You wonder sometimes what events shaped your life and your outlook on life and at times you conclude it’s a miracle you ended up not being more messed up than you are, however, even that might be debatable depending upon who you ask. I can remember bits and pieces about Elvis when I was a kid. My grandmother was an Elvis supporter. She always gave him the benefit of the doubt because she believed that deep down inside he was just a good, sweet country boy. When she saw Elvis she thought of him singing “Peace In the Valley”, not “Jailhouse Rock”. I have vague recollections about some issues involving his appearance on the Ed Sullivan show because of his hip movements.
However, I did experience his appeal up close and personal. The movie “Love Me Tender” came out in November of 1956. I’m not certain when it actually played in the closest movie theatre to our little town, some twenty miles away. It could have been 1957 or 1958 but I do know that I accompanied a car load of girls to see that movie. The group included my two older sisters and I’m not sure who the others were, probably their friends including someone old enough to drive (fifteen in Louisiana at that time).
I think mom must have sent me along as the designated watcher or something because I cannot figure out for the life of me why I would have wanted to go. At any rate, the theatre was packed with teenage girls and the entire thing was unsettling from the start. There was this feeling of anxiousness that something was going to happen and everyone was buzzing about, giggling, and acting all strange. This was Elvis’ movie debut. The movie is in black and white but when he showed up on the screen for the first time there was an eruption that I will not soon forget.
I’ve heard of people being trampled to death during a crowd panic and believe me, conditions were on the edge of something like that at the movie theatre that evening. You think you have heard screaming before but until you are surrounded by hundreds of crazed teenie boppers, you don’t know what real screaming is all about. I became very grateful for the parts of the film when Elvis was not on the screen. They screamed when they saw him. They screamed when he sang. Sometimes they screamed for no reason apparently just because others were screaming.
Then at the end they all cried when he died. That was not a good thing to have happen to the fellow whose picture they had been kissing day and night. His acting may have been suspect but as he lay there dying and saying something about his momma the girls in that movie house began to sob. Give me a break! I had seen many guys killed off in westerns and they lived to be in the very next picture. What a night! It was a sight to behold.
Some twenty plus years later I had a group of folks in my organization that were located in Shreveport, Louisiana. Elvis came to their town for a concert. Some of the ladies in my group would have been about the age of my sisters. They went to see Elvis who at time was grossly overweight and almost unable to bend down to touch his adoring fans. They reported to me that the audience was mostly ladies their age and what happened at that performance sounded very much like what I had witnessed so many years earlier.
To my grandmother and to my sisters, Elvis was someone very special. This speaks to his unbelievable popularity over a long period of time, including today. I didn’t get it then and still don’t for the most part. However, I do know what it is to see it up close and personal and it’s not something I’m interested in doing again! …More later.