Saturday, January 08, 2011

Happy Birthday, Elvis, 2011!

This is a repost of a tribute I wrote about Elvis a few years ago. It's just a sampling of who and what he was and how he has shaped our lives. I think about him, as I think of all those I've cared for over the years who have gone on before me. Elvis was a normal man, who had an incredible career; he had virtues and flaws, and to paraphrase Marc Antony, ". . .the bad that men do, lives after them; the good, is oft' interred with their bones . . ." (I'm sure someone will get it precise, but it serves my purpose for now.)

What I'm railing about is how easily we try to destroy someone, in order to lift ourselves up. The following feelings, thoughts, and intent have not changed with time:

"Oh, you mean, like the guy who died in the bathroom from drugs." There is nothing inherently wrong with that statement. It is the truth, and it was spoken quite innocently and naturally by an 11-year-old child on November 27, 2005. The sad part was that it was spoken as the child was engrossed in a video game and half-listening to the conversation around him.

He had just had new strings put on a guitar and everyone was trying to think of a current performer he
could listen to help him learn to play. The comment was made that early rock and roll music had plenty of songs with simple chord progressions and he might want to try some from back then. Without looking up, he said, "Oh, you mean like the guy who died in the bathroom from drugs," and carried on with his game. Sadder still, we all knew who he meant. On August 16, 1977, Elvis Aron Presley died in his home, in the bathroom, and the coroner found that death was caused by too many prescription drugs in his body.

There are literally hundreds of books available, telling the story of this captivating young Southern man who literally changed the sound of music for not only his generation but generations to come. According to John Lennon of the Beatles, "Before Elvis, there was nothing." All four Beatles, who were pretty impressive, themselves, were eager to meet the King of Rock 'n' Roll. You can see what John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, & George Harrison have to say about the great event that occurred on August 27, 1965 .

No matter what anyone says, Elvis Presley was a first -- and the first International recording star. Teenagers from all over the world copied his clothing and hairstyle. At the time, all 'proper' young ladies of the 50s were taught to stay away from boys with 'ducktail' haircuts because they were rebels and a bad influence. (Goodness, Mom, he was the pudding and we all wanted spoons!) He had found a way to combine blues with country and a touch of gospel to introduce a new kind of music that eradicated the color line, and music was never the same.

Everyone was blown away by his music and image. Teenagers would never again settle for the crooners of the 40s and early 50s. With the world enjoying a semblance of world peace under the Cold War, television invading the homes of Americans, the youth of the nation was coalesced into a separate species -- no dues, no meetings, but solidarity, nonetheless. Teenage rebellion was in and Elvis, with his black pants, pink jacket, and white buck shoes, was the leader of the pack. What girl/woman could not follow a man who could gyrate his hips, sing in an almost symbiotic relationship with the microphone, and still remember to say, "Yes, Ma'am" and "Yes, Sir," when addressing adults. Feelings for him were intense, both pro and con, because it was impossible to be indifferent to this amazing young man.

Some facts from a web site dedicated to Elvis's achievements:
"Elvis Presley is the best selling solo artist In U.S. HistoryElvis charted more songs on Billboard's Hot 100 than any other artist. (149)Elvis spent more weeks at the top of the charts than any other artist. (80)Elvis had the greatest number of consecutive #1 hits. (10)Elvis is second only to the Beatles in total of #1 hits. (18)According to the RIAA: (Recording Industry Association of America)Elvis is #2 for overall album sales (117.5 million)(The Beatles sold 166.5 million; Led Zeppelin, 106 million)Elvis has the most Multi-Platinum albums (25)(The Beatles have 24; Led Zeppelin and Barbra Streisand have 13)Elvis has more Platinum albums than any other artist (55)(The Beatles have 37; Barbra Streisand has 30)Elvis has the most Platinum singles (27)Elvis has more Gold albums than any other artist (97)(Barbra Streisand has 51; The Beatles have 42)Elvis has the most Gold singles (24) No wonder they call him The King."

In addition to these achievements, Elvis was notorious for his gift-giving and non-stop help to family, friends, and strangers. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of the book, Elvis & You, recounting not only his gifts to familiar charities, but hundreds of anecdotes from people he helped during his lifetime that only came out after his death. The Elvis Presley Fan Clubs continue to raise money for charities and always welcome new members.

When Elvis died in 1977, President Jimmy Carter said: "Elvis Presley's death deprives our country of a part of itself. He was unique and irreplaceable. His music and his personality, fusing the styles of white country and black rhythm and blues, permanently changed the face of American popular culture. His following was immense and he was a symbol to people the world over, of the vitality, rebelliousness, and good humor of his country."

What does it take to impress the young of today -- those who have yet to accomplish anything, themselves? What are we saying to them? I'm not suggesting the boy was wrong. We should teach our children about the dangers of drugs -- and death from an overdose can be a pretty impressive lesson -- but, why reduce a man's legacy to his frailty? The boy didn't come to those thoughts on his own; he was taught them. I can only hope that he was also taught that there are many sides to a man, some he can be proud of and some that are best left in the shadows to be worked on during the maturing process.

There have been four generations since the 1950s: Silent, Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Generation Y. Is that all it takes to go from The King to The Guy Who Died in the Bathroom From Drugs? I sincerely hope we can do better than that in teaching our young about those who have gone before them.

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