‘King’ Elvis

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 13, 2005

It’s Elvis week!

Twenty-eight years ago this Tuesday, if you believe it, The King kicked the bucket in his Graceland bathroom, falling prey to booze, pills, fried peanut butter & banana sandwiches, and too much fame.

It was one of those shocking moments in many people’s lives. On a scale with the Kennedy assassination for some; a dark day for the diehard fans that still keeps them home from work as they play Elvis records, binge on chocolate and reflect upon what a waste their lives have been since August 16, 1977.

Growing up, I was a huge Elvis fan. A pre-teen when Elvis was at his zenith, I resisted the corrupting influence of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, eschewing these upstart bands and their popularity with my age group and condemning my peers for being traitors to The King.

I watched Elvis movies and listened to Elvis records and when I started to feel the effects of puberty, I combed my bright red hair into an Elvis wave and begged my mother to let me die it jet-black (she thought I was nuts and refused).

Funny how times have changed. Now kids of that age are getting piercings, tattoos, dying their hair any color they want, and displaying body parts we didn’t even know existed back in the mid- to late-’60s.

When I’d ask to dye my hair &uot;Elvis black&uot;, my mother would just laugh and say something to the effect that I’d sure be a "purty thing" with my lily-white skin and black hair. Nowadays there’s a whole subculture of extremely pale, dark haired young people call Goths. ‘Course, back in the ’60s all that bloodletting – common practice among the Goths, I hear – was something only Christopher Lee did in the plethora of Dracula movies produced by Hammer Films.

So I kept my red hair until a much later age, when most of it fell out and the rest turned gray. Elvis didn’t live long enough to go bald or gray, not that he would have, mind you, because if he’d lived to 100 his hair would have endured.

After the whole puberty thing ended, Elvis was no longer in my life. I no longer watched his movies, if he made any more, and preferred Iron Butterfly and Led Zeppelin.

In fact, I didn’t even think about Elvis any more until I was a senior in high school. I hadn’t heard a new Elvis song on the radio stations I listened to for years, but then he came out with &uot;Whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on&uot;, a song I used to regale my friends with at Harrington Manufacturing Company, where I worked the night shift my senior year – using my hammer for a guitar during breaks and mocking Elvis’ singing and dancing.

I guess during most of my high school years, Elvis became a Las Vegas lounge lizard act, wearing the trademark Elvis impersonator rhinestoned white suit, getting fat and puffy-faced, abandoning karate and physical fitness for prescription narcotics, and generally becoming the antithesis of young Elvis, who blazed new trails by mixing elements of white and black musical genres into something entirely new and exciting.

On Aug. 16, 1977, the day my enlistment with the Army ended, I heard on the radio that Elvis had been found dead. It was shocking to hear that one of my childhood idols had died, but I was far less concerned about that than I was about what I was going to do now that I was a civilian.

I hadn’t given any thought to &uot;what next?&uot; when I got my honorable discharge. I was actually surprised that I didn’t reenlist because I kept thinking about being able to retire when I was just 38. Retirement at 38! What was I thinking? Why did I get out?

Every year in mid-August, the world commemorates The King on the anniversary of his untimely death and I’m saddened because his passing also marked the passing of a treasured part of what I consider my childhood n my four years in the Army. What if I had stayed in the Army? How much different would my life have been if I had retired at 38?

Oh, well. That decision was made long ago and far, far away. My shoes don’t shine, my gut hangs over my belt, my beard is long and scraggly, I have a wonderful wife, and I’m happy.

The right decision was made, so this Aug. 16 – the 28th anniversary of Elvis’ death and my exit from military life- I can mourn my childhood idol with no regret.