Elvis: That's the Way it Is...2007

John J. Hopkins Aug. 18, 2007, 2:00am

"Elvis: That's the Way it Is," is a great, if somewhat hard to find concert documentary, featuring Elvis Presley in 1970, after the decade long exile from performing live, returning to the stage in Las Vegas, at the top of his game.

It is an outstanding, 90-minute music video, and serves as the movie metaphor in homage to the King.

Elvis Presley, singer, performer, American icon, died 30 years ago on Aug. 16, 1977. While there can be no dispute that his physical presence has "left the building," any one who doubts that his spirit lives on need only travel to Memphis anytime between the 10th and the 17th of August, the time the locals like to call "Elvis Week."

The King of Rock and Roll lives on, in the hearts, the souls and the wallets of the faithful, three decades after his passing, tethered in ways that only they can experience. If you don't get it, you never will. If you get it, then you will never surrender to the confines of the physical world. For you, Elvis lives.

For the past seven or eight years, at some point during the year, we have visited with an old law school friend and his wife. The Remers live in Nashville, so Memphis was always an attractive mid-point to meet.

With the exception of one wintertime meeting to take in the NBA, and one ill-advised trip to Tunica, we have most frequently met in the heat of the sweltering Memphis summer.

I love Memphis - with the bluesy excitement of Beale Street, the motherlode of tourist attractions, and the spectacular Bar B Que, Memphis always delivers. This year's trip was a bit later in the summer, right at the first full week of August, right at the start of "Elvis Week."

Now, I must confess at the outset, I am a big Elvis fan, from my collection of CDs, tapes and albums, the trips to Graceland - the most memorable one celebrating the election of Bill Clinton - to the bust of the King in my office conference room complete with Vegas style sunglasses - I have been "Taking Care of Business" (TCB) in my own way for many a year.

I have almost always celebrated Elvis' birthday on Jan. 8 with a jelly doughnut, and absolutely love the tribute show by the very best in the business, my friend Steve Davis. But I have never been attracted to the ceremonies surrounding the anniversary of his death.

I was never interested until I experienced - at least a little bit -what the week really entailed, on this, the 30th anniversary.

Elvis week is a virtual cornucopia of memorabilia, with events ranging from the kick-off fireworks at the baseball game Saturday night, the concerts featuring the last remaining musicians, to the World Championship of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, all designed to keep the memory of the King alive.

All through the city, portraits of Elvis in all his phases - Memphis young Elvis, mature Elvis in Hollywood and Vegas Elvis in the white jumpsuit, adorn the faces of Downtown.

Elvis' symbol for his business - TCB (Taking Care of Business), swing from chains, necklaces and pendants everywhere. The town swells up with foreign visitors, and the rendezvous holds court for the official Elvis Fan Club of Belgium.

Up and down Beale Street, the rhythm of the Delta is sung with a French, a German or an Italian accent, a beat kept with the help of one "Big Ass Beer," punctuated by the temporary tattoo of Elvis on the arm or ankle, or even a guitar on the bosom. It is a city-wide, week long party, with memories of the guest of honor re-called by those few survivors of the "Memphis Mafia" who knew him well not so long ago.

The party continues with two spectacular, sold out concerts at the Fed Ex Forum on Beale, featuring live performances by many of the original back up singers and performers, and starring by video and hologram, the King himself.

But the party has a serious note, with what is perhaps the most widely known, and certainly the most solemn event of the week, the candlelight vigil in front of Graceland on Aug. 15th.

At 8:30 p.m. the gates of the mansion open up. Fans, some whom have been waiting since Tuesday morning, are allowed to come up the driveway to Elvis' gravesite. They carry one candle in quiet remembrance.

The gates remain open until all who wish to participate in the procession have had the chance to do so, which typically takes until the morning of the 17th, the anniversary of Elvis' death. While I have not experienced it first hand, I believe that some day, I would like to be part of such a collective public statement, to walk by the burial site of someone unknown personally, but felt to be a true kindred soul - not just a celebrity, but someone who has touched your heart, touched your soul.

The obvious question is why? What is the hold of a singer, dead for over 30 years on fans all over the world, a hold that compels them to travel thousands of miles, just to reminisce, to pay respects.

The answer is in the music, the way an Elvis song makes you feel, the way you cannot sit still after the first cords of "All Shook Up" or "Return to Sender"; the way you still marvel at the power of the vocals in "Suspicious Minds," or feel the vitality of "Viva Las Vegas."

But mostly, it is a feeling that things are going to all right, that it is just fine to be the way you are, that it is just fine to be fond of carbohydrates, as was the King himself, that it is just fine to dress with a little flash and trash, that it is perfectly acceptable to have a few body parts jiggle when you rock and roll, just as long as you still keep rocking.

Elvis was an original, a snarling rebel, the personification of Cool, but ultimately he remained what Ed Sullivan termed him, "a really nice boy," one whose intact memory reaches out across the miles, across the ages.

Like I said, either you get it or you don't. If you do, then you know from whence I speak.

If you do not, I sincerely appreciate your time in reading this piece. Thank you - Thank you very much.

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