Ghost of king celebrates 35th anniversary of death at Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tennessee

Aug 17th, 2012 | By | Category: In Brief

Candle-bearing fans of Elvis Presley gather at Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tenessee on August 15, 2012 during an all-night vigil on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the singer's death. Several thousand people gathered outside Graceland for the all-night commemoration of the life and legacy of the "King of Rock 'n' Roll". (Robert MacPherson/AFP).

Ghosts must exist in some sense. That at least is the conclusion I have drawn from the various celebrations of the 35th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley at Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, on August 16, 1977 at the age of 42.

The biggest celebration was no doubt at Graceland itself, where “75,000 fans mark 35th anniversary of Elvis’ death … Priscilla and Lisa-Marie Presley attend the yearly candlelit vigil for the first time.”  The two Ms Presleys “spoke for little more than a minute at the start of an all-night candlelight vigil.” But photographs of their brief encounter seem to have flooded the North American mass media — and perhaps beyond as well.

Elvis Presley was remembered in a candlelight vigil for the 35th anniversary of his death. His ex-wife Priscilla surprised the crowd gathering at Graceland when she showed up with daughter Lisa Marie Presley. It marked the first time the mother-daughter duo attended the memorial event together.

The biggest celebration at my own house involved watching a 1972 documentary on Elvis’s early 1970s tours, shown on the Turner Classic Movie channel. One thing I was struck by in this was the sheer size of the musical aggregations that accompanied Elvis on his tours of this era. Along with his basic guitars-and-drums band, and several arrays of back-up singers (including a gospel group that sometimes performed alone — ie without Elvis), he was carrying a large brass and woodwind orchestra that included a French horn player.

The generosity of all this seems to say something about Elvis and his personality. He no doubt could have made more money by carrying a smaller group — and that was all he really needed for his kind of music. But, as usual, what is most astounding about watching any surviving footage of Elvis in concert is just the almost unfathomable reaction of his fans, especially the female fans of course. The 1972 documentary included a clip of Elvis talking about this, saying how in his early days he was very surprised by the fan reaction at his concerts. He wasn’t really conscious of how he moved around on stage and at first didn’t understand what the fans were doing in response. He sought advice from a stage manager or promoter or whatever at one early point. And the guy just said, “whatever it is you’re doing, just go out there and do it again.”

Elvis and Liberace, November 14, 1956.

A very wise guy on TV a few days ago — perhaps even talking about the forthcoming 35th anniversary —  said that there were four really big influences in the early days of rock n’ roll — two white and two black (and all from “the South” of the USA) : Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard. Elvis was the king of the group. And, rummaging around online for photos and whatnot, you get the distinct impression that 1956 was his annus mirabilis. (His first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, eg, was on September 9, 1956.)

Personally I have always liked jazz — and the great age of the so-called American songbook in the 1930s and 1940s — better than rock n’roll. But if you grew up after the Second World War as I did, you couldn’t escape rock n’ roll. And you certainly couldn’t escape Elvis. My favourite Elvis album, I now discover, was also first released in 1956. It was just called “ELVIS” and had a dramatic photo of him in a light purple and white striped shirt on the cover. As I think about it now, two tunes from this album help me explain why I liked Elvis too. They weren’t among his big hits. But they are interesting songs, and seem to say something about the musical tradition out of which his individual talent came. You can listen to them on You Tube right now if you like. The first is “Anyplace Is Paradise” and the second “How’s the World Treating You?

I do think it’s quite sad as well that Elvis died so young. Priscilla Presley has talked in the past about how he was his own worst enemy in many ways. He was a nice guy who let himself get pushed around by people like Colonel Parker, and so forth. He ought to have just taken more control of his own life, instead of complaining and becoming addicted to prescription drugs.

On the other hand, maybe people who have such unique gifts of communication as Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe (and Charlie Parker and John Coltrane — and Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, etc, etc, and to say nothing of Michael Jackson) are just fated to die far too young. Their compensation is that their ghosts will live on far longer than the rest of us. As I looked around on the net for photos of the 35th anniversay celebrations I came across an image with this caption: “Darlene Perez, right, poses with Elvis impersonator Mark Rio of Brazil, on hand for Wednesday night’s vigil as well as an Elvis ‘tribute artist’ contest.” Thinking about this, I can almost see the ghost of Elvis with the same congenial grin the live Elvis used to get on his face when something amused him — something that he liked ands that he thought was a good thing. The song has ended, as an earlier era put it, but the melody lingers on.

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