I received an email recently that was “unassigned” but asked my opinion in response to a simple question of “Why do we remember Elvis (Presley)”? At first glance I thought….terrible question….waste of time to respond…far too…simple. But then I thought a little more and not only sent a written response but thanked the anonymous e mailer for their pertinent question.
The answer to “Why do we remember Elvis Presley” is oxymoronic in the sense of being both easy to answer and yet, on many levels, much more complex. Let me explain by giving just a few reasons.
The story of Elvis Presley, shared by word of mouth or by those who knew him (i.e. Charlie Hodge, Marty Lacker, Sonny West, Red West, Sandi Pichon, Joe Esposito, Lamar Fike, Priscilla, Lisa Marie, etc.) or by some wonderful authors such as Alanna Nash or by fans Worldwide, is one of great; poverty, inspiration, human frailties, wealth, loss, faith in God, belief in helping our fellow man, talent, blessings, love, pain(s), turmoil, and even life lessons.
Elvis Aron Presley, yes I use the spelling of his middle name as it was listed on his birth certificate, was a man who walked among us – who dreamed – who worked extremely hard – who was a loyal friend – who was quick to temper yet even quicker to reach out to help – who gave of his time and of his heart – and whose story I could spend the rest of my life writing about and never do his story or his life or his accomplishments…justice.
I have always believed so many things my Grandfather taught/told me. One of the “words of wisdom”, which I cherish to this day, was in response to my being “sad” that Elvis died (i.e. circa 1977) on August 16, 1977 when I was a teenager. Part of the dialog I still recall was “if more than 1 person remembers your name, or your passions, a year after your death you are a blessed man indeed”. He also shared that “a man can be measured, in part, by the quality of the company he keeps in public but more so in private”.
These words, I believe, are part of the reasons why we remember Elvis Presley.
The quality of those who knew Elvis best were among the most talented, most loyal, most passionate, and most giving people one could ever have the honor of meeting. From Charlie Hodge to Marty Lacker to Sonny and Red West to Joe Esposito to Gladys Presley to Lisa Marie to Jerry Schilling to Sandi Pichon each of these people agree that Elvis had qualities (and faults) that rendered him; the greatest entertainer who ever lived, an original in style/actions/mannerisms, unbelievably talented, and a truly unique person who they love – think of – and miss every moment of everyday. Though Elvis “fans” may try to divide this group of individuals I remain steadfast in my resolve that context matters and if “it was good enough for Elvis to spend a minute of his time, let alone decades, then it is good enough for me”.
I also believe that another reason of why we remember Elvis is that he used his God given talents not only to (initially) enhance his Mother and Fathers standard of living but to help others he knew firsthand and so many more he learned about (i.e. on the TV, in the newspaper, or who were deemed to be in need and Elvis agreed to help monetarily) who were facing hardships (i.e. widowed family of a slain police officer, disabled persons, charity organizations, people who lost their possessions in a tornado, etc.). I have always said, and believed, that the greatest gift one can give is; from their heart and of their time. In the case of Elvis Presley he did both and he did so with…grace.
At the height of his fame Elvis was drafted into the US Army (note: he received his draft notice by hand delivery during the week of Christmas 1957) and opted to forgo the comfort of doing “promotions for the US Military” and stood fast in this desire to be treated “like every other solider”. Through great hardships (i.e. being away from his family for the first time, losing millions in earnings, losing his beloved Mother Gladys on August 14, 1958, etc.) Elvis spent (approximately) two years in the US Army and earned the respect of his fellow military personnel but also from critics who had (falsely) believed that Elvis was contributing to juvenile delinquency and/or was not a Christian.
Another of the reasons we should remember Elvis is that he wore his heart on his sleeve (caution metaphor) and when he loved…he loved. When he was angry….the nickname “crazy” was applicable. When he cared tears were sure to come followed by grace, words of comfort, and so many times monetary contributions. Elvis shocked the World when he married Priscilla on May 1, 1967 and when the marriage deteriorated (note: I have written before about how Elvis and Priscilla both contributed to the marriage ending BUT I am biased towards Elvis “side” admit tingly) he faced the cameras walking down the corridor/steps on October 9, 1973 and for months prior/during/afterward he recorded songs that reflected his hurt…his pain…his love. Among the applicable songs were; Always On My Mind, Separate Ways, It’s Over, I’ve Lost You, My Boy, Don’t Cry Daddy, You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, etc.).
