Elvis Presley's Sad Anniversary
That Elvis Presley was some'um, as my grandma used to say. I was living on Elvis Presley Boulevard on August 16, 1977, the day Elvis died. I lived about a block from Graceland, as a matter of fact. If you have ever been to the famous mansion, you know that the king's namesake is a real wide thoroughfare - six lanes, I believe, with a turn lane in the center. I was living it up in my very first apartment, an efficiency with a balcony overlooking the boulevard in apartments then called "Meadow Oaks." I attended school during the day and worked all night at a GGJ (good government job). Thanks to Elvis's death, I was late for work a couple of times, and had to ask for an extension on the time I had to turn in a class assignment. (See Elvis's funeral video on third row, left.)
My excuse for being late was all the loyal fans congregating around Graceland for days after Elvis died. Lots of them held tickets to the concert Elvis did not live to give. Many of Elvis's fans never even tried to get a refund for their tickets, and I guess maybe those tickets are worth something now. I tell you, folks were wandering around the area of the boulevard where Elvis's mansion is bawling their eyes out and stopping traffic. One man must have been as inconvenienced by our out-of-town company as I was, because he just plowed into a crowd of 'em! This was a tragic accident with injuries, but I can understand how it happened. Traffic moved so very slow that it was easy to get bored and distracted. I actually read while I inched along.
That August I really caught hell getting back and forth home -- even at 3:00 a.m. when I left work. The traffic was incredibly, steadily congested within five miles of Graceland with a stream of cars inching to and from the mansion with license plates from all over the country. Folks were actually sleeping on the grassy slope outside Graceland's fancy gates, having found no room at the inn, so to speak. I was too naive to consider what my efficiency might have been worth as a one-week rental. Boy, the opportunities of youth that we wish we had grasped! Hindsight.
Anyhow, I had to park up to three miles from my apartment and walk through crowds of mourners crying and consoling each other. I also felt bad about Elvis's death, and one evening I stopped and spent a some time with his other fans, having parked blocks away again. It was like a wake out there, and I met people from all over the U.S. and abroad. One family I met was from the UK. I'm glad I stopped and spent time with them. It turned out ot be a nice way to say goodbye to the legend that was Elvis.
Elvis Presley was a gifted vocalist with a colorful life story. I was always impressed with the tale about Elvis buying a Cadillac for a black lady he did not even know . Now, I don't know if the tale is true, but the story goes that one day Elvis was cruising about town in his famous pink Caddy, and he happened to pass by a Cadillac dealership in town where he noticed a black woman ogling the big, luxurious automobiles through the glass of the showroom floor. Elvis reportedly stopped his Caddy and walked right into that dealership and bought the lady a car! Truth or fiction, I don't know.
Elvis was some singer and dancer, alright. I used to watch his movies on the 24" black and white television set my dad proudly purchased when I was a pre-schooler. We were probably the first black family on our street to own a TV, and we had lots of problems with too much company for years afterward. Yep, white people lived on my street, too. We lived about 40 miles from Memphis in a very small town. The fact is that complete segregation was never feasible in small towns in the South due to space restrictions. I recently met some people from New York who told me that while growing up in Harlem, months would sometimes pass without their seeing any Caucasians. My friend and co-worker at a firm in Decatur was from Washington State. She told me that she was 18 years old before she went on her senior trip to Seattle and saw her first black person. At the time, I found these accounts hard to believe. In our little town, everyone knew everyone else, including most of their personal business and their ancestry. Half the town were cousins to each other. Despite Jim Crow and other silliness, there was a certain closeness, for lack of a better word, among the town's residents. Maybe you would have to be from a small Southern town to really understand what I mean. Do you think that for real fear and hatred to prevail in people's minds regarding another group of people, a certain amount of separatism is necessary? Anyway, back to Elvis.
