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Elvis' star still shines bright in Memphis

POSTED: August 18, 2013 1:00 a.m.

During the past week or so, thousands of people made a pilgrimage to Memphis to remember the city’s best-known son, Elvis Aron Presley.

It has been 36 years since the King died at his Graceland mansion. The truth is, Elvis is as big a star in death as he was in life.

Each year, more than 700,000 people plunk down $30 or more, to visit Graceland. Visitors get to see how Elvis lived. They also have the chance to walk out back and see his final resting spot, between his mama and daddy.

I love to talk with those who were in their teens when Elvis first appeared on the national stage.

The censors at the CBS television network insisted Elvis only be shown from the waist up. Those gyrating hips were considered vulgar in some circles.

One friend told me his mother rather liked when Elvis was the balladeer of such songs as “Love Me Tender,” but bristled at his swiveling hips.

“Anyone who moves like that didn’t come from a good upbringing,” she told him.

If you went for swim in the late 1950s at the Green Street pool, you were likely to hear an Elvis tune blaring from the speakers. Besides pretty girls in bathing suits, he was the star attraction.

Elvis was born in a little shotgun house at 306 Old Satillo Road in Tupelo, Miss., to Gladys Love Presley, 22, and her husband Vernon, 18. A twin, named Jesse Garon Presley, was stillborn 35 minutes before Elvis appeared on earth. Few people knew the name of Gladys and Vernon’s little boy when they left Tupelo for Memphis. The street, Old Satillo Road, is now Elvis Presley Drive.

Death is the one thing that stops the clock for us all. Elvis was 42 when he died. He would be 78 now. Our frozen memory of Elvis is in the jumpsuit with that mane of jet-black hair.

If he had lived, would his hips still be working? Senior Elvis might be the spokesman for hip replacement.

Many performers do not make it on the senior stage. Frank Sinatra died at the age of 82, but his performing schedule ended years before. Andy Williams remained active until about a year before his death at 84.

The champion of senior performers has to be Tony Bennett, who still maintains an active tour and recording schedule. But there is something ageless and timeless about Bennett, making it hard to realize you are listening to a man who is 87 and still sounds great.

The truth is, Bennett has always sung the standards with great flare.

Elvis’ style evolved from the young swivel hips to the black leather look to the jumpsuit look. Each change in style also brought changes in his music. He went from early rock ’n’ roll to a high-energy big production in a span of less than 20 years.

I know people who have created shrines to Elvis in their home with everything from whiskey decanters to clocks that have a swivel hips with each tick. What’s amazing is the legion of Elvis devotees continues to grow, especially among those whose only knowledge of him is from history.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.


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