Monday, August 16, 2004

The king is still gone

Years ago, the late Lewis Grizzard wrote a humorous little book called "Elvis is Dead and I Don't Feel So Good Myself."

I think about that title every time Aug. 16 rolls around.

Presley died, of a heart attack brought on by prescription drug abuse, on this date in 1977. He was 42. Overweight, lonely, missing his mother --- one speculates that the final days of Presley's life were not happy ones.

Most fans only remember Presley for the silly 50s ditties that brought him fame. Which is fine, but he had better songs --- one's that capture a bit more of his soul, of who he was as a human being.

Take the majestic "You Gave Me A Mountain," a song written by Marty Robbins that Elvis took to singing in personal appearances in the mid-1970s. It was obviously a reference to his 1973 divorce to his wife, Priscilla. When Presley nails the final note of the song, one suspects he knows what he is singing about.

Presley's hurting. And he doesn't care who knows it.

The theme began to dominate his material, evidenced by the sudden appearance of songs like "What Now, My Love," "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues" and "It's Midnight" into Presley's act. No one, not Linda Thompson, not Ginger Alden and certainly not the so-called Memphis Mafia, could fill the void left behind by his wife's departure.

Elvis sought solace in pills and pancakes. We were robbed of a true poetic voice as a result.

Although I've been known to dawn a jeweled jumpsuit and sing "Promised Land" on occasion, I've often felt distanced from the throng who regularly trek to Graceland each year to hwave candles at Presley's grave. I'll leave such worship to others.

I'd rather dig out the bootleg CD of Presley's final show of the August 1974 engagement at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas ("The Desert Storm") and listen to him sing about lonely midnights and mountains he can not climb.

Or hear him recite the lyrics to Bread's underrated hit "Aubrey" while backup singer Sherrill Nielsen delivers the most haunting version of a ballad I have ever heard.

(That song boasts one of the most poetic verses to ever appear in a pop song. "I never knew her/but I loved her just the same/I loved her name," it says. And then a bit later: "And I'd go million times around the world just to say/she had been mine for a day.")

Or wince when he threatens and curses Hilton hotel staff for spreading a rumor he was "strung out" on heroin.

The moment is funny. It is also a little tragic.

So here it is 27 years later and the king is still gone. I think it hurts because part of Southern culture, heck, part of America, died with him.

Presley was the first pop superstar. And he was also virtually the only so-called "rock star" (he would have hated that term) who sang "How Great Thou Art" at his concerts and introduced his father during the show.

His fans remember him because he represents everything we wanted to be. And because he represents everything we were, or would have liked to have been.

Hail, hail, rock and roll.


Blogger Scott Frith said...

Wow. Great tribute, Jake. Though let the record reflect that while we're giving credit to musicians introducing their fathers, Johnny Cash does just that in the classic album "At Folsom Prison."

But, you might argue, Johnny Cash is no "rockstar." My counterargument is, would Elvis have ever covered songs by Nine Inch Nails or Soundgarden? (as did Cash)

Now, I'm merely asking your opinion, Jake. If Elvis were alive today, what would he be doing? What kind of shows would he put on -- if any? Just curious of your thoughts or ideas...

The version of Aubrey that you're refering to... That's one of my favorite songs -- probably top-25 of all-time...

9:59 PM  
Blogger Brian Hornback said...

Scott we will never know because he is gone and we can't turn back history. However, had Elvis been around longer he would have impacted the music industry and I would contend that he would not be supportive of teh Boy George's, Madonna's and the socialist liberal Dixie Chick aka Natalie Means. Elvis would say go out and entertain and leave your socialist commie comments to yourself. When Elvis country needed him, he went and served unlike John Heinz-Kerrey that went and received a flesh wound and got a purple heart

Jake, Do you think there is any connection between Nixon's resignation 30 years ago August 9 and Elvis death 27 years later on August 16. The two kings?

7:16 AM  
Blogger Jake Mabe said...


I don't know what Elvis would be doing were he still around today. Probably singing a few dates a year, and appearing in a TV special every now and again. I think Elvis would have ended up as a modern day Sinatra-type.

He would have never recorded anything by Nine Inch Nails or whomever because that just wasn't his bag. (Although he did begin singing Three Dog Night's "Never Been to Spain" in his shows in the 70s, which was a bit of a surprise.)

Brian: Haven't thought about there being a connection between Elvis' death and Nixon's resignation. Although, you know, they once did meet, at the White House, in 1970.

And you can argue that Nixon's and Elvis's careers almost paralleled: they came to national fame in the 50s, spent much of the 60s adrift, only to rise again in the late 60s/early 70s and fall again in the mid-to-late 70s.

Elvis' birthday is January 8; Nixon's is January 9.

Interesting, huh?

10:53 AM  
Blogger Scott Frith said...

Jake, with your Elvis/Nixon comparison I now crown you the "King of Useless Information."

That's impressive, but just damn sick...


10:57 AM  
Blogger Jake Mabe said...

Thanks, Scott.

Glad to know an historian's diligence is labeled as being "damn sick."


11:40 AM  
Blogger Scott Frith said...

I honestly think you should do a little more research on the Nixon/Elvis connection... I'm sure that the shopper readers would appreciate it.

8:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott, your condsending arrogance is really coming through loud and clear

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott, your condsending arrogance is really coming through loud and clear

3:45 PM  
Blogger Scott Frith said...

Condescending arrogance? Heck, I love Nixon, Elvis AND Mabe... Get a life, man. (spoken in a true condescendingly arrogant tone)

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Scott - You are loved also

4:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where O Where is Mabe tonight. Mabe I am really worried no post since 8/16/04. I hope you are Ok. Elvis is still alive in all of our hearts. Let's hear some great Mabe stories - fiction, please

12:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake NO Musings since August 04 are you OK. I really would love to see something from you to know your ok.
As RN would say, It's OK Jake. We all love you

11:43 PM  

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