I liked Elvis's voice and have some of his music - a Christmas CD and another with Elvis's greatest hits, and I seldom miss a PBS's presentation of Elvis in concert. But I promise you, by the end of the week he died and caused the worse traffic jam in Memphis history, if Elvis were not already dead I might have strangled him myself. My schedule was tight in the 70's, you see. I only had a few hours to snooze after school each day before reporting to work at 6 o'clock in the evening. So, besides being a tragic, unnecessary waste, Elvis's death was also a serious impediment to my rest. It was no fun having to park and walk two miles to my apartment from a shopping center blocks away.
I had to look for alternate routes home. I learned some back roads nearby that I never knew existed and might never have known, if only Elvis had said 'no' to drugs (see notes below). Unfortunately, most of the back streets I tried were just circles and dead ends. One afternoon I was determined to get all the way home in my little red VW Beetle, a semi-automatic cutie! I was hot and tired, had no air conditioning in the bug, and I only had three hours before reporting to work. Slow traffic was making me miserable, so I tried once again to find another route home and avoid the congestion on Elvis Presley.
The houses were quite lovely on the street I found myself traveling that day, with beautifully manicured lawns. I had plenty of time to admire the homes, you see, because it took about five minutes for me to pass each one. Yes, apparently the out-of-town mourners had taken over that street, too. Cars were double parked on both sides of the street, and I found myself moving very slowly toward a cross street where I hoped to finally get free! Fortunately, there was a small gap between two cars parked on my right, because coming toward me was a big Lincoln Continental, and it just kept on coming although there was barely room enough for my bug to navigate the narrow passage between the double parked cars. I had to quickly back into the parking space to make room the Lincoln.
Do you want to know how really hurt Elvis's fans were by his untimely death? Well, let me share with you what I saw that day. As the driver of the Lincoln inched toward me, I noticed he was scrapping his beautiful car on both sides as he slowly rolled down the street. Moreover, he was also scratching the sides of each and every mid-sized or large car that he passed! (In case one of the cars was yours, no, I did not get his license number, but it was definitely an out-of-state tag.) Thank God for my VW's compact size! The driver was a heavyset, middle-aged guy, accompanied by folks who were likely his wife and two daughters. Everyone in the car was crying as they scrapped along.
Elvis dominated the headlines and conversation around Memphis and the nation for a long time after his untimely death. Even before Elvis's burial, I heard someone voice doubt about him really being dead. Elvis was so large in his fan's eyes that some could not conceive of his dying. Did you know someone tried to steal Elvis's body, which prompted the decision to lay Elvis to rest at Graceland? I should have bought several copies of the Commercial Appeal. They might have historical value today.
It is hard to imagine, but Elvis would have been 73 years old now. We could have had years more to enjoy his melodic voice and watch women swoon at his gyrations on stage if only . . . But alas, this was not to be, despite the many false sightings that occurred for years after Elvis was gone.
Goodbye, Elvis. We still miss you. Rest in peace.
~ NOTES ~
Elvis Presley Was Diagnosed Post-Mortem as Suffering from Bi-Polar Disorder
Excerpt from a transcript of a Time.com interview with Vernon Chadwick, director of the Fourth Annual Conference on Elvis Presley - August 11, 1998
A therapist from Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey advanced the thesis that Elvis suffered bipolar disorder, which is a more technical name for manic depression, and that Elvis' substance abuse, eating disorders, and chronic depression should be placed in the larger context of a personality disorder. We think that this will shed new light on the issue of Elvis' death and will take it out of the narrow context of suspected overdose and addiction to the larger and more fundamental issues of Elvis' childhood, family history, the cultural influences of the times in which he lived, and other factors which contributed to a possible personality disorder.
Elvis is an American icon. There are few Americans who cannot sing along with Elvis' many top tunes. This article serves to remind Americans that we share a common heritage which is as relevant to our identities as our individual cultures based on ancestral origins in pre-colonized America, Africa, Europe, or Asia. I believe that prejudice can only be sustained and fear and hatred survive and grow in a separatist environment. Social integration dissolves myths about people of other races, religions, and ethnicities. Prejudice must be completely eradicated, and this can happen as we begin to focus more on our common heritage rather than divisiveness.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:27-29
Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill