remembering the king

Elvis Presley playing Las Vegas in 1969. Photo Getty Images.

Elvis Presley would be 84 years old today, had he lived past August 16, 1977 to today. He was 42 years old when he died, way too young. I’ve had a fascination with Elvis ever since a summer in Mississippi, visiting my grandmother, when I was eleven years old. I went to the movies with my summertime-friend down the road, to see Viva Las Vegas at the Lyric Theater in Bay Springs.

I’d heard of Elvis but he’d been off my radar; the Beatles had come to America that year, and my life would never be the same. My friend, however, who was a couple of years older than I was, was rabid about Elvis Presley, and cried in the theater during the movie. Cried. I thought she was nuts. I didn’t know her that well. And I didn’t know Elvis at all.

And really. Viva Las Vegas?

Over the years, though, my appreciation grew, to the point that I’ve visited Elvis’s birthplace in Tupelo twice (same for Graceland), have read Peter Guralnick’s great biographies, have watched the movies and documentaries, and have listened to Elvis’s music on repeat — especially the later hits, like “A Little Less Conversation” and “In the Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds.”

I’m not rabid, but I am definitely a fan. I appreciate the man so much now, as well as the child that became that man.

Which is why ANTHEM includes more than an Elvis sighting, when Molly and Norman get to Memphis on their cross-country trip. It includes an Elvis encounter. Elvis is about ready to leave for his career “reboot” — two weeks in Las Vegas. The New York Times wrote a good piece about it last week. “Elvis Presley Needed a Reboot in July 1969. So did Las Vegas.

You’ll have to wait until Chapter 24 of ANTHEM for more on this, including the research behind the Elvis chapter, but in the meantime, you can click on the songs above to remember the singer who changed American music. The Beatles were so nervous to meet Elvis, they called it hero worship of a high degree. (Paul, in Anthology.)

There was something about Elvis, a boy from rural Mississippi, that spoke to a rural Mississippi summertime-friend of mine, that she tried to convey to me, through her excitement and tears in that darkened theater in 1964. She knew what the Beatles knew, and what I didn’t yet know, that here was one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century. From Mississippi! Her Mississippi. Singing “Today, Tomorrow, Forever,” just to her.

Viva the King.