The King and I

By Aubrey Malone

Even though Elvis never got to Ireland – the closest he came to it was a plane stopover in Scotland one year – I firmly believe that if he’d lived longer he’d have made a point of doing some concerts here.

When I was a member of The Elvis Social Club in the seventies I met a girl called Dee Maher who saw him over twenty times in concert. She made great efforts to promote him in Ireland. Elvis really appreciated these. He even wrote her a letter thanking her. She’s resisted all efforts of collectors to buy it from her no matter what they offer

Elvis did wonderful renditions of two classic Irish songs – “Danny Boy” and “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen”. He’s reputed to have an Irish ancestor called William Presley who left his farm in Wicklow in 1775 and moved to Tennessee. He died there in 1802.

I missed my best chance to see Elvis live fifty years ago. It was 1972. I was in Connecticut at the time and he was appearing ‘down the road’ in New York. The concert was in Madison Square Garden – the scene of Katie Taylor’s great boxing triumph a month ago – but all the tickets were sold out. It tortured me to be so near my idol and not being able to do anything about it.  I’d have given my eyeteeth to see him but it didn’t happen. Instead I got to see Neil Diamond in Saratoga Springs. From a distance he looked like Elvis as he was dressed in a white jumpsuit.

It’s now almost a half century since he ‘left the building’. Every year a new theory seems to come out about why he died, or a new book gets written by his gardener or his dentist or the guy who clipped his toenails.

The last one I saw was a cookbook entitled “Are You Hungry Tonight?”

I can understand people’s obsession with him. Not only was he an incredible singer, he had a big heart and a unique sensitivity to the smallest slightest. And the kind of charisma that sucked the oxygen out of a room when he entered it.

Did you know he once spent thousands of dollars chartering a plane to fly to Denver where he could get a particular peanut-butter sandwich he enjoyed?

Or that he used to ‘shoot’ television sets if programmes came on that weren’t to his taste – like, for instance, those with his pet hate Robert Goulet. One day he ordered 500 flashbulbs from a convenience store, put them in his swimming pool and proceeded to ‘shoot’ them.

People say that if he stayed at being a truck driver he’d still be alive today. Elvis never took ‘hard’ drugs but he died from an overdose of prescription ones on that fateful day in 1977.

No matter how famous he became, Elvis always had something of a little-boy-lost quality in him. He was a wide-eyed youth in the candy shop of fame.

He wasn’t wild by nature. His animal instincts only manifested themselves when he sang. People thought he was a threat to the status quo but the only thing he really threatened was musical tradition. He lived with his mother.

Elvis’ real self made its appearance when he became Uncle Sam’s loyal son in the army. That, for John Lennon, was the day he died, not the 16th of August 1977.

The army sanitised him. His music in the sixties was mostly bland. This was the Elvis I grew up listening to. It wasn’t until after he died I got to explore the raw music he made before Colonel Parker took him over. By the time he married Priscilla Beaulieu he was as much a part of Americana as peanut butter and the white picket fence,  more Hush Puppies than blue suede shoes. Jerry Hopkins wrote: ‘In the fifties he threatened the establishment. In the sixties he embraced it. In the seventies he became it.’

When Elvis’ career was on the skids he’s alleged to have walked down Elvis Presley Boulevard one day and nobody recognized him. The incident kickstarted his 1969 renaissance. He saw the dying of the light and decided to do something about it.

But then new problems started to assert themselves, like burnout. And obesity. In the seventies Elvis went from being King to Burger King. He destroyed his health from an endless round of concerts imposed on him by a manager who saw him as nothing more than a dollar sign. A new film about their relationship, “Elvis”, is soon to hit our screens. Tom Hanks plays Parker.

By now he’d become a parody of himself, “The world’s first Elvis impersonator,” as someone said. He found it difficult to remember the lyrics of his songs in live performances. His pill intake went off the scale. “Hush little baby don’t you cry,” he sang to his daughter, “You know your daddy’s bound to die.”

Elvis died in the bathroom of his Graceland mansion reading a book on the afterlife.

Maybe all legends are lonely people. Maybe that’s what make them legends. They aren’t supposed to loaf around their apartments or go down to the local deli for coffee. They’re not supposed to raise identikit children in a house in suburbia with all the consumerist trappings.

No, legends are supposed to live in fortresses like Graceland. They’re meant to rent out cinemas after midnight for fear of being mobbed. Janis Joplin once said, ‘Every night I make love to 25,000 people, and then go home alone.’

After Elvis died, Truman Capote trilled, ‘Good career move’. The Presley estate is worth infinitely more money now than it was when its owner was alive.

Maybe that’s another thing legends have to do – die young.

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