You gotta understand the grip Elvis has on the automobile-loving basically Iro-Celtic libido of the southern United States. Maybe you think Presley was just the first white rock-n-roll singer. Naw. He’s a state of mind. Anybody who has spent time in the smoky evening fields of the Mississippi Delta, where people talk slow like sorghum dripping onto cheap china and mosquitoes gang up in packs and carry off cattle, knows, just knows, that Elvis is meaning. It’s in the culture. In fact, it has been scientifically proved that eating Moon Pies and drinking RC Cola makes you love Elvis. It’s true. MIT did it.
And that’s why Elvis will live forever. Especially in grocery stores.
Every time I go to Safeway to buy more of whatever bachelors eat, the grocery-rack tabloids always have a sighting of Elvis as the third lead. First comes, “Women With Three Breasts and The Dwarves Who Love Them.” Then there’s “Lose Thirty Pounds in a Month While Gorging Yourself With Chicken Fat.” Finally comes, “Elvis Seen Alive In Las Vegas Or Paris Or the Back Seat of a Greyhound Leaving Nashville.” Or floating over Graceland in a cloud of light. Or in a flying saucer.
The other night I was on the beltway with a friend who has a Miata in male-menopause red with awesome speakers. The top was down, the volume was up, and Jailhouse Rock was celebrating homosexual love among the incarcerated. What more could man born of woman want?
The announcer crooned, “That was Elllll -viss the King who may not actually be dead because yesssss, he’s been seen again according to the AP wire in Mississippi near Tupelo?.”
It seemed, the announcer said, that the Mississippi troopers had found some high-school kid and his girlfriend parked naked on a back road at two a.m. with a pile of beer cans on the floorboards. The kid explained that a few hours ago they had left the movies and were driving to the churchyard to think about Jesus together. Suddenly this, like, you know, weird bright light from above enveloped their car and they could feel a strange force sucking the car upward.
They found themselves inside a big glowing room like a doctor’s office and met with Elvis and then passed out and found they’d been put back on earth on a back road, far from the church. And all those beer cans tossed in. Who would have thought it, space aliens drank Budweiser. They’d probably been experimented on, the kid said, ’cause they found this used condom?.
See? Elvis lives.
In the mid-Fifties, when I was a Huck Finn simulacrum of eleven in Limestone County, Alabama, and spent my days eatin’ goober peas (known as “peanuts” to the unworthy, chiefly Yankees) out of the fields and letting fly at mosquito hawks with my BB gun, Elvis ruled. I wasn’t sure what he ruled, because I hadn’t figured girls out yet, but he wafted through everything. I mean, in the seventh grade kids jitterbugged to Hound Dog at lunch and girls, who actually wore bobby socks, carried around magazines with his picture.
People even looked like Elvis. Boys had long Scots-Irish visages with angular facial planes. They looked as if they had been carved with Exacto knives. Most of them had the same hair as Elvis, and practiced letting a cigarette droop from their mouths with a sneering expression (which Elvis didn’t, but never mind.) You could tell they had been raised on buttered grits with lots of black pepper sprinkled on top.
Elvis wiggled like he knew about sex, which was thought revolutionary and dangerous because teenagers would never have thought of sex their own. But pretty soon he was eclipsed by higher forms of expression. It had to happen.
In the Sixties in a club in Austin I saw a band called Klok Mortuary and the Gadarene Swine, consisting of three chords, two bare bellybuttons, and enough hair for a mattress factory. It would have been avant garde if anyone could have spelled it. During the show Klok, an adolescent furball who looked like half a spider, smashed his guitar on the amplifiers, bit the head off a live chicken, and threw the remains to a nest of pet army ants. (I later heard that in Detroit the ants got loose into the crowd, ending the meteoric career of the Swine.) Anyway, the critics were smitten by the performance. It was so…dynamic. Klok, who by now had trouble remembering what country he was in, said the chicken expressed his deepest musical thoughts. Which I was prepared to believe.
Anyway, Elvis briefly seemed by comparison as tame as Pat Boone or unflavored Jell-O. But lo, the Sixties passed like a cautious poker player and people noticed that there was something eternal about Elvis. He was good-looking and spoke of heartbreak, love, good dogs, sweet-lovin’ women, and poontang. These were things we could all identify with. He came back.
Last week I went to Safeway to get things to heat in the microwave. The first lead on the National Enquirer was, “Midgets, Evicted From Posh Hotel, Honeymoon In Cardboard Box.” Next came, “Secret Pentagon Report: Army Growing Dinosaurs To Eat Enemy Soldiers.” Finally, “Priscilla Says Elvis Took Nazi Immortality Drug, Drives Pizza Truck In Tupelo.”
What did I tell you?