Thursday, August 16, 2007

30 years ago today, Elvis left the building.

It's been nice seeing so much Elvis in the news, I have to be honest. I'm basking in it. I'm even a little curious at the daddy-daughter duet Lisa Marie is set to release sometime today. If I'm sad, it's not because he's gone from us. It's because I never quite brought an idea to fruition that I'd wanted to—free singing telegrams all day long as some sort of a tribute. Although I keep my Elvis "like" in check these days, it seems to come and go. Today, we're at about a 7 or an 8 (out of a possible 10) on the Elvis Obsess-o-Meter. Still, I thought I'd share something I wrote five years ago, when I tried to put into words why I like him like I do. I think I got close to just about nailing it. Happy Elvis Death Day, everyone. Turn up a song of his sometime today and remember. And if you don't have any, well, stay tuned for my radio show tonight. I have a nice chunk of songs all queued up and ready to go.

Always on My Mind: An Obsession Analyzed


It’d like to believe it all began with my mother.

It was, after all, she who played his records on an ever-rotating basis as our growing family hopped across the nation from California to Tennessee to Utah to Missouri. It was the love songs she liked best. I remember one double-LP in particular, purchased around Valentine’s Day, where only a likeness of Elvis’ head, carved in chocolate and trimmed in red candy hearts, stared out pupil-less from the cover—it was horrifying. It’s the very same record I queued up when putting across some marvelous lip sync'ed concerts for my parents, the front room my intimate theater. Put on the silky-smooth polyester shirt otherwise reserved for the roller rink (the midnight blue one with what appeared to display meteor showers copulating all over the place), wet my hair down, grabbed my father’s very large, very awkward guitar and let loose with all the energy an 8-year-old could muster. Usually earned some golf claps. Once that was over with, it was back to lassoing the cows on our acreage. Business as usual.

If it was my mother who infected me with the Elvis poison, I hastily grabbed that passed torch from her clutches and began scaling all kinds of new mountains with it on my own. I took it to the next level. Home movies still exist of my childhood best friend Brian and I where we became basement movie stars every day after school let out. The camera attached directly to the VCR—which at that point resembled two mini-fridges barely balancing on the top of our TV— and, as such, outdoor adventures went undocumented. Instead, concerts were performed in, on, and around our blue sectional couch, the two of us assuming the likeness of a Robert Plant or Roger Waters, each vignette ending in the tearing off of shirts and mock-beating the cameramen senseless. This was rock ‘n’ roll as we saw it.

Slipped in between the singing that really wasn’t were glimpses of a 14-year-old me, in piled-up hair and white painter’s pants, trying to mimic That Drawl, talking earnestly to my expectant audience and never cracking a smile. Would garble about how I was still alive and hiding out in the foothills, lying low. You, Too, Can Sing Like Elvis! tapes were bought and the two of us would duet to “My Way” and lesser-known bscurities like “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”, barely hiding the unevenness of our prepubescent wails. Elvis seemed a presence connected to my skin. One that was growing.

As I aged, those people living under my roof also seemed to take notice of this growing interest. They probably overheard my rendering of “Love Me” reverberating off the bathroom tile during shower time. Or maybe it was the sideburns that started around high school they chose to read into. But the paraphernalia started rolling in and I had little to say in the matter. I never had to proclaim my fast-growing obsession, for I had helpers to bring me reminders of it on birthdays and Christmases, in the form of posters, movies and half-off box sets (that’d be from my sale-savvy mom). Elvis may not have been everywhere, but he maintained his royal status inside the walls of my room. So, if the infection is to be viewed as a sickness, it was fast becoming the all-encompassing, life-debilitating sort of disease. Remember The Blob and how, even protective puppy dogs were not safe in its wake? Same concept.

In my more reflective moments, I once thought Elvis so closely resembled my late father—and, photos examined side-by-side, they really do, right to the high cheekbones—that my inner psyche was somehow replacing my father with the musician. Even though both are now gone from my presence, the latter is the more prominent figure and a part of a people’s awareness more so than the man who gave me my name. It’s an easy trade, right? If anything, it’s much easier to remember a man who’s seeped into the culture of a nation (and beyond) than one who dealt only with a select few in that unit. It sounds quite absurd, possibly more so in the explaining of the would-be phenomenon via the written word. Did my dad ever even dig Elvis music? Does it even matter? I’d be a piece of work for the therapists.

