December 2013
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All shook up

By Suzanne Strazza

I am so un-hip when it comes to music. Actually I’m pretty un-hip in general. But really, I think that I have better taste in music than anyone, which I prove through my relationship with the King.

Yeah, Elvis. Elvis Presley, that is. Nope, not bullshitting here.

I live and die for the guy.

My mom was super cool when it came to music; she still has a mad crush on Steven Tyler. She road-tripped with me to go see the Stones when I was in high school. The music of my childhood was good.

But I wouldn’t say that Elvis was a huge part of that musical education. He was still great, but definitely getting old and fat, and Mom apparently preferred heroin-skinny with mascara.

Dad preferred powdered white wigs and pianos.

Yet, he was around and I did have a certain appreciation for Elvis. The day that he died holds a spot in my memory like the death of JFK does for others.

I was living in Germany at the time, with a local family. We were in the kitchen eating yogurt when Horst, my “father,” came in and told me that he had sad news for my country and me. He had tears in his eyes. It was Aug. 16, 1977. We had a moment of silence there in that red-and-white checked room, yogurt spoon caught in mid-air.

And how excited am I that years later my son was born on Aug. 16???

As I aged, through those formative years, every other musician was eventually sent to the wayside by my becoming a Dead Head. Not forgotten, just ignored.

Many years later, I drove over Engineer Pass with a fellow Outward Bound instructor, listening to Elvis, and I felt the magic wash over me. He told me that his 18-year-old Down’s Syndrome brother loved Elvis and I thought, “That kid knows something.”

And the passion for the King began.

For the beginner, first dabbling in the world of Graceland, Elvis Number 1’s is probably a good place to start and where I began – all the classics, the ones that everyone can sing along to at some level: Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog, Love Me Tender, Return to Sender. I bought that CD and basked in the velvety sexiness of his voice and the brilliance of his mind.

I ignored the fact that he didn’t write his own songs.

As I came to know, appreciate and love him more every day, I grew defensive and resentful that all anyone could focus on was that he was overweight and puffy and did too many drugs and died on the toilet – they were debasing his greatness.

He’s the F---ing King for a reason.

Over the decades I’ve expanded way beyond the obvious hits to love songs, gospel, country, covers and live concerts. His version of “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” brings me to my knees. Tom Cruise has got nothin’ on Mr. Presley.

I actually have photos of him hanging on my bedroom walls. (Elvis, not Tom Cruise. Eeewwww.)

Totally Hot.

White jumpsuits? Sexy as all get-out.

White shoes? Oh, yeah.

Those sideburns? God, I’d love to run my fingers through them and on up through the dyed black hair.

I look down upon any other musical ensemble whose front person only sings and doesn’t also play an instrument, but not my man Elvis. I know that he can play – I’ve seen it but when he’s guitar-less, watch out. No instrument = more freedom to shake those hips, punch the air and strut his stuff.

I’m totally school girly about the guy. I overlook the sweaty paunchy later years.

It would be embarrassing if I weren’t so cool.

I obsess. I can’t get enough. He’s my go-to guy when I am looking for music to match my mood – no matter what the mood might happen to be – he always has something for me. I am the screaming girl in the audience that he singles out and invites backstage after the show.

Obviously I also ignore the fact that he’s dead.

Cover songs in my bedroom, love songs in the kitchen, country in the car.

I kill time Googling “Little-known facts about Elvis Presley.”

Unfortunately, on one of my forays into the personal life of the King, I found out that he refused to engage in one of my most favorite activities – said, “White men don’t do that.”

I am crushed. Devastated. All (or at least a lot of) my fantasies right down the tubes. So, regroup. Can I overlook that like I overlook the fake black hair?

I wander over to one of the photos in my office: Hawaiian shirt, opened just a little too far, hair a little mussed, that chest, those eyes, that laughing smile? Hell, yeah, I can overlook a few quirks.

I turn on the music and hear him start in with “Sweet Caroline.” Seriously? Elvis sings Neil Diamond? Good God – it’s almost too much perfection. I stop everything and just listen, tears brimming for the beauty of the moment.

My heart is both soaring and heavy. I am joyous for his genius and the loveliness of his voice. I am saddened that he is no longer with us, making the world a better place.

If I could, I’d be going to Graceland.

Suzanne Strazza is an award-winning writer in Mancos, Colo. See her blog at www.singleinthesouthwest. com.


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