People think I’m playing when I tell them about my up-close and personal relationship with Elvis. Its tiresome, but I press on, because Elvis is a true anthropological event, and for reasons unclear to me, I live in a state of deep, cheerful immersion in the zeitgeist. I breathe the popular culture, fascinated by all of it, particularly the soundtrack, and having survived the breakup of the Beatles in my very formative years, that’s saying something.
Elvis was in the building, and so was I, July 1975, the New Haven Coliseum. While it wasn’t my idea exactly, it seemed sort of kitschy cool to go see him, so we did. I was in a uniquely superior moment of my life, 17, just graduated from high school and pretty certain about pretty much everything. I knew way more then than I ever have since. And Elvis, he was all white-spangled jump suit and sweat-drenched red silk scarves, and women as old as my Grandma Sally were fainting in his presence. He was lean and loose-limbed and swivel-sexy, wearing crazy-ass white reptilian cowboy boots and that sublimely chiseled face. Elvis of the pouty lower lip, the dimpled grin, the hard line of man-chin and, of course, that voice. Smoking hot honey, molten, and I am serious when I say so. He was impossibly old–40– but I felt him straightaway, and though we were in the $10 seats, I was sure he felt me, too. That was one of Elvis’s gifts, his ability to emit a personal, pheromone-driven connection so strong that every girl-child and woman in the house was certain his gaze was laser pointing directly at her. It was really something. Most unexpected, but it is the truth.
Elvis was in that same building again, July1976, and while it wasn’t my idea exactly to repeat the adventure, I was definitely down for another spin of that album. A lot can happen in a year. I had just completed a wretched first year of college, and came home depressed and anxious and utterly unable to locate myself. Elvis sounded like a good place to start. And he was all blue-spangled jump suit and sweaty white silk scarves, and bloated to excess like a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A terrible parody of himself, that in some weird way mirrored my own bewilderment in a world that, just a year prior, had been resting securely in the palm of my dominant left hand. And he was stoned as fuck, careening around the stage, mumbling that he couldn’t help falling in burning love with me, endlessly elevating his buzz till he couldn’t remember any of the words. It was horrible to watch, and I am serious when I say so. Even from the $12.50 seats it was extravagantly evident that the magic had departed.
I came home ruined and sobbed for both of us. My Elvis was gone, and I could feel his confusion, watching him stumble around in a stupor, in a world where one short year prior he was The King. It was humbling yet strangely inspiring. Somehow, I emerged from that summer almost whole, found a path, and took a tentative first step in understanding that I, at 18, knew next to nothing.
Elvis left the building soon after. He died. And I mourned, because something epic had exhausted its nine lives in just 42 years. It would not come round again. And though I knew very little, I knew it was a tragedy that would pain me always, and it has.
I would brush up against Elvis once more, March 1997, now 39, and starting to know a little bit about a couple of things. Through no achievement of my own, I found myself in LA at the Academy Awards. At the Governor’s Ball, which is an obscene glut of excess, I found myself seated next to a woman who was reportedly among Elvis’ last loves. An elegant blonde, she was cool and warm and remote all at once. It was said she was living with Elvis shortly before he checked out of Graceland, and who knows? Maybe she escorted him out of the building herself. No one mentioned Elvis; no one dared. He was so present, so absent, and it was so reminiscent of the shit show I had witnessed back in the day. Having learned a few things by then, I slipped away to a gilded bathroom stall and wept.