I Remember . . . . . . . . . . Elvis
I remember the day vividly despite the fact that it was 34 years ago. I went downstairs and walked into the kitchen, contemplating what I was going to have for breakfast. An Elvis Presley song blared out from the small radio on the kitchen sideboard. Nothing unusual in that in our household. My mum had every single Elvis album so alongside the Charlie Pride, the Country and Western, The Soca, The Reggae, and the Soul, there was always Elvis.
And then the circular announcement came. Elvis Presley the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was dead. I stood frozen for a moment, waiting for the radio presenter to retract the statement, but all that came was another Elvis song.
I cried as though I had lost a friend or relative. Not MY Elvis, not the Elvis with the beautiful smile, the seemingly kind heart, the twinkle in his eye, and the amazing voice with the looks to match. Surely not THAT Elvis. But as we know, there was only one.
It was a school day and I didn’t dare ask for the day off because unless my insides were falling out there were no excuses in my household for not going to school. I remember sneaking off to the toilets at one point where I just cried uncontrollably.
At lunchtime on that day, 16th August 1977, instead of sitting with my friends I headed straight for the library. It housed a huge glossy book on the History of Rock ‘n’ Roll and I remember previously staring longingly at several pictures of Elvis. There was an amazing picture of Elvis with golden blond hair, squinting slightly because of the sun, wearing his trademark smile, and from what I can remember, he was in a red and white checked shirt.
I committed a minor petty theft that day and I tore that picture from the book and took it home with me. I kept it right up until University but lost track of it with the various moves and re-locations.
Growing up I spent most of my Saturday afternoons with Elvis, singing along to all the films and doing all the dances performed by the great man and the adoring women followers. I didn’t learn until much later that Elvis did not enjoy making those movies and had aspirations to be a serious actor.
I often used to wonder if his life would have turned out differently had he been allowed more freedom to express his heart and work more on projects that nourished his soul. Who knows, little point in speculating so long after the fact. I shall have to be content with being filled with enormous gratitude for not just the music that Elvis shared with the world, but also for the way he crossed divides and helped blur the boundaries.
He gave other performers the permission and ability to really express their music and move from the waist down. He bought elements of black music into the homes of those who would never willingly have accepted such an intrusion, and he made it OK to both like and enjoy the music of cultures.
After his first radio interview, the interviewer very cannily asked Elvis to share with the listeners where he went to school because he knew the answer would announce to the world that Elvis Presley was in fact white, such was the unusual fusion of his music at the time.
One of my favourite TV shows is Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton. The show always concludes with the questionnaire from Bernard Pivot. Question number 10 is:
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
For me, after being greeted by family and friends, the next answer I’d like to hear from God might be: “Marilyn Devonish, Elvis is in the building.”
RIP Elvis Presley. Your music has touched the lives of millions besides my own and for that, I thank you.