The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, August 16, 2002  

Long Live the King!

It’s hard to believe, but 25 years ago today Elvis Presley died at the tragically early age of 42. I was never a big fan of Presley, or even a small fan, but that doesn’t mean much because I listen to very little music of any kind. I remain, however, fascinated by his appeal, by the devotion of his legion of fans, particularly so long after his passing.

Admittedly, being a “dyed-in-the-wool” Northeasterner, the passion so often associated with being a Presley fan is something to which I find it difficult to relate. I would emphasize that the paragraphs reprinted below, taken from today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, are not intended to be insulting jabs at Presley’s fans, only observations of the emotional attachment so many Americans have to this, yes, great performer.

“A lot of the male acolytes hanging around Graceland this week are so passionate about Elvis that they’ve morphed into him. They’re not Elvis impersonators, exactly. They don’t sport the full Vegas regalia or do the macho strut. They’re more like Elvis hybrids. They wear their own clothes and walk their own way -- but, from the neck up, it’s the pompadour, the shades, and the sideburns.

Raymond Hart wears the Elvis sideburns just long enough to hold down his job as general manager of a big hardware outlet in York, England. ‘So many people only see one side of the man,’ he says. ‘I mean, they take the bad stuff and make it bigger.’

“‘A lot of bad things happen in our own lives, with our families’ -- Hart’s wife is beside him, nodding sagely – ‘and imagine how we’d feel if some of those things got the kind of attention Elvis got. And he was under a lot of bad pressure.’

“That’s the official take on Elvis’[s] drug-related death spiral, that he was a victim of celebrity. ‘He was a prisoner of fame,’ says buddy Patty Parry, who recalls how Elvis watched lots of TV because he was wary of leaving the house. ‘It was a hard life.’”

The article in the Inquirer includes a particularly arresting tale from one of Presley’s guitarists: “‘There was a time Elvis damn near killed me,’ recalls John Wilkinson, Elvis’[s] rhythm guitarist. ‘This was in Las Vegas. He was one of the great practical jokers, although he didn't much like it when the jokes were on him.’

“‘Anyway, we were on stage. Elvis walks out, and I see he’s got something in his right hand. He looks at me. It was the look he'd get where you knew something bad was going to happen to you.

“‘I’m playing the lead-in to ‘That's All Right,’ key of A. And I see he’s got a water pistol. Doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know about water and electricity. The water hit me, and there was a blue arc that went between my fingertips and the guitar. Lucky I wasn’t hurt. I said, “Elvis, why’d you do that?” He said, “’Cause I have a water pistol and you don't!”’”

R.I.P., Mr. Presley

-- J.M.C.

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