On 16 August, it will be 25 years since the king died. For his fans, his legacy is unquestionable but ELVIS PRESLEY lived four lives and this is how he should be remembered. Words: Paul Dale
y Iilyis shrine has long been packed away and sltoy'ed in a dust-lilled cupboard. .'\s the llats I can al'l'ord to liye in get smaller. the l‘reedom to surround mysell‘ with the things I lose is no longer an option. But I haye kept one thing back from my miniature temple. It sits on my bedside table and I touch it when I wake from a bad dream to remind me that He is with me.
I stole it lroin a l‘riend. many years ago: a large metal badge about the width ot a soltbaH. The red and white banner at the top ol it reads ‘Iil.\'lS PRIiSIIiY TIIR()I'(ilI Tllli YIiARS’. The bottom purple banner reads 'King ol' Rock‘n‘Roll 1035 l‘)77‘. In between there are tour black and white photographs ot’ Presley. The lirst is li'om 1957. his callow youth and rebel sensibility is all too ey'ident: the cttrled lip. those l'eline lashes and the not yet dyed hair thrusting tip and back into a bequillcd l).'\. The second l‘rom the mid (i()s is l-‘ilin lilyis all chic bla/er. button-down shirt cleanness. The third says it‘s l‘rom 197 l. btit it’s actually an image from the one—on-onc audience show s he did just alter his Whit special. hair now black as the ace ol' spades. huge chops and a patterned shirt. The l‘ourth. predictably. is lrom l‘)77: bloated in Vegas where the outline ol his white catsuit can just he made out.
We all age and change. but looking at the badge. I’m always hit by- the beauty and tragedy ol‘ the lil‘e ol' this man who. through tiny
incremental steps and had judgement. lel‘t the world with an excess ol'
iconography honed li'oin these l'our stages ol‘ his remarkable rise and terrible l‘all.
ln PMS the Presleys moy'ed to Memphis lrom Tupelo. a close lamily ol three. The lather. Vernon. was in search ol’ work. A sharecropper by trade. he and his l‘amily had been hit hard by the Depression. Alter leay'ing high school. lilyis worked as a truck driver. In WM he made a priy'ate recording at Sam Phillips’ Sttn Stttdio ol‘ the Ink Spots ballad ‘.\ly llappiness'. It was a birthday gil't l‘or his bclm‘cd mother. (ilady's.
.'\sI()tllltlL‘tl by the \'i\‘ttclotts \‘UCLII qualities ol‘ the teenager. Phillips immediately set tip recording sessions with bassist Bill Black and guitarist Scotty .\loore. llis lirst Sun single coupled a lrantic Version ol' Arthur(‘rudtip's 'That’s .-\ll Right Mama‘ with Bill .\lonroe's bluegrass song ‘Blue Moon ol ls'cntucky‘. :\ local hit. the record had radio listeners assuming that the singer was black.
Presley. and his group (with drummer I).l I‘ontanal. hit the road. billed as the ‘The King ol‘ Bop‘. The audiences had never seen anything like him. .lohnny Ray and Jerry Lee Lewis may have already cornered the tnarkct in rock’n'roll \‘ocal trickery. btit Presley was good looking with a dcyil—may—care persona borrowed l‘rom James Dean.
Presley becatne well known in the South through liy'e pcrl'ormances and a regular spot on the Louis/(um Hayride radio show. In l‘)5(i alter liyc singles with Sun. which included ‘.\lystery' Train. and ‘.\lilkcow Blttcs'. when he was at the \‘cry height ol‘ his y'ocal l'ot'ltt. lily is was sold to R(':\ t‘ccot'ds l‘ot' an tlttpt'ccedcttlctl $35.00”. Things were ncy er to be the same again. lily'is was about to leay'c the building and walk into the bear trap ol‘ international lame and wealth.
6 THE LIST '-
l’m always hit by the beauty and tragedy of the life of this man, his remarkable rise and terrible fall