Presently, my obsession with Elvis has grown to some serious mammoth proportions, and there’s not much I can do about it. I catch myself in deep discussion about, say, whether Elvis attempted to be overtly sexual in his dancing or if it was merely a byproduct of how he absorbed the music, and suddenly I find I’m looking out crazy excited eyes and into dark, bored ones. I proudly proclaim to any entering my two-bedroom abode that Elvis looks down on me from every room in the house. Even have an Elvis-Greets-Nixon magnet in the kitchen and an 8” x 10” of a cigar-chomping still from Charro! in the main bathroom. I’ve had a “What Would Elvis Do?” license plate molding made for my vehicle. I wore some cheap Halloween Elvis specs (the gold-rimmed fakies) to block out the sun while driving until they finally broke; I had no intentions of being ironic.

I suppose the karaoke bug bit not long after that. Raskals, a dive of a bar down the road from the first place I lived after graduating from college, advertised an 8 p.m. karaoke night on Thursdays. I’d never been. I decided to take my chance. It took a few times to get relaxed on stage, even if, on the average, the only other people there consisted of the Still Happy To Dress Like I’m In 1983 deejay, the girl I’d begged to come with me that week and a waitress done up like a Circus Circus beverage wench. But I started weaving around the “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Blue Suede Shoes” standbys, instead opting for “Bossa Nova Baby” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”. They may have been hearing the songs for the first time ever from my lips, judging by the disgruntled looks that said (and even still say): “Hey! This isn’t Creed!” Now I visit a jazz bar that has no less than six pages of Presley songs for me to pawn over. Someday I’ll bring the place to its knees with “An American Trilogy”. It’s a vivid dream, but one I have full power to make come true. And hopefully it will be brought to fruition during sorority night. I’ll be the rain on their Top 40 parade. But that’s enough of that.

So far, the most blatantly audacious move on my part happened just last year when I got a jumpsuit. A custom fit, mail ordered from Memphis, sequin-studded, cape attached with Velcro, “I’ll throw in the $100 ankle boots for free”, honest-to-goodness jumpsuit. It even has a wee Matadore on the belt. I’d bought a half-priced wig in a Vegas fabric store for kicks already. I’d scoured the local costume shops for something reputable and found nothing. I was powerless to a force beyond my control. I will never reveal how much I paid for it to anyone. That’s not the point. It took just the gentle nudge of a girl friend miles away from me, her voice completely soothing, even when coming through the unreliable cell phone pressed to my ear: “If it makes you happy, do it.” I took her advice. I look for places I can wear it. I curse openly when it snags on another person completely unawares of its innate ability to snag. But I’m already looking at a couple more. I don’t know why, exactly. One in sky blue and the Aloha From Hawaii signature suit ought to tide me over for a few years. Would that I could own as many jumpsuits as Imelda Marcos does shoes.

More signs of my raging insanity appear in my nagging desire to pick up a part-time vocation doing Singing Elvis Telegrams. Once I can convince a local florist of how well a dozen long stem roses goes with “Love Me Tender”, I’ll have landed my very own dream job. Some yearn to be impersonators. Not I. I just want it to be karaoke night every day, several times during the day, on doorsteps and inside cubicles. I’ll throw in silk scarves for free. Ones dabbed with my sweat, though, will be extra.

I’m not entirely sure when this monkey will climb down from off my back. I never asked for this. I’m not sure how it happened, though I do know it’s not entirely me who nurtures it along. I’ve gone literally thousands of minutes without dwelling upon Elvis. There’s been days when I eject a disc emblazoned with his name before it plays to the end. I do know it won’t die anytime soon. I’ve too many box sets trouncing my collection to not familiarize my person with the recordings he left behind, both good and awfully good. I wonder sometimes how it began and end up with little more than I’ve allowed you to read here. But I never dwell on how it’ll end.

Tomorrow I’m attending an Elvis Appreciation night with a collage of personalities. We’re to dress according to the Seven Degrees of Elvis; as long as we can explain to those in charge how we’re connected, we’re okay. Possibilities have ranged from pharmacists to a pregnant Dido. Peanut butter and banana finger sandwiches will be in the Jungle Room. A karaoke machine with two microphones and nothing but Elvis tracks will take up another. And the ’68 Comeback Special will play on one TV at the same time Priscilla walks watchers through his great performances on another.

I swear I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I do, however, know what I’m wearing.


Angie said...

Suspicious Minds is my favorite Elvis song. If you wanted to throw it on tonight, that might be nice.

Laurie said...

You'll tell us what you wore, right?! I'm dying to know.

Dainon said...

Oh, you've seen it before. More than once maybe.