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On Loving Elvis
By Margaret Ann Porter
Rick says that Elvis Presley died young because he had no self-esteem and was one of the most tender-hearted souls you’d ever know – a fatal brew of psychological traits bottled up in a beloved musical giant.
Back the 60s and 70s, Rick played the guitar and keyboard in successful cover bands on the rock and blues circuits across the USA and in Europe. The bands often opened for super-stars – which he recalls as truly thrilling – so he sometimes found himself in the cloud of musicians that orbit around super-novas like Elvis.
One day in the era when Elvis had plumped out into the white jumpsuit, Rick walked in on one of his private rehearsals. A few people lingered in the doorway while a stern presence stood behind Elvis, watching as he finished up a gospel song.
“There was no sweeter sound than to hear Elvis at the piano, singing gospel,” says Rick.
After the song that day, Elvis lifted his worried face toward his minders and, in a voice timid and anxious, asked, “Was that alright?”
“I soon learned that ever since his earliest days of fame, Elvis didn’t think he was good enough and he didn’t think he was worth anything as a person.” Thus afflicted, Elvis’ associates exploited his need for approval, and his generous nature. After he’d become addicted to food and prescription drugs, Rick says, “… these same people made sure that he had uppers to wake and downers to sleep, and that it was okay to eat four hamburgers at one sitting. He didn’t have much help from his so-called friends.”
Rick cites Elvis’ death as the all-time music tragedy. “It was a huge loss to the music world. But more, Elvis was one of the most decent men in the business, and kind-hearted beyond belief. He was known to hold the hands of dying people for hours because they told him that it eased their pain. And, he did not take his fame seriously at all.”
Evidently, young Elvis’ shriek-inducing lip curl had started out as a joke between him and his band mates. “He’d say to the guys, ‘Watch this,’ and he’d turn around and curl his lip at the girls and they’d go crazy. But he thought it was funny rather than complimentary – it startled and amused him.”
I was a late-comer to Elvis, having been born in the waning hours of the 50s, but as soon as I became aware of him, I thought him quite beautiful: Glossy hair that swept over his forehead whenever a song invoked passion, eyes that laughed so loud you could almost hear them, and a smile that puckered the most kissable dimples ever poked into a man.
I could not help but feel this way because my father had allowed me to watch “Elvis,” his 1968 live-recorded comeback special on NBC. My youthful sexual urges bloomed during that very broadcast. But the girlish fantasies that arose from my new adoration seemed somehow safe and promising: For many nights afterward I fell asleep to a vision of Elvis and our twin boys playing ball on Graceland’s fine lawn.
He died when I was 19 and I stuck the memory of our affair somewhere in the sweeter regions of my mind. Since then, I have thought of Elvis as a fine musician whose talent was perhaps eclipsed by an almost supernatural magnetism.
It is evident that most high-wattage musicians have been asked to contort the instrument – their very being – in such a way as to attract consumers who will buy tickets and recordings. For some, this ‘branding’ process is a happy exchange of muse for hard-earned cash; for others, it’s a violation of the tender energy that informs their song. Misdirected, these latter artists too soon fade away.
In his career, Elvis practically became the Coca-Cola of music – ‘the real thing,’ everywhere and loaded with sugar. Still, within the confines of always being Elvis, he transitioned from a rock’n roll giant to appealing film actor to critically acclaimed contemporary music star, everything reverberating across a set of vocal chords honed on old-time gospel, and through an inner goodness that just doesn’t come from here.
“Most people don’t give him enough credit,” says Rick. “Elvis was a gifted vocalist and pianist – he was entirely musical in his soul, but he always hesitated in human self-doubt. He suffered a lot. God, I loved him.”
(Ed. Note: Margaret is a full-time resident of Ajijic. Among other things, she enjoys chatting with Rick at the Early Bird Café.)