The days are passing quickly for me because there are so many things to occupy my mind as week after week passes in these days of mandated stay-at-home edicts and social distancing. All quite bizarre and yet with each passing day, and with my new routines becoming more entrenched, a “new normal” has arrived. I read, write and have more time for thinking. Since I get up quite late after being up almost all night, every night, I have established a schedule that works for me. I eat a late breakfast about noon, check all my emails and send texts, read news and articles online through the early afternoon, then read devotionals, have a late snack and go out walking and taking photos. This is all repeated every day. I rather like it.
At night, though, I tend to be more relaxed and that’s when the madness of the pandemic and what it’s doing to our lives starts to fade as I cease compulsively reading news and commentary about all the bad and strange happenings in the world today. It’s at moments like that when I realize how hooked I am on YouTube. I start thinking about the past, a long car trip, memories of the various places I’ve lived and jobs I’ve held. A lot of times as I’m doing this, I head to Google and look up what I’ve been reminiscing about. There is virtually nothing you can’t find in abundance about almost anything on the Internet. It’s endlessly fascinating to be.
The same is true when I’m thinking of some song from the past. And again, everything I can imagine wanting to listen to is there on YouTube. Everything. It’s really mind-blowing when you think about it. Sure I default to my favorite Pandora stations for background music And I have a subscription to Apple Music. But with YouTube you have the music, often very good quality versions, and the videos of the groups or performers. I get lost in YouTube links of songs leading to other songs.
Which leads me to the subjects of this entry: the music of Elvis Presley.
Some background first. I always considered myself to have pretty eclectic taste in music. That would have been an understatement when I was in grade school and high school. When other kids were listening to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, I was listening to Floyd Cramer as well as Gary Lewis and the Playboys, The Association, The Monkees, the Beach Boys and Chad and Jeremy, among many others. I had quite a collection of LPs and 45s.
I was not one of the cool or popular kids. As I wrote in one of my earliest entries in Open Diary back in 1999, I was a bit behind in what was currently popular. When I — shy as I was and awkward, too — made myself go to a dance party at one of my 7th grade classmate’s house, we had been asked to bring some of our favorite 45 records to play at the party. I believe this was 1963 or 1964 and the Beatles were just becoming wildly popular. So while the other kids brought Beatles records, I humiliated myself by bringing two-year, out-of-date Chubby Checker twist records. Many of you might remember The Twist, that briefly wild and crazy dance that wasn’t around too long, but longer than The Watusi. That embarrassment turned me off to The Beatles for awhile. I didn’t go to another dance until late in 8th grade. You know the scenario: all the boys lined up on one side of the room and the girls on the other. The bold and reckless ones were soon dancing, then others joined in, and then there were just a few people standing around with no one to dance with. That would have included me, feeling stupid and sweating profusely in my new navy blue blazer.
Such was my early adolescent life. I knew about the most popular rock and roll singer, the man from Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis Presley. But by the sixties when I was coming of age, it was time for the British Invasion and Motown and the girl group singers who were all the rage then, plus the all All-American groups like The Beach Boys, The Association, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, and Gary Lewis, and on and on. Elvis was still cranking out hits, but he’d had his glory days in the late 50s, I thought, and spent the 60s making cheesy movies like “Blue Hawaii.”
Then the 70s came along, and he had a few more hits. But what he really was best at was live performances in front of the most adoring fans any performer could ask for, Beatles included. And Elvis lived to perform and dress for the part. He gave spectacular shows, but he really never came on my radar much. I was aware of how this icon of early rock and roll was achieving mythical and legendary status in the realm of music lore. All this just passed by me as well as the sad stories of his drug and weight problems. This small town boy from Tupelo was succumbing to the legends he had created and was trying to live up to. He was dying an early death and it was obvious.
I’ll never forget when and where I was in the summer of 1977 when the news broke that he had died, suddenly, at his mansion, Graceland, in Memphis. I was editor of a small town weekly newspaper in North Carolina at the time. It was one of those days you just never forgot.
Still in the following years, I never listened to his music and pretty much forgot about him. I forgot that despite his worldwide fame and glory he was, deep-down a country boy who was devoted to his Mama. He was loyal to his roots.
Like most people I could appreciate that magnificent and awesome voice. He loved his fans and he loved performing for them more than anything.
And so it happened that with the advent of YouTube and the Internet, I could go back and listen to anything I wanted and see the vintage and classic videos of performances. Thus it was that I gradually began to pay more attention to Elvis as I watched his live performances, including clips of him on The Ed Sullivan show. And I came to the realization that he was so much more than his famous early hits like “Hound Dog” and “Jail House Rock.” He sang and recorded popular standards of the day, gospel music and Nashville songs and so much more.
A few years ago while listening to Pandora I started hearing one of his best songs, “She’s Not You.” And I heard it over and over and the more I heard it the more I liked it. I realized what all the uproar was about decades ago. His voice was so perfectly strong and clear and full of feeling and emotion that you knew this was a once in a lifetime phenomenon. That voice — it was a force of Nature — so astonishingly rich and deep and mesmerizing. I very much regret that I didn’t come to know and appreciate it earlier.
What finally prompted me to write this tribute was a YouTube video of a live performance of Elvis in Hawaii singing one of my all-time favorite songs, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by the immortal Hank Williams. You’d be hard pressed to find more tender, sad and beautiful words and melody in any song.
Finally, the other night I listened to him singing the gospel standard, “Peace in the Valley.” Again, a voice that can move you to tears.
Thank you, Elvis. During a month in which our familiar world seems to be disappearing in the onslaught of a savage virus pandemic, you remind us of how a majestic voice and songs of beauty and longing can lift the soul.
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
Peace in theValley
She’s Not You