In August 1977, things changed. The King died. Elvis Presley himself. And at seven years old, I had no clue who Elvis Presley was. But when the Boston Sunday Globe arrived to our home the week he died, I remember picking through the remains of the paper after my father and older brother, Mike, tore through the metro region, sports, travel and editorial sections like two animals tugging at the same side of beef.
Somewhere inside the cartoons and mixed in with a hundred coupon cutouts from various grocery stores, I came across a 11×17 inch picture of this guy from Memphis named Elvis. He was sweaty, jowly, tanned and, flippin’ marvelous. My God, he was magnetic, a cannon of light sent to me by, yes, the Gods. Who else could it have been that tapped me on the shoulder with this vision and said, “Don’t let this moment get away, little buddy. Grab it. It just might be what saves you.”
The background of the picture was black, but the image of Elvis was a live shot from a concert and definitely not taken during his reign as a young, thin hipped sex machine that drove the ladies crazy from here to Abilene. He was gripping a microphone, thick fingers dressed in silver and gold diamonds. The cuff on his wrists were turned up ballroom fancy. Heavy chains around his neck, of course. The left hand bottom corner of the picture was saved for the lyrics from his famous song “Love Me Tender.”
Love me tender, love me sweet,
Never let me go.
You have made my life complete,
And I love you so.
Love me tender, love me true,
All my dreams fulfill.
For my darlin’, I love you,
And I always will.
This was the moment I’d been waiting for. Someone telling me there was more to all this living than just nothing. I might still be nothing, but this guy Elvis was certainly something. And his something was rubbing off on me, right through my eyes, my skin, my heart. Up and away his spirit flew around me, inside me. Wordless hymns of a new beginnings swam in my head. I had found my reason to believe. All because of this very simply picture paying tribute to a dead rock and roll pioneer.
Bob Dylan wrote in a passage from his autobiography Chronicles about an epiphany he had years after losing faith in his own abilities as a writer and performer in the late 1980’s. He said, “Instantly, everything came back like a thoroughbred had charged through the gates. Everything came back, and came back in multidimensions.”
Dylan was on tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and basically mailing it in, passionless and disconnected from the legendary lyrics he wrote in the 1960’s and 70’s behind such great songs as “Like A Rolling Stone” “Isis” and “Tangled Up in Blue.” Until one night when he was rehearsing for a few tour dates with the Grateful Dead in San Francisco, a breakthrough occurred. Again, Dylan was going through the motions, he said, unwilling to invest much effort in the very songs that made him an icon. The Dead wanted to basically go through nearly the entire catalogue of Dylan songs, the rarities, sleepers and hits. Dylan just wanted to play the same songs he’d been playing with the Heartbreakers. In-and-out, get me home. He ended up leaving the studio alone that night and just started walking the streets of San Francisco. Rain was coming down and he ducked into a small bar where he heard some jazz being played. The joint was virtually empty but the music being played by the small four piece band was “unpredictable” and transformative, taking Dylan back to a time when risk and feel played a vital role in creating the musician he actually was.
This is what Elvis did to me. It woke me from a slumber I didn’t know I was living in.
And then, Bam, just like that, I was alive!
Rob Azevedo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org