was ending. our final stop? the memorial garden, really quite lovely, with a bubbling fountain and beautifully landscaped gardens all circling elvis’ grave. my kids were somber, the little darlings, but also eager to leave corey’s tooth in a place of importance. and where else could that be but, well, a few feet away from that dear southern boy’s final resting place: snugly tucked into the bursting flowerbed!
now, i know this is a campy story. and i know that the final chapter elvis presley’s life was a bit of a scary carnival, insert the sad part here if you have to. i can’t even type it. what i think of when i remember him is how much of an impact he made in music, in bridging styles of one sort of music into another, locking it in permanently and stamping his very own forever tattoo onto rock’n’roll. bluesy, thrusting pelvis, love, lust, longing, heartbreak, diggin’ pretty girls. then the technicolor fellow, dancing and cajoling and masquerading in all of those sweet, simple, yes, formula movies. boy gets girl, sings, happy ending? who wouldn’t love growing up to that?
so, here’s my spin. granted, i’m not the kind of elvis fan who buys those collectible plates, or locks of his hair from questionably ethical barbers. i’m just a girl who grew up liking him. and sometimes, my mind wandered, and i conjured up a little theory.
you know how they say that timing is everything?
since the years that he’s died, i’ve been paying attention to well, the world. what it used to be like, and it’s evolution. current culture in 2011 is an entirely different beast in so many ways, and i’m not talking technology. no, what i see are a series of steps in american behavior and fads that all came, just a bit, too late. follow me. it’s a simple list.
1. barbra streisand offered elvis the lead role in her remake of ‘a star is born’
2. elvis, thrilled, accepted it, certain it would revive his career
3. that lousy creep the colonel (who goes by that handle, anyway) made him turn it down
4. elvis died
ok, i’m not saying that barbra had anything to do with his death. but what i’m seeing is that she actually could have done something to save him. yes, we all know a person has to do this all by themselves, but come on, it’s not like his friends, doctor, girlfriend, or that foul colonel were lending a hand to….redemption.
what i think, and what i wish is this: elvis said yes to barbra. then he fired the colonel. then he got to show the world what he had, and that he wasn’t going anywhere. yes, the script could have used some work, and i don’t even want to start in on kris kristoffersen and that croaky voice…but just stay with me.
right about this time there was a big social shift: a former first lady named betty ford went public with her addiction. she beat it, talked all about it rather than shrouding it behind a false face, and opened a rehabilitation center. in other words, she made it cool to tell the truth, admit a weakness, and ask for help. hello: ann-margret: book a room for your sweet elvis, stat!
now, another fad was standing to attention, the sequence is perfect. jane fonda is kicking and dancing along with that funny weird richard simmons…headbands and sweatsuits, the accompanying cacophony of disco music: telling all of us to get up and start exercising. it’s cool! it’s trendy! get in shape!
therapy? stand in line! try it, you’ll like it! let’s talk about our feelings, conquer our fears, work on our issues, clear the cobwebs, wear a badge: i kicked the habit, i have control of my life, i’m healthy, strong, and ready to emote and move upward and onward.
organic food? healthy eating? hello????
i know, i can’t turn back the clock. but i really think i’m right. if the kid had had an ounce of southern gumption left in him, just an ounce, something leftover from being vultured, pandered to, manipulated, catered to, mis-managed, and just plain tired, well, i just wish he’d stayed around just long enough to hitch a ride on the get well get fit get fired up train of the late 70s.
then maybe, instead the frozen in time, end of the line elvis that adios-ed 34 years ago, we’d all watching a silver fox version, driving women into passion-crazed frenzies on the vegas strip. sure, with a little less hair, but with that love me tender plea that we all willingly would follow.