It’s not where you start that matters


The poster above is on the walls of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The idea that Elvis was ever buried at the bottom of a concert bill, and seemed to get mentioned only because he was a local talent, seems amazing to me. But within a couple of years, he was bigger than all of them could ever dream of. And today, on the anniversary of his death, people come to Graceland from all over the world to commemorate him and his music.

It’s a good thing that Elvis, and everyone else who doesn’t have the recognition that others have, kept on going and doing his thing. All of those gold records that lined the walls of Graceland, and even Graceland itself, must have seemed  a long way away to Elvis Presley when he stepped onto the stage at the Auditorium in Memphis back in early 1955. But he did it anyway, and we’re all glad that he did.


And so it goes


There’s always death going on in the world, but a recent string of them has caught my attention. Consider that

It sometimes feels like sudden, unexpected deaths should be customized for each person receiving the news. Something like “Elvis Presley died today. He was younger than you are.” I realize this is not practical, but I understand why the person’s age is always given with the death notice.

We all measure our own age against the person who just passed on. Three of the four deaths above were younger than me, and the other one was only a few months older than I am now. If that won’t jolt me into appreciating life more while I still have it, then perhaps nothing will.

Life is indeed short. So let’s enjoy it for as long as we can.

If it’s hot it’ll sell


The title for this post comes from a song I heard performed on NPR by a band called Mutts. The title of the song is also the main hook, and it seems like a reasonable enough proposition: People will buy something that’s hot.

And the musical Million Dollar Quartet is the hottest thing I’ve seen on stage in a long time. It tells a story around the real-life meeting of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins in Memphis’ Sun Records studio in December of 1956. Having visited Sun Records earlier this month, I felt like this was a glimpse into what happened there. And the role of Sam Phillips in launching these musicians’ careers–and rock and roll itself–was made crystal clear.

Anyone who loves rock and roll, as I do, really should see this show. And no, I’m not getting paid by anyone to say that. It’s just a rockin’ good time, and I hope nobody misses out on it.


The heart of rock and roll


As I’m going to visit Graceland today, the most famous private residence in rock and roll, if not all of America, I’ll be looking for hints of Dewey Phillips.

Most people have no idea of who Dewey Phillips was, and I wouldn’t either if I hadn’t seen the Broadway show “Memphis.” Dewey’s life story was loosely told in the musical, but the name “Elvis” was not to be heard, because, well, the Presley name is trademarked and backed by lots of litigious people, I would imagine. But Phillips was the first DJ to play an Elvis record, back in 1954, and I want someone at Graceland to acknowledge that.

If I can find Crump cemetery here in Memphis, perhaps I’ll go and pay my respects. It seems, from what I’ve read, that Phillips had his personal demons, as many people do. But since, as Jackie Robinson said, a life is only important in the impact that it has on other people, then my life–in terms of the music that I listen to–owes a lot to Dewey Phillips. I may as well recognize this fact.

Saving the paper

Elvis Papers

Yesterday I had some time to kill while my car was being worked on. The usual procedure is to go into their waiting room, get a cup of coffee, and flip through a magazine as the mechanics are working their magic. But yesterday was a bit different than that.

Around the corner from the car dealership is a resale shop, which is closer to a standing estate sale. I’m sure that their inventory comes directly from estate sales, where after the estate sale is closed and people have carted away what they want, a significant amount of  detritus still remains from the deceased person’s life. The things that a deceased person thought enough of to hold on to in life, but don’t have any similar meaning for those who are still left on the earth. Things that are probably going to end up in a dumpster, unless someone steps in and assumes ownership of them.

I went to this place, with the intention of filling up the time I had to wait for my car. As I moved through the items, looking for interesting items to pick up–or at least write about on my blog–the perfect item came to me. I didn’t buy it, but I’m more than happy to write a few words about it in this space.

The item was a copy of the Chicago Tribune from August 18, 1977. Elvis Presley had just died, and the paper was filled with stories about his life and career and impact on music and on American culture. And someone, all those years ago, did the same thing that I did whenever important events occurred: they saved the day’s newspaper.

In today’s world, nobody really does this anymore. We read about events online, and we watch television coverage of the event itself, but there’s no reason to save a newspaper when you don’t read newspapers to begin with. But the internet didn’t exist for most people back in 1977. If you wanted to learn about these events, and you wanted to help record the event for posterity, you grabbed whatever newspapers you could find and you put them away somewhere.

The paper from the day before Elvis died wound up in the trash, but the paper from the day after Elvis died was special, at least to this person. Throwing that paper away would have felt like a denial that his sudden passing was significant in some way. And so they held onto it instead, to prove that something important had happened, and that they were alive to see it.

When Barack Obama was elected back in 2004, and took the oath of office back in 2005, there was still a remnant of that left. I remember waiting in a line at the Chicago Sun-Times to buy a copy of that day’s paper. People would have, in an earlier time, just held on to the paper that was delivered to their house that morning. But home delivery of a newspaper isn’t so widespread anymore. People like myself, who were out of the newspaper-reading habit, had to make an effort to obtain a newspaper. It’s a sign of the times, really. As fewer and fewer people are familiar with reading a newspaper in a physical form, the act of saving a paper for posterity will become a thing of the past, if it isn’t already . That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something worth pointing out.

I walked out of the resale shop, without the newspaper or anything else. I walked back to the dealership, and my car was waiting for me when I arrived. And as I got into my car and drove off, I found myself whistling a few notes from “Heartbreak Hotel.” I suppose Elvis’ legacy goes beyond what you could find in an old newspaper, anyway.