Mack Williams: Elvis has not left our memories

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 1, 2015

This Elvis column isn’t obligatory, because my writing is self-generated. Elvis is such a part of the South, the U.S., and the world, that his all-pervasiveness blurs the boundaries of those three “geographies.” (I just like his music, but don’t worship him, as evidenced by my use of lower-case “h’s” in “his” and “him.”)

Shelby Foote said the Civil War is part of every Southern boy’s life, and so it is with Elvis. All of us (especially of certain age) have been affected by him, and could probably write something about that influence.

That’s kind of like the saying: “There’s a novel in each of us.” (I prefer mine factual, and released in weekly “increments.”)

This reflection began by seeing a Danville senior center advertisement concerning an upcoming, on- site, February performance by an Elvis impersonator. Such occurrence at a senior center is a reality check for us “60-somethings.” (If people in their 20s can be “twenty-somethings,” then we can be afforded the same nomenclature.)

One senior told me that when touring England in 1993, the youth asked her if Elvis was really alive.

After leaving the center, I exercise-walked at the Danville Mall. Its musak consists of 1950s recordings, but being the originals, I guess they’re not really “musak.”

Passing “Foot Locker,” Elvis’ “Blue Suede Shoes” (Carl Perkins-debuted) came over the mall’s sound system. Looking through the storefront’s glass, I did see some “blue,” but none of it suede.

Elvis was born on the 8th of this month in 1935, but his August death date actually has more significance for me, through no morbid reason.

Why? My daughter Rachel was born eight days after Elvis’ passing.

Recovering from her C-section, my late wife Diane stayed in the hospital several days, Rachel remaining there as well.

At that time, many radio stations played his music almost non-stop, in memoriam. I returned home from the hospital late one night, later fell asleep to Elvis on the radio, and awakened the next morning to him singing: “A poor little baby child is born in the ghetto.”

My mother always sent me articles from the Post concerning Salisbury and Rowan County. After a few weeks following Elvis’ death, she mailed me her accumulated clippings about him. They filled a manila envelope to the width of about two inches. One article concerned a past concert (Lexington, I think) before he made it big.

I (among millions of others) saw Elvis’ performance on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” when he made it really big, (a show already “really big”). I also saw The Beatles there, but despite my teen years being spent primarily in the 1960s, in my mind, that 1956 night now seems to outdo the one in 1964.

In one old black-and-white Christmas photograph from that time, a little toy, hand-crank guitar hangs around my neck. I can’t remember its played tune, but judging from the “buckskin-style” jacket I’m wearing, it was more likely “The Ballad of Davey Crockett” than “Hound Dog.” (Having used that snapshot in a previous column, with a different subject, I won’t use it again here, because there is such a thing as “too much cute.”)

I saw Elvis in black-and-white “for real” in 1956 on TV, and also in black-and-white around that time at Salisbury’s Capitol Theater in his first movie, “Love Me Tender.”

The “black-and-whiteness” of both screens apparently caused a “mix-up” in my mind.

I sobbed uncontrollably when Elvis’ film character breathed his last (though not in song, as in opera). My parents and brother Joe tried to console and reason with me, it being a good while before I finally stopped crying and saw their point (reality).

Being years before “sensurround,” those sobs emanated not from that mournful point in the movie’s sound track, but from one small spot in the theater’s seating.

I was in my late wife’s parents’ den when television’s programming was “interrupted” by life in 1977, and I learned of Elvis’ “for real” death.

Even though I handled myself much better at the news of Elvis’ actual death than that of his death’s “dry run” at Salisbury’s Capitol Theater, I was just as sad.

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