Has Elvis really left the building?

Published 2:18 pm Friday, March 19, 2010

So this year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the birth of Elvis?

There was a feature article last Sunday in The Tallahassee Democrat, which kept the legend alive.

I have never been an Elvis fan, yet through the years, I have seen Elvis in person three times, probably more so than the most rabid fans.

Email newsletter signup

Admitting not being an Elvis fan leaves one open to severe criticism from today’s seniors, those raging hormone teenagers of the 1950s and ’60s.

I’ll take my lumps.

My first live Elvis sighting occurred in 1955 at the Armory in Tampa, one of those buildings that could accommodate large stage-show audiences. My buddy at the time had this love of country music, and he would drag me along for company to these shows. So here we were one Sunday afternoon in the Tampa Armory suffering through a plethora of Nashville wannabees. Finally, the last act was announced, and we soon would be outta there.

The last act guy roared on stage, gyrating and jumping to the music, standing and dancing on his toes, strumming his guitar so hard that he broke the strings. From behind us, a small group of hormone raging teenage girls began to hoop, holler and weep, yell and stomp along with the guy on stage.

“What the heck is this? Who is this guy?” I incredulously asked my buddy.

“It’s Elvis Presley,” my buddy, big grin on his face, excitedly announced.

The show is over and we are leaving the Armory when we encounted that same group of over-exuberate teenagers, hormones still raging.

My second live Elvis sighting occurred one year later. My buddy dragged me back to the armory again, for another country music show. It was Elvis again, only this time, he had top billing, now on a grand southern tour, and packing them in.

Elvis returned.

The Armory rocked.

Pandemonium prevailed.

Chairs were there to stand on.

Decorum was dismissed.

It was my second live encounter with Elvis, and I was not amused nor entertained.

Many years later, my third sighting of Elvis came in Lakeland, Fla., in the mid 1970s. No buddy to drag me to the show this time. Instead, I now had a wife, clearly an Elvis fan.

I loved Frank Sinatra, she didn’t. She loved Elvis, I didn’t. Even today on occasion, Faye threatens to play Elvis records.

Lakeland had recently completed a multi-million dollar civic center complex of buildings of which included an arena, about three times the size of the Tampa Armory. Elvis is now in his 40s with considerable girth.

“Here I am,” he said to the audience, “The fatty.”

But did that sway the crowd? Noooooooo.

So there we were assembled, Elvis with his entourage of orchestra and backup chorus. It’s hot in the arena, and Elvis goes through scarf after scarf, mopping his sweating brow, then leans down and over the stage to the ladies gathered in front, and wrapping the sweat-drenched scarfs around the necks of swooning former mid-50s hormone raging teenagers.

Who cared if he was “fatty?” They didn’t.

I will admit, it was a pretty good show, professionally performed, well worth the price of admission, with Elvis a much more polished entertainer.

In my three sightings of Elvis, and to this day, I never considered Elvis a singer, nor have I ever thought he had much talent. Elvis was the King of rock n roll marketing, the highly successful product of his promoters and publicists, which made him and many other people a lot of money.

No question, Elvis loved what he was doing, and a lot of people loved what he was doing. So I guess that’s OK if it brought some joy to your life.

But it was the beginning of high-tech marketing, targeted toward a particular audience segment. It continues today, making big stars of non-talented performers. They rarely make music anymore. Classify it organized noise.

At 75, I wonder what Elvis would look like today. How would he have aged. Would he continue to call himself “fatty,” or would he have slimmed and gracefully aged.

Being almost the age of Elvis myself, I look in the mirror and think: Elvis might look much like myself— handsome with a gorgeous full head of gray hair, suave, intelligent, wise, swarthy, yet still attractive to mid 50s teenagers.

Or he might be the opposite, retaining all his millions, taking a current page from the life of Tiger Woods, chasing cocktail waitresses in Las Vegas.