Elvis Aaron Presley, 1/8/35-8/16/77

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By Uncredited [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
It’s summer 1977.  I’m 13 years old, and my freshman year of high school will be starting in just a couple of weeks (in those days, everyone went back to school the day after Labor Day).  We live in a trailer park.  I’m skinny, brainy, and have few friends.  My main refuge is music and books.  I hadn’t yet reached full puberty, and vaguely had an idea that boys might be cute.  That’s who I was when Elvis died.

 

In our house, the favored radio station was KGW AM (FM stations were a rarity back then, and those that were out there were hard to pick up).  They were a typical Top 40 station of the day, playing not only current hits but an occasional oldie.

Elvis Presley had just released his first album in ages, Moody Blue.  The big hit was “Way Down.”  I already liked Elvis’ music; my folks had records that I listened to all the time on the record player in my room.  In particular, there was a double album set that my mom ordered from television.  I would stack the two records on the player, Side 1 first, and them turn them over when both had played so I could hear the rest of the music.  I remember hearing “Way Down” only a few times on the radio.

And then, one day, it seemed to be all Elvis, all the time. I remember hearing the news that Elvis had died of a heart attack at age 42.  As I was 13, that seemed impossibly old to me.  My father, after all, was 40 … and we all know our parents are impossibly old.

Elvis’ death hit fans like the proverbial ton of bricks.  I don’t think I clearly understood how that felt until David Bowie passed away.  Like Bowie had been for me, Elvis felt like a family member to his fans.  He’d been in their living rooms on TV, had been on their record players and radios for twenty years, and many of them had seen him perform.

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By Uncredited [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As I got older (and, frankly, puberty happened), I understood something else about Elvis.  He was a very sensual figure.  Those screaming fans back in the day were seeing something that had never been seen before, to be honest:  a man who understood how to use raw sexuality on stage.

And then there was that voice.  Elvis was a baritone with an extension into both tenor and bass.  He could sing blues, rock, ballads, and gospel with equal ease and sincerity.  It’s no wonder that Sam Phillips started paying attention when a 19-year-old Crown Electric truck driver came into Sun Studios to make a record for his mother.

 

Over and over, I have thought about how different music would be if that had never happened.  It’s impossible to say!

Fans always have “their Elvis” … by which they mean the period of music they prefer.  For me, it’s 1968.  Elvis was 33 years old, wearing a black leather suit, and exuding both humor and sensuality during what his management hoped would be a traditional Christmas special and was anything but.

On this day, in 1977, Elvis “left the building” for the very last time.   Needless to say, Moody Blue became the number one album for a while (this is common when an artist passes away).

But Elvis wasn’t done yet.  His most recent #1 hit was in 2002, when (for the first time ever) an Elvis song was licensed for remix.  “A Little Less Conversation,” remixed by JXL, hit the top of the charts.

I am going to visit Graceland next month, making a pilgrimage that many fans make on an annual basis but others do only once in their lives.  I will share photographs from my trip and talk about my experiences.  Right now, I want to share the music.

Here’s “my Elvis.”

Here are “Way Down” and the remixed “A Little Less Conversation” (complete with a nod to “Jailhouse Rock”).   Today, let’s enjoy the music.

What’s Happening in Charlottesville

I always say that I’m not going to be political on this blog.  For the most part, I think I’ve kept my promise.  However, when you get down to it, all art is political.  It’s about making a statement.  I spoke out in Bayou Fire about abolition and equality, just to name an example from my œuvre.

I usually post a sample from one of my books on Saturdays, but I just couldn’t find my way to do that today.

I’ve been following the events of Charlottesville, Virginia, very closely.  There are a couple of reasons for it, not the least of which is that I took an excellent historical fiction survey course from one of the professors at UVA.

Part of the reason I’m following it so closely is that I’m horrified by what is happening in our country.  It seems that, within six months, almost every bit of civil rights progress we’ve made in the past 100 years is being overturned.  White supremacists feel emboldened to express their hate and argue that it’s no different from LGBT Pride, or Black Lives Matter.

But here’s the truth:  it is very much different.  The invisible privilege knapsack favors white males in particular over any other subset of the population.   If you look at the images of protestors from last night in Charlottesville, you see a bunch of angry white men.  Period.  And what are they angry about?  Well, they think that life is like pie … and that someone else (a minority someone else) getting a little bit of equality means that they are taking it away from some white person.  Instead of recognizing that equality levels the playing field, they think it’s a zero-sum game.

Over on Twitter, Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son) said something very interesting, which reminded me of a line from a song in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  In that song, Gaston is firing up a mob to go kill the Beast, and they sing this line:  “We don’t like what we don’t understand; in fact it frightens us.”

That put this whole thing in perspective for me.  These are people who are afraid of losing their place at the top of the privilege ladder.  They see themselves as more deserving than anyone else, strictly by virtue of the color of their skin.  And they’re frightened that the color of their skin is no longer enough to make them “better” than the next person.