Part of what made Elvis “great” was that he never gave up and he had, including but not limited to, at least (four) MAJOR COMEBACKS that would have been career ending for 99.9% of the general population. The first was when he was turned down by the Grand Ole Opry, which Elvis had “grown up on” and respected artist who performed there, and told to “go back to driving a truck”. The second was when he went into the Army (i.e. from 1958 through 1960) unsure if he would even have a career to return to either in music or in the movies. The third was during the 1960’s after he had completed his contractual obligations for movies and regained his rightful place as a great singer/entertainer by the incomparable and exceptional ’68 Singer Special entitled “Elvis” (aka: 1968 Special, ’68 Special, Comeback Special, Elvis Comeback Special, etc.). The last “comeback” was after America, the World, and his fans first learned that Elvis was…human. That Elvis had marital problems. That Elvis had health issues. That Elvis took prescription medications. That Elvis was sad and he wrote notes/letters during the mid to late 1970s that were heartfelt and…moving. And yet in many ways learning that Elvis was “human” not only further endeared him to his fans, and I among them, but made us appreciate Elvis more for not giving up and for sharing his wonderful voice and stage presence throughout the United States via his live performances/concerts.
A more subtle part of “why we should remember Elvis” is that he loved, respected, admired, and appreciated performers of quality. Elvis listened to, collected, and played over and over musical styles ranging from Gospel to Opera to Rhythm and Blues to County to Folk and even to Rock and Roll. Elvis, through his life and through his actions, looked past the color of the person (which was how the press and far too many focused on during the 1950s-1970s and in some cases – sadly – even today) and surrounded himself professionally with the “best of the best” onstage. If anyone questions this set of facts one only needs to “Google” Myrna Smith and watch the videos of her talking about her relationship with Elvis personally and professionally. Sadly, like Gladys Presley, Vernon Presley, Charlie Hodge, etc. before her Myrna Smith passed away and this World lost a person of quality who, like Elvis himself, remains…irreplaceable.
Elvis left us three decades of quality work products. From TV appearances to music recordings to movies to live appearances to hundreds of thousands of photographs Elvis is seen through the prism of truth and that being of him doing his best, many times through trials and tribulations, and reaching heights deemed “unattainable” and he even had public “stumbles” along the way. Throughout it all Elvis stayed true to himself and true to his faith in God.
Each of these examples is a small part of the “puzzle of Elvis Aron Presley”. He left us with his beloved daughter, Lisa Marie, and many friends/loved ones who remain (in my opinion) priceless living breathing parts of Elvis life who should be supported in each of their endeavors and “officially recognized” for their part(s) in the life of the man – the performer – and the legend that is Elvis Aron Presley.
Throughout our grief, that began on August 16, 1977 and remains to this day, Elvis taught us that life is…short. That in the (literal) “blink of the eye” Elvis left his World taking away from us a man of innumerable talents and who even these (approximately) four decades later is admired and respected Worldwide.
On a personal note I remember Elvis for these reasons and so many many…more. I can recall the day I first heard Elvis’ latest release. I can recall times when the mailbox brought a new collectible, a new letter, or some cool promotional material. I played time and time and time again certain songs when I was happy and equally as impressionable when I was sad. I listened to Elvis’ vocal chords reach octaves of beauty and somehow/someway knowing Elvis sang words relevant to what I was going through I was left with the distinct acceptance that is would be…all right.
We share our memories, insights, thoughts, and words about Elvis online – in private – and in public forums. Some take the approach that they can recall obscure facts about Elvis life. Some use their positions to solely make money off the name “Elvis” and, as far as I am concerned, nothing is wrong with that as long as it is honest/disclosed. Some try to minimize the expertise of other Elvis Fans and hide behind fake names/websites. Some try to advance the lie that Elvis is still alive. While others spend their life rebuilding while never letting go of their relationship with Elvis…nor should they.
Elvis is part of millions of people Worldwide. Elvis is also “regional” (I..e the South, Memphis, Tennessee, Mississippi, etc.). Elvis is also universal. Elvis can’t be categorized and yet…in some ways he can. Elvis will never be “copied”, and his talents done justice, but that doesn’t stop thousands from trying. So much of this World will never fully comprehend what the World was like with Elvis was in it or what it was like when a “new generation” put their efforts into the Beatles or the “Beach sounds” or the “English Invasion” and in the 1970’s sounds from hard rock to disco to “tech”. They can never know what it was like to be an Elvis fan when so many thought it was…”uncool”. Those same nay sayers were among the first to cry when word came to them that Elvis had passed away. In some ways Elvis was taken for granted and we, individually and collectively, should have let him know exactly what he meant to us. We are, and were, left with the burdens of the “what if(s)”.
Honestly, Elvis can never be explained, in totality and even to those who were there discrepancies exist. In a World where hand-held computers/phones take the place of social interaction, and company’s are built making billions of dollars but don’t create anything “tangible”, there is a tendency to try to put Elvis into certain “boxes”.
Elvis is far too complex to neatly fit into anything but his story is one of the American Dream and one of decades of excellence. Nonetheless, Elvis Aron Presley “boy my boy” is a fascinating subject matter (in every conceivable aspect) warranting questions from all over the World to be answered even if they, at first glance, seem….simplistic.
Take care and may God bless you.
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