Elvis has left the building … or has he?

Joe Southern

My wife and I saw “Elvis” at the theater recently. That’s certainly not a news flash and if you’re not interested in the King of Rock and Roll, please feel free to stop reading now. It won’t hurt my feelings.

Elvis Presley is one of those performers who was simultaneously super cool and really campy. I was 12 years old when Elvis died. Ironically, I heard the news while I was shopping in a record store. (If you don’t know what a record store is, ask your parents or please stop reading now because you’re too young to understand.) Aug. 16 will be the 45th anniversary of his death. At least, I assume everyone now believes he died. I’ve never had reason to doubt it despite all the so-called Elvis sightings in the 1980s and ’90s.

As a kid, I remember making fun of Elvis while at the same time singing along when his songs came on the radio. You couldn’t help it. At a time when musicians were trying to be hip, cool, and meaningful, Elvis was just out there being Elvis. One of our adolescent insults was to tell someone, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog!”

Elvis’s songs and sound were imaginative and unique. His off-stage antics were legendary. His musical and cultural impact are timeless, even 45 years after his passing.

After all this time there is still a thriving industry of Elvis impersonators (or “tribute artists” as I was once admonished by one I wrote a story about). Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, holds an annual Elvis tribute competition. To this day, Graceland remains one of the biggest tourist attractions in the nation.

One of the great things about the “Elvis” movie is seeing his transition from young rebel to the jumpsuited showman in Las Vegas. It reminded me of the time in 1992 when the U.S. Postal Service held a contest to pick an image of Elvis for a stamp. You could vote for the “young” or “old” Elvis. I was working in North Carolina back then and did a story about two postal employees who dressed up for the occasion. They were having fun and both nailed the younger and older looks.

Sometime around 2007 I was working in Amarillo and wrote a story about a woman who kissed Elvis on two separate occasions. The last time was just a couple months before he died and she could tell then that something was wrong with him.

I was too young to have ever attended one of his concerts. When I was researching one of my aforementioned stories, I was surprised to learn that there are websites that document his concerts, including set lists and notes about the shows. That blew my mind that anyone would care enough to document all that information. But then most everything about Elvis is mindboggling.

As you can see throughout the movie, he continually defied conventional wisdom. If he was told he couldn’t do something, he did it, and vice versa. His 1968 comeback show on TV was supposed to be a Christmas special. It was special alright!

“Elvis” is just the latest in a string of movies about the King that, ironically, were bigger hits than the movies he made. Austin Butler nailed it in the role of Elvis, and Tom Hanks can already be handed his Oscar for his part at Col. Tom Parker.

After the movie, Sandy and I went out to dinner and almost all of our conversation centered around Elvis. Rarely do we have such in-depth conversations about a movie. The movie was very impactful. For me it brought back a lot of childhood memories. Since Sandy is eight years younger than me, it was more of a history lesson for her. Still, for days afterward we listened to a lot of Elvis music on our smart device at home. I downloaded a bunch of songs onto my cell phone, even though I already had a few there.

I never thought that I would end up writing so much about Elvis in my career, but here we are. Maybe I should just stop reminiscing about the man and go see the movie again. Or maybe I’ll treat myself to an Elvis concert on my phone.

Better yet, I’d like to hear any Elvis stories our readers have. Please feel free to email me your Elvis stories (and photos if you have any). I think it would make a fun feature story … and an excuse to write about Elvis one more time.

Joe Southern is managing editor of the Wharton Journal-Spectator and the East Bernard Express. He can be reached at news@journal-spectator.com.

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