Robert

Forty years and still

all shook up over Elvis

I

n a few days, the pilgrims will come from far and wide, as sure as the pilgrims that Geoffrey Chaucer described in Elizabethean England.

Instead of tunics and cassocks, they will wear high-collars and tight polyester pants, sideburns and pompadours that have been out of fashion for forty-five years.

They will light candles and whisper in hushed tones at their icon’s grave. There might even be a few sniffles or two from aging groupies ranging from peroxide-blonde to silver gray.

It’s hard to believe, but in a few days the world will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the death of the King of Rock N’ Roll, Elvis Presley.

Just as in the case of President John F. Kennedy, most of us remember where we were and what we doing when we heard about the death of Elvis Presley.

I was stuffing my mouth full of juicy, delicious scuppernong grapes that grew in the grape arbor on the north side of our property in rural Madison County, Mississippi. I was 12 years-old. It was three-thirty in the afternoon, Aug. 16, 1977. School started in three days.

The small transistor radio in my other hand crackled with the news that Elvis had died at his Graceland Mansion in Memphis.

In the 1960s and 70s when I was growing up, Memphis was always an enchanted place for me, a small boy growing up in the Magnolia State. Tupelo is the real birthplace of Elvis, as any true, bona fide Mississippian will tell you.

Long before Elvis impersonators became fashionable, I used to stand in front of the bathroom mirror and perfect my lip curl.

I performed as Elvis at junior high assemblies.

And so, when I learned that Elvis had died, I began to experience a sense of mourning that many Mississippians of that day and time began to feel.

I think, for the most part, we were mourning a loss that was more deeply personal than simply the passing of an entertainer.

Elvis had become a part of our lives since the days he burst into our living rooms on an old black-and-white television set.

As a teenager, I would go on to listen to “The Clash,” the “Romantics” and other groups of the era, but years later I would regale listeners in playing “early rockabilly Elvis on the college radio station at Mississippi State.

There was something ephemeral about the man from the wrong side of the tracks in Tupelo who gave away Cadillacs to strangers.

I never met Elvis Presley but I glimpsed him stepping from a limousine at Graceland after begging my father to slow down as we drove past on our way to visit with our great aunt.

His memory and legacy continue to spin off what amounts to cottage industries hawking his likeness and career.

Within a hundred yards of where I sit at my desk writing this column, Elvis appeared across the street to purchase several automobiles, at the old Entrekin Ford place in Hernando.

They still talk about it — of that experience and Elvis riding up to the window at “The Dip” on his motorcycle for a milkshake.

Just up the road between Horn Lake and Walls lies the old Circle G Ranch where Elvis and his entourage used to ride horses and steal away from the crush of fans gathered outside Graceland.

There are big plans ahead, I am told, for the old Circle G Ranch.

When the late Dr. Ed Franklin, Elvis’ veterinarian, was still alive, I was invited to experience the annual Elvis impersonator contest organized by Ed and his wife Jackie.

It was amazing to me then, and still is today, the devotion that so many have to this gifted, talented singer from Tupelo.

People like to make fun of Elvis fans but I never did.

For me and many others, Elvis continues to confound his critics and win new converts.

Long before he wiggled his way into immortality, he was just a boy who had big dreams.

As a man who was a boy once who used to lie in the grass and dream as the shapes of clouds drifted by, I can identify with that.

ROBERT LEE LONG  is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, ext. 252.

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