Remember 'The King' with music
I first wrote some of these words in 1997, and I wrote them again in 2002. And I write them for you again here today - as we near the anniversary of his death - to honor and celebrate the memory of The King of Rock and Roll: Elvis Aaron Presley.
Elvis died 30 years ago this week, on Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42. Though I was only nine years old, I remember that day very well. Thanks to my grandfather, who helped give me my love for music, I was already a big Elvis fan, and I can still recall the sadness and the sting I felt when I learned of his passing. It remains one of the most shocking days in the history of American pop culture, and I can't help but think that Elvis, who would be 72 today, might still be giving some concerts if he was still with us. His golden voice - the best that rock music has ever heard - might still be booming through arenas, and he still might be recording new albums.
Not having seen him play live is one of the few regrets I have when it comes to music.
It's funny, but a lot of rock-music writers like to use the word "derivative" when they talk about music. Sometimes they use it as a compliment, sometimes as an insult. All it really means is that an artist has been influenced by another.
Everything in pop music - everything - is a Presley derivative.
And that's because everything you read about pop music in our paper or magazine is reflective of Presley. The club listings. The concert listings. The album reviews and the interviews with the local bands and the big stars.
It all goes back to Presley.
All of it.
It all goes back to the poor kid from Mississippi who came out of nowhere and, in 1956, helped kick open the door to a new and exciting sound. It all goes back to the man whose early recordings such as "That's All Right," "Mystery Train" and "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" remain classics, and whose big '50s hits such as "Heartbreak Hotel," "Don't Be Cruel" and "Jailhouse Rock" set the table for the musical explosion known as rock 'n' roll.
It all goes back to the guy whose early '60s songs such as "His Latest Flame," "Little Sister" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight" sound just as great today as they ever did, and the man whose voice was better than it ever was on his later recordings such as "Kentucky Rain" and "Always On My Mind."
It all goes back to the man whose remarkable covers of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" seem to surpass the quality of the originals, and the man who, just weeks before his death, was still nailing challenging songs such as "Unchained Melody" and "My Way" in concert.
Elvis' health, due to his own vices, failed him.
His voice never did.
This week, on the anniversary of his death, remember the good things about Elvis. Forget about the tacky wall murals, lamps and porcelain plates and rumors of "sightings." Forget about the unwarranted mockery sometimes aimed at him by people without half his talent or character.
Remember the man who, even after his burst of fame, still referred to people as "ma'am" and "sir," and who even won over an initially hesitant and skeptical Ed Sullivan with his kindness and humility. Remember the man who, at the height of career, went off to Germany to serve his country in the Army. Remember the man who, while there, asked for no special treatment and quickly befriended the men in his unit.
Remember the man who loved to share his wealth - a man who would buy friends and even strangers automobiles, and who, if you admired a piece of jewelry he was wearing, would often take it off and give it to you. Remember the man who was always quick to give credit to the unheard-of black artists from whom he borrowed much of his early sound. Remember the man who, with his remarkable "'68 Comeback Special," actually laid the groundwork for MTV's popular "Unplugged" series. Remember the man who, only five years ago and 25 years after his death - with the release of 30 #1 Hits - had the No. 1 album in the United States.
If you're out on the town this week, ask your favorite band to play a little Presley. The good ones - the ones that know a little about the linkage of rock 'n' roll - will be happy to.
Artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Robert Plant and Billy Joel have all covered Presley's songs. Plant, according to one story, was actually able to meet Elvis and sing a few bars of "Love Me" with The King. In 1975, Bruce Springsteen, a star himself at the time, tried to scale the gates of Graceland hoping to meet his idol. KISS, on Aug. 16, 1977 - the day Elvis died - dedicated "Rock and Roll All Nite" to The King. The members of U2, in the rock documentary "Rattle and Hum," are shown visiting Presley's grave at Graceland. It is one of the most poignant scenes in the film.
If you're a fan of rock 'n' roll, take just a minute or two today to show him some of the same respect. Call your favorite radio station and request one of his songs, play one on the jukebox at your favorite hangout, or just hum one of his tunes in your head.
Elvis Presley, a flawed man, like all of us, left the building 30 years ago. But he is still with us in many ways. He is with us in pop radio, rock concerts and magazines, MTV and VH1 and so many things we encounter in everyday life.
He is with us, now and forever, in music.