Or, Heaven Was An Answer To A Prayer
Earth celebrates the 25th anniversary of The King’s death
by Tom Hallett
“Man, I was tame compared to what they do now. Are you kidding? I didn’t do anything but jiggle.”
—Elvis Presley, 1972
“Before Elvis, there was nothing.”
Flash Forward: The week of August 16th, 2102. It’s the 125th Anniversary of the death of rock n’ roll legend Elvis Presley. In honor of the occasion, the EP Estate, in conjunction with Croaka-Cola, Abhouser-Bush, and Big Brother, Inc., are sponsoring a worldwide Elvis Comes Alive Tour. In the hallowed tradition of earlier, historical tours like Egypt’s 1970s King Tut and Russia’s 2025 Vladimir Lenin exhibits, a cloned copy of big E.’s corpse will be on display under glass. Other innovative features on the Graceless Graceland Tour ‘02 will include Interactive Audio Elvis (fans duet with The King as He sings personalized, multi-genre versions of His tunes, i.e., “Hey, Bobby—you ain’t nothin’ but a B-Dawg, cryin’ alla time...”) The Elvis Traveling Fry Cooker display (fans prepare their own versions of Elvis kitchen classics like the Fried Peanut Butter Sandwich and Mint-n-Valium Iced Malteds), and The Elvis Alternate Passing Virtual Reality Booth, where fans and the curious can physically experience various ways The King might’ve passed away (Example: Elvis finds out Lisa Marie is marrying Michael Jackson and has the Memphis Mafia gun down the eccentric—too ELVIS for Elvis!—Prince Of Pop. Big E. then perishes in a hail of bullets Himself after the ATF and the FBI surround the Graceland “compound” and “accidentally” set fire to the joint) had drugs and cholesterol not done Him in.
Sound a little far-fetched? Not really, as a quick roundup of 2002’s Elvis Week celebrations/promotions proves. There’s Mobile Graceland, a 50+ foot-long bus traveling ‘round the U.S. with such tasteless Presley memorabilia as the godawful orange coveralls He wore in “Viva Las Vegas,” a grease-stained comb he allegedly used back in the ‘50’s, a letter from former President Richard Nixon, (“Dear Mr. Presley—Thanks for representing the Drug Enforcement Agency! Enclosed please find your honorary badge. Signed, Tricky Dick, Pat, & The Kids. P.S.—Our warmest regards to Dr. Nick!”) and his Army jacket. Afraid to leave your mint condition, Elvis Presley bobble-head collection? Don’t fret: Turner Classic Movies will be running a 24-hour Elvis movie marathon this Friday. Fire up your computer, and you can join El fanatics world-wide for an AOL exclusive—The Elvis Graceland Vigilcast! Yep, you can light a candle and virtually experience the annual fan vigil live via the Internet.
Speaking of the world wide web, while you’re hooked up you might as well surf around and gawk at the 45 billion or so Elvis web sites currently available for your perusal. There, you’ll find access to JXL’s current number one remix of Elvis’ movie soundtrack classic, “A Little Less Conversation,” (from “Live A Little, Love A Little”) a danceable little ditty that finally gives Tom Jones’ remix of Prince’s “Kiss” a little competition in the “Old Crooner Grooves In” category. You’ll also stumble upon such gems as “Elvis Music, Photos And More!” where you can register to win an Elvis bedroom set (“Elvis Is Coming To Your House!” screams the site text) courtesy of Vaughn-Bassett’s “Elvis Presley’s Hollywood” series, complete with “signature EP dresser drawer pulls.” Sound a bit gauche? How about a nice, understated Elvis Presley Edition of Monopoly, America’s original game of greed? In this version, players battle over such properties as Graceland and Heartbreak Hotel and the rights to Elvis films and music (Too bad Colonel Parker ain’t around to enjoy this one!) like “GI Blues” and “The ‘68 Comeback Special.” Instead of the shoe, the dog, the racecar, and the iron, game pieces here include “Elvis’ Signature Sunglasses” and a guitar. A must-have for every home.
Feel like actually enjoying some of The King’s (gasp!) MUSIC? Well, that’s here, too. Well, sort of. On Elvis Radio, which “celebrates the legacy of EP” by playing a few Elvis cuts interspersed with some early rock n’ roll numbers and some very tepid examples of musical tributes to The King (Faith Hill’s uninspired “Trying To Get To You,” Johnny Rivers’ bland version of the old standard “Midnight Special” rather than CCR’s definitive rendition, the “new” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s droning take on “Heartbreak Hotel”), you can marvel at how little online music programmers actually know about, er, music. Want the official word on Big E.? Check out Elvis.com, where you can purchase (surprise!) literally everything Elvis, and if you’re homeless and happen to gain access to the web, suss out info on how the Presley Estate can help you find housing. Big E. would’ve wanted it that way, uh-huh-huh. Looking for E-places other than Graceland to visit? You’re in luck! Elvis.com has links to websites for such grand establishments as Elvis Presley’s Memphis Restaurant and Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel chains. You’re in good hands with the Elvis people, people.
If you’re in the mood for the more bizarre side of El’s legacy (“Elvis Is Alive And Well And Living With Jim Morrison On A Tropical Island!” “Elvis Shacking Up With Bigfoot!” “Elvis Was Really An Alien!”) and the purveyors of such mythology, Google is the search engine for you. They’ll sniff out warped sites like Elvis’ Last Will And Testament (it’s a photocopy, you can download it and make a poster!), Elvis Games, (play Hangman with Elvis!) and Elvis Headlines, including the immortal, “Actor Nick Cage Marries Lisa Marie Presley In Hawaii!” Does anybody even GET how funny that is? After trying to shock her papa from beyond the grave by marrying Michael Jackson, Big E.’s only child finally decides to honor His memory by gettin’ hitched to Cage, who, along with the real-life Flying Elvises, skydived out of an airplane dressed as The King in 1992’s Honeymoon In Vegas. Does she make him dress up in that horrific white Vegas outfit before they knock boots? Eww. Dr. Ruth, I’ll let you field this one.
There’s also the superb Find A Grave Featuring Elvis, (The entire text printed on His gravestone, plus current messages from fans around the world, including one from “Gigi in Belgium,” who writes, “ELVIS I LOVED YOU SINCE I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD. I AM REALLY STUCK ON YOU?”) international web sites, (Taking Care Of Elvis from Sweden, Elvis World from Japan) The Elvis Humor Page, and my favorite, The Amazing Elvis Grocery Store Pepper Look Alike, which features everyday red and green chili peppers that bear a striking resemblance to The King. Well, kind of. They’re chubby, they’re not as hot as current indie peppers, and some of ‘em have sideburns. Anyway, I bet it’s one of the few sites up Big E. himself would actually get a kick out of.
Ultimately, though, you’ll grow tired of the ceaseless, tasteless product placement and corporate shilling. It didn’t take me long to overload and veer off into tracking down Elvis tribute songs, a far more rewarding and enjoyable Elvis activity. From the straight-forward, tear-in-your-beer variety (Merle Haggard’s “From Graceland To The Promised Land,” Ronnie McDowell’s 1977 weeper, “The King Is Gone”) to straight, mostly boring covers (countless tributes from Nashville to Hollywood) and some downright funny pokes at the man (Ricky Page’s answer song, “Yes, I’m Lonesome Tonight,” Rick Dees’ ridiculous “He Ate Too Many Jelly Donuts,” Elvis wanna-bes from Dread Zep’s Tort Elvis to Russia’s Red Elvises to El Vez, The Mexican Elvis), this really is one aspect of Elvis’ legacy that holds out some hope for the future. There’ll always be one more Elvis taboo to break, one more conception to shatter, one more institution to defile. And that’s closer to the spirit of the original Elvis, who shocked a nation with His hips and influenced a generation with His lips, than anything The Presley Estate or any of its numerous corporate partners could ever offer.
Personally, I’m just a little curious as to why we’re celebrating the day Elvis died instead of the day he was born—isn’t that like, just a wee bit on the morbid side? I try to think of tunes that might help make sense of it—but none come to mind. The Beatles sang “Today is your birthday,” not “Today is your deathday.” The Tune Weavers crooned “Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby,” and Neil Sedaka leered, “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen.” There’s not one “Happy Deathday” song in the entire 1989 edition of Joel Whitburn’s Top 40 Hits. And nobody’s gleefully celebrating the days John F. Kennedy, Billie Holiday, or Frank Sinatra died. I think the whole idea is rather gruesome, but hey, that’s just me.
Let’s face it—headlines right before His death shouted, “Elvis—Fat, Forty, And Washed Up!” Like James Dean, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin before Him, Presley’s death left Him trapped in time. People want to remember the thin, sexy, animalistic rocker who brought “colored music” to Top 40 radio and kicked off the Sexual Revolution, not the bloated, artery-clogged social recluse who overdosed while perched on mankind’s only true throne, the toilet. If The King really is watching from up above, as so many of His die-hard fans deign to believe, I’m sure He’s happier than a tick on the back of an’ ole hound dog that He’s not here in person to experience modern society’s voracious consumption of His persona and His musical legacy.
One thing’s for sure: Wherever He is, whatever He’s doing, He’s not gonna be lonesome tonight—or any other night. Come August 16, I’ll be rockin’ out to “Milk Cow Blues,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Suspicious Minds,” and “Kentucky Rain” with equal exuberance—just like I do throughout the rest of the year—and paying tribute to El’s contributions to rock n’ roll by simply PLAYING HIS MUSIC! I won’t be buying any new Elvis memorabilia or participating in the online candlelight vigil. There’ll be no hurried dash through traffic to catch a glimpse of Mobile Graceland, and I won’t soon be making reservations at Elvis’ Memphis Restaurant or Heartbreak Hotel. I won’t be missing The King, either, because He’ll be riding around and around on my turntable with that devilish, youthful grin, greased-back duck’s ass, and gold lamè jacket.
I think cult fave Jimmy Starr best captured how Mr. P. might feel in his 1978 Tribute To Elvis, “Answer To A Prayer,” wherein he postulated that Elvis had literally been praying for His own death to escape the monstrous caricature of Himself that He’d become: “Now there’s tears through the whole world wide/When Elvis left us, we all sat and cried/If you think of how lonely and unhappy He was on Earth/Now He’s with His mama and The Lord/We can raise our hands to the sky/And smile to Elvis without a tear in our eyes/Let Him know we’re happy and we care/And Heaven was an answer to a prayer...” R.I.P. Big E., and Happy, um, Deathday.