Elvis is alive.
When I walked away, I heard you say
If you need me, you know what to do
I knew it then, I’d be back again.
Thirty-six years after Elvis’s death, he sang this low tune in front of Graceland while thousands held up candles at his annual vigil. Some silent, some singing along, some crying, and some hugging their neighbor.
He is one of the best musicians of all time, but it is still amazing to see the love and devotion all these years later. Standing surrounded by fans crowded in the middle of a closed street, it’s easy to see why he endures. He is still alive.
When he was physically here, he was vibrant—his voice beautiful and versatile. We have him woefully sad, singing, “Today I stumbled from my bed while thunder crashing in my head, my pillow still wet from last night tears,” and we have his heart beating fast and “in love and all shook up” and everything in between. And in his personal life, from the peanut butter and banana sandwiches and his gleefully tacky media room to his pulsating hips and sweat drenched scarfs, he did it up.
At some point in our life, we will all lose someone desperately important to us. The sad thing about memories is the more one is accessed, the less intact it becomes. (For a fascinating read on neuroscience and more, I highly recommend “Ignorance: How it Drives Science.) The memories we cling to, because of our love for them, will change and fade more quickly than the ones we don’t actively recall.
Unlike our lost loved ones, Elvis can be resurrected in a fashion. The quality of his voice makes him sound alive and present and in the same room. He is there when we play his music. When I was five or six and listening to 8-tracks, a version of “Wooden Heart” came on. In the middle of it, he starts laughing and has to stop the song. It was a revelation to me— the song was recorded live—and it hadn’t been perfect. Elvis got the giggles. It was at that moment I fell in love with him.
I imagine most fans have a similar moment. This is how he crosses generations and different backgrounds. Strolling the streets much earlier in the day, I saw a four-year-old enraptured by George, an impersonator who sings live, competing in the championships, and an older Indian man with gold sunglasses and thick sideburns tapping his toes to every song. There were Brazilian flags and the Midwest Mafia, one of the many represented fan clubs. Across the board, everyone was smiling and enjoying the people around them—laughing, hugging, and dancing. Later, during the vigil, one could feel the love for Elvis and the memories of those who could not be there.
Originally published in The American Guide. 2013.