The King of the wild and innocent

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Aug. 15, 2002

Dear Julie,

Even though I'd never seen the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" before, it was not surprising or displeasing last weekend at The Muny in St. Louis when the pompadoured Pharaoh appeared in a white Elvis jumpsuit and pleaded, "So don't be cruel, Joseph."

Elvis is the ubiquitous American icon, especially this week. Friday may be the 25th anniversary of Elvis' death, but we still don't seem ready for the acceptance phase of the grieving process. Elvis represents the innocent and wild part of ourselves none of us wants to die.

Labor Day weekend 1993, DC flew in from California three weeks before we planned to get married. It was a final look-see to make sure she really wanted to go through with it. I suggested we go to Graceland. Checking in with Elvis seemed like a good idea.

Elvis was supremely unhip when I was 20 and in college. The Beatles had washed him up and the Rolling Stones had set fire to his still-breathing corpse. My friends and I heard about a guy in the dorm who loved Elvis and wore his hair Elvis' way. We heard about him but never spotted him.

At Graceland, I hoped to find out why people loved Elvis so much and whether this woman loved me. People stood by his grave crying. The wall outside Graceland is covered with scribbled messages of love. A pressurized hose cleans the wall periodically, so the messages are always changing.

We're always redefining what Elvis means to us.

Going to Graceland is a pilgrimage to the home of a sacred figure. It's hard to grasp the idea that an entertainer who didn't even write his own songs somehow achieved holiness.

DC loves to watch those shlocky Elvis movies where he's the talented and rebellious if polite outsider who makes other men jealous enough to fight and women quiver. The innocence of those times appeals to her. She doesn't mind a bit of wildness either.

You don't have to listen to Elvis's music or watch his movies to appreciate the power of the recognition we feel with him. He was not like the Kennedys, born into greatness, but one of us, born with a gorgeous talent and hips thrusting for everything life could offer. In the end, maybe it was too much.

Elvis was a Memphis pharaoh, caped and bejeweled in suits of white light. The parallels between Memphis and the Nile River delta would be eerie if they weren't so natural. Wherever Elvis was, he was king.

Down in the Jungle Room, where one wall weeps and the furniture is furred, DC claimed Elvis's ghost was present. She was disappointed he didn't make an appearance.

As we drove back toward Cape Girardeau, the question of whether or not we should go ahead and get married seemed to have been answered. Elvis had said, "Uh huh."

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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