Monday, August 16, 2010

After Elvis

Thirty-three years ago the afternoon sun was hanging high in the sky above Smith Mountain Lake, a tranquil man-made lake that was formed from a dam near Lynchburg, Virginia. The sun beat down unusually hot as it does in August, but my friends and I managed to enjoy the day fishing and sloshing down cold beers while out of harm's way. We had no TV or radio on and by the time we drove into Peaks of Otter Restaurant, located just off the Blue Ridge Highway, we were famished that evening. We had no idea that the world as we knew it had stopped spinning. During that time we were out on the lake the rest of the globe heard the news they had never imagined they would hear: Elvis Presley, the King, was dead. During dinner we heard nothing about the demise of Elvis or how he was found dead at only 42. We only heard about and sampled the fresh rainbow trout that had been swimming along in local streams only a few hours earlier. We enjoyed a festive repast and drove the 40 minutes back to the home located just off the lake. It was then that we turned on the TV to hear Tom Snyder on an hour later than he should be apologize for being on late due "to the death of Elvis Presley." I'll still never forget just how a beautiful day it was and how the world came crashing down for those who grew up in the rock and roll era. Last year's passing of Michael Jackson might be the closest to hysteria that fans exhibited since the death of Presley. The outpouring of grief for the King of Pop probably lasted longer than that for the King because the funeral for Jackson was postponed for several weeks and memorials went on unabated for months after his passing. Yet, in the three days from the time Presley died until the day he was laid to rest, there was an unbelievable response from his fans. I was driving home from Virginia on that Sunday, but elected to spend the night in Chattanooga rather than make the drive to Memphis. As I recall an out-of-control automobile barreled into the funeral crowd, killing a young Louisiana woman. Perhaps, had I been in Memphis, I might have been in harm's way too. The fact I wasn't in Memphis, though, didn't mean I didn't have feelings for Presley. He was one of my earliest musical heroes and I remember singing "Don't Be Cruel" along with his single for family members when I was just a mere tyke. Frankly, I never got that hip shaking thing down too well, but that didn't matter. For just a few minutes, I, too, was the King, making my mark on the musical world to the delight of my audience. Years later when he had graduated from blue jeans to jump suits, he still had that magnetism that made fans glad to be around him and appreciative of his skills as an entertainer. One adage that's true: after Elvis, nobody out of prison makes jump suits look good.

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