I strongly considered posting the Dead Kennedys’ Nazi Punks as a bonus track today (you can click the link if you want to hear it), because the song says a lot of things I would want to say to those people in person.  Instead, I have chosen to share a video with two of the most powerful protest songs I know, sung on one of the most important occasions in our country’s history: the 1963 March on Washington.  We must continue, as Mary Travers says in the commentary, to come together for positive social change.  The commentary here is lovely as well.

 

 

Bonus Track: “William Tell Overture,” by Glen Campbell

I am sure that, by now, you know that Glen Campbell passed away yesterday after a lengthy and very public battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.  What you may not know is this:  besides being a popular country-western singer, he was a gifted guitarist.  He played sessions for many bands, including the Beach Boys (that riff at the beginning of “Fun, Fun, Fun” is all him).

Here is Campbell’s rendition of the “William Tell Overture,” played in honor of Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels … and shared by me in honor of Glen.

Sample Saturday, “The Rock Star in the Mirror” … plus a bonus track

Today’s sample is from my 2012 award-nominated novella, The Rock Star in the Mirror (Or, How David Bowie Ruined My Life), which is also available as an audiobook narrated by Matt Haynes.  I’ve included a bonus track at the end.  Enjoy!

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Every month, Lynnie drives her rattletrap Ford Maverick up to Portland. She uses her tip money from George’s Place, supplemented by part of what Mom pays her, to get the coolest vintage clothes she can find. She has some guy up on Glisan, in the Alphabet District, who does her hair.

“No way I’m going to the Cut-n-Curl,” she says, which I can totally understand. Most of the women who work there look like they got their beautician’s license during the Johnson administration, and they do hair accordingly. Since most of the year-round population of Rockaway is of a similar vintage, they do a booming business.

On this particular day, Lynnie is wearing a pair of skinny white jeans, a coral blouse (you grow up in a beach town, believe me, you know that color) that matches her lipstick perfectly, and a pair of white sandals. Coral polish on her toenails, too. Her long, auburn hair is held off her face with a white-and-orange scarf, and she has a big pair of white-framed sunglasses in her hand.

“Joe-the-lion,” she purrs conspiratorially, “come with me to Portland.”

“I’ve got to deliver these,” I reply, shoving an unruly strand of brown hair behind my ear. I always feel drab as dirt next to Lynnie.

Did I mention that I’ve got a huge crush on her? And that I turn into a tongue-tied dimwit whenever she’s around?

Well, now you know.

So, Lynnie heads off to Portland. I deliver the breakfast baskets, prep the check-out bills for the day’s departing guests, and go to my room.

I look at myself in the mirror for a few minutes. I’m a skinny guy with a beaky kind of nose, high cheekbones, blue eyes, and longish, straight brown hair that never looks right, no matter what I do to it. Most of the time, I just part it down the middle and stick it behind my ears. I’m wearing my usual uniform of jeans, t-shirt, and sneaks. Lynnie’s always offering to take me shopping, but I never take her up on it.

Never.

I pick up my guitar and start practicing this song I want to play for Lynnie. Like I said, she’s totally obsessed with David Bowie, so I’m learning this song of his called Starman. I can sing okay, and I play pretty well. I practice posing in the mirror so that I’ll look just right. I hope she’ll dig it.

If I ever get up the guts to play it for her.

 

Sample Saturday: “Bayou Fire,” with Bonus Track

M&M frt Verson 1Today’s snippet from Bayou Fire has Diana Corbett visiting Cajun country with Amos Boudreaux.  I’ve provided a video with the song referred to in the story.  Enjoy!


Diana went back inside for a few minutes to scribble some notes about the food and music. When she walked by the fireplace, she noticed a number of photos on the mantel and went to investigate them. One of them was a much younger Amos, in a rather peculiar tassel-covered shirt and matching pointed hat, riding a black horse. A strand of large wooden beads circled his neck, draping down his chest.

“That’s Cajun Mardi Gras,” Annie said, coming up behind her. “It’s not like what they do over in New Orleans. Out here, all the men dress in traditional costumes and ride horses from house to house, trying to get the women to give up something for the gumbo pot. At the end, everyone puts the ingredients together and there’s a big batch of soup to share. Amos was always one of the best riders, with those long legs of his. That black mare belonged to a neighbor, and they’d always let Amos borrow her for Mardi Gras. Every year he managed to get some woman to give up the chicken; we said he just batted his eyelashes and that was all she wrote. The chicken was the big prize for the stew pot.”

“That’s fascinating,” Diana said. “Thank you!” It seemed that Amos was even more multi-talented than she’d thought.

She followed Annie back outside. There, Amos, Harmon, and Billy were singing an a capella song in French. Diana was able to understand only about half of it, something about the keys to the prison, but it didn’t matter. The three of them sounded marvelous together.