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Elvis! Where Are You?

Elvis Research Topic

Elvis Presley Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Unless you are well over the age of 40, you probably don’t remember when Elvis died. I remember exactly where I was when I found out about the death of “The King.” I had been hired, along with my cousin Ricky, to clean out the inside of an old Ben Franklin store in downtown Russellville, Kentucky. Part of that job was to smash through concrete blocks with sledgehammers, which we did with glee. When I got home, my mom was in the kitchen fixing dinner, and the first thing she said to me was: “Elvis Presley died today.” I remember being stunned, standing silently for a few moments, then saying something like, “No way.” I turned on the TV and waited for the 5:30 CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Sure enough, that was the lead story that night…the death of Elvis. I also recall glancing into the kitchen to confirm what Mom had already told me. I could see that my mom was wiping a tear with the back of her hand, and I never knew whether her tears were for Elvis or on account of the onions she was slicing.

Wednesday, August 16th, marks the 40th anniversary of the death of one of the icons of American music. It is difficult now, in the 21st century, to understand the impact that Elvis had on American music and culture. Many of the most well-known musical artists from the 1950s to the 1980s and beyond were influenced in some way by Presley. You doubt me? Read some of these quotes:

  • Elvis is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century.” – Leonard Bernstein
  • Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.” – Bob Dylan
  • It was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody’s ear, and somehow we all dreamed it.” – Bruce Springsteen
  • I would practice Elvis in front of the mirror when I was twelve or thirteen years old.” – K.D. Lang
  • Elvis Presley is like the ‘Big Bang’ of Rock ‘n’ Roll. It all came from there.” – Bono of U2
  • It was Elvis that got me interested in music.” – Elton John
  • Elvis is iconic; a lot of performers today look to that for inspiration.” – Beyonce
  • I doubt very much if The Beatles would have happened if it was not for Elvis.” – Paul McCartney

By now, the story of Elvis’ rise from poor kid in Tupelo, Mississippi, to “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and his tragic death from prescription drug abuse is well known. Sadly, some people’s exposure to Elvis might be the spate of really bad movies and soundtracks he cranked out or the many Las Vegas shows he did in the 1970s, but to get a grasp of the “real Elvis,” one has to listen to some of his recordings from the mid-to-late 1950s and early 1960s where Presley was producing some very innovative music indeed.

Elvis' Graceland in Memphis, TN

Graceland via Wikimedia Commons Photo by Jan Kronsell (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Elvis purchased Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1957. It was a former church that had been converted into a 23-room mansion. He lived there for the rest of his life. I’ve been to Graceland twice, once in the mid-1980s and again in 2001. Sure, it can be kind of schmaltzy and cheesy, but there is a lot of good music history to experience in Memphis (Beale Street, the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and Sun Records Studio). In the end, I came away from Graceland both times a bit sad thinking about what was and what might have been.

Elvis was born in 1935. He died when he was just 42. Today, had he lived, he would be in his 80s. Like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe who went before him, it is hard to imagine an 80-year-old Elvis Presley.

This August would be a good opportunity for music teachers, or even history teachers with a keen interest in pop culture, to use the resources in eLibrary to introduce your students to the musical and cultural influence of “The King.”

And, as John Lennon of The Beatles noted, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”

Let others know about some of your Elvis or Graceland memories. You can tweet us using #ProQuest.

Just some of the many eLibrary articles and videos about Elvis:

The Day Elvis Died Atlanta Journal and Constitution (Newspaper)

Elvis Presley American Cultural Leaders (Reference Book)

Elvis Presley Is Drafted into the Army MPI Video

Elvis Presley Marries Priscilla MPI Video

Elvis: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Reluctant Rebel History Today (Magazine)

Stuck on Elvis: Elvis Presley: Perceptions and Legacy The World & I (Magazine)

A Few More Quotes:

  • I saw Elvis live in ’54. It was at the Big D Jamboree in Dallas and the first thing, he came out and spit on the stage…it affected me exactly the same way as when I first saw that David Lynch film. There was just no reference point in the culture to compare it to.” – Roy Orbison
  • But the [record] that really turned me on, like an explosion one night, listening to Radio Luxembourg on my little radio when I was supposed to be in bed and asleep, was “Heartbreak Hotel.” That was the stunner. I’d never heard it before, or anything like it. I’d never heard of Elvis before. It was almost as if I’d been waiting for it to happen. When I woke up the next day I was a different guy.” – Keith Richards
  • I’m sitting in the drive-through and I’ve got my three girls in the back and this station comes on and it’s playing “Jailhouse Rock,” the original version, and my girls are jumping up and down, going nuts. I’m looking around at them and they’ve heard Dad’s music all the time and I don’t see that out of them.”  – Garth Brooks
  • If life was fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.” – Johnny Carson

 

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