I grew up at Summer and Graham in Memphis TN until I finished 7th grade at a private school on Highland Ave. That's when my parents moved me out to the country in a town with one stop light. Even though I lived in the country at the time, I still spent a lot of time in Memphis as a teenager into my 20's before moving here.
Y'all ever lived anywhere where someone who lived there was illusive to you? Like you heard their name pretty consistently in random conversation but you'd never actually met them, but you felt like you knew them because you'd heard so much chatter about them? Y'all know what I'm talking about? Maybe it's the new person in town? Newly elected official that a lot of people knew before they were elected? Someone who grew up there that you never met and maybe moved away? Like you had heard enough about them to feel like you knew them.
When I was in early elementary school, I went over to Ellen's house after school. On her hallway wall were all these pictures and I'm obsessed with pictures, always have been. So I start looking and asking who and what - man I was a nosey kid. I come to this picture of this young couple laughing, I think the girl was sitting on on a guy's lap. He looked familiar to me. I asked Ellen who that was and she said that was my Mom and Elvis. They dated for a while. There was another picture of their families together but not a portrait, like a Polaroid of a dinner or birthday where everyone was talking and laughing. I remember trying to ask Ellen and her Mom about him (nosey kid) but she wouldn't talk about Elvis. She never got angry when I asked, but I remember this kind of far away look in her eyes with a small smile when I did. I got the sense she would betray something if she talked about him. It was odd.
I remember mentioning it to my Dad sometime after where I learned that Tommy, one of Elvis' personal body guards who'd been with him for a long long time, worked for both my Papa and my Dad (construction). When he wasn't working, Tommy wore these massive diamond rings on his hands that had been gifted to him by Elvis but they both remember that stories about Elvis were rare from Tommy. He either couldn't or wouldn't talk about him. Just mumblings of they killed him or ruined him. Two specific stories I do remember though - Elvis' car broke down at a gas station beside our house and had no money on him. The attendant loaned him a dime to call a ride. The next day Elvis came back and returned the dime along with 10k to the attendant. I heard this story echoed by others a few times. How Elvis would pay the staff at Goldsmith's (now Macy's) triple their pay to stay after hours past closing so he could shop in peace because of the mobs that would follow him. There were a few more but I can't remember them now.
So that continued, for well all my life. Someone dated him, someone was related to him, grew up beside him, had pictures with him (not "fan" photos, life photos of families and friends and events and birthdays and weddings and just normal life). I never understood Elvis The King Of Rock n' Roll. For me it always felt like I'd be somewhere and he'd come walking in and I'd finally see or meet this person everyone seemed to know but no one would really talk about. I couldn't comprehend why an entire city would overflow with people on his birthday and death date when my friends Mom had a picture on her wall of them laughing and beside it at some family function. He seemed too "real" to me. He died four years before I was born so that wasn't going to happen but hearing about who Elvis was "at home" consistently for years before I learned who he was internationally, they weren't the same person to me.
It's a given that Elvis took Country, Bluegrass, Jazz, and R&B and merged them all into Rock n' Roll. Growing up in Memphis, it is always FULL of original soulful powerful music no matter the genre. Unknown amazing artists at every turn. It's on every street corner, in every bar, every venue, always. I didn't understand what a cover band was until I moved to St Louis. Cover bands weren't really a thing when I lived there. There was too much original music to go around and the lyrics that were covered were completely transformed into a new version of music. It's the thing I miss most about that city, second to my family.
Last night I sat in a movie theater to watch this long awaited recap of his life. The movie centers more on the later years of Elvis than around the time of all these memories and stories I'd grew up with. I'd heard about his Sun Record days versus his Hollywood, RCA, and MGM days. I wonder if that's why they protect the young Elvis and his memories. Why they ALL hold him close and sacred still.
So many greats have came out of Memphis - Elvis, BB King, Isaac Hayes, Sun Records producing Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, the lists go on. Justin Timberlake to name another one. His stepmom, Lisa, filled my birth control at the local Kroger and we dropped our kids off at the same preschool for two years. If I ran into him today, I'd see him through that lens of small town life versus his international stardom. Much like I view Elvis.
Last night during this film, it truly began to sink in that the music I'd heard my entire life on street corners was so divisive, so racially charged in its day, so new at the time, that it would literally split an old generation from the new one. That it would draw boundary lines and crack communities and cities and draw protests and involve jail time. I can't conceive that because that music was the norm for me. What I didn't and still can't reconcile is that Elvis was the one to create it and fight for it and die for it.
I think that many people my age who grew up in Memphis share similar stories as this one. I've never been to Graceland. Something about hearing the sacred stories of Elvis felt like I was violating their memories by trouncing into his home. I know now why they protect him and who he actually was. Their memories of him just as a young guy who wanted to sing and was special, for lack of a better word.
I don't know that I'll ever join the man those stories belong to with the international superstar. I can't reconcile them and the emotions I felt watching the movie. They feel like two seperate people to me, still. I just now understand his impact and I don't know that I ever would have had I not left Memphis. As they say though,
"Boy, you got a prayer in Memphis."
Feels more like a blessing for which I'm grateful for now. I found new respect for EP and his legacy. Maybe you will to, or maybe I was the one that needed to catch up.
My cup runneth over.