Yes, it’s all true. In Tennessee we do worship Elvis. Everyone in Tennessee knows all the words to “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Hound Dog” by heart. It is well-established that nearly everyone in Tennessee has natural musical talent, and can play a guitar proficiently, by ear, without lessons, which makes us appreciate even more a super star like El.
We think so much of him, that nearly everyone in Tennessee has at least one painting of him hanging prominently in our home, preferably done on black velvet. Of course, you already suspected this, didn’t you?
At least once in a lifetime, the entire population of Tennessee makes a pilgrimage to Graceland, shrine to the King of Rock & Roll, and his home while in this world. We just want to be close to the place where the King once lived and walked. Kind of makes us feel all tingly inside to be so close to his ghost — at least we believe it is a ghost. Some claim that Elvis is not gone at all, that he still lives and is faking his own death because he was so tired of fame and the responsibility that comes with it.
The faithful believers have spotted the King in various locations all over the world, still in sideburns and a sequined jump suit, with his pelvis still wiggling, even after all these years. Of course, you heard about all this, didn’t you?
Elvis was really two people, even when he was alive, you know. There was the young Elvis, with the surly lips, pelvic gyrations, and sideburns, who many think was the true Elvis; and there was the mature Elvis, a parody of himself, who wore sequins, performed his own songs, and eventually became dependent on drugs, unable withstand the pressures of his own notoriety. Perhaps his “afterlife” is exaggerated, but the effect of his influence on music and culture is undeniable.
Elvis was one of those people with a genuine charisma that somehow captured the hearts and imaginations of the youth of his time. That is why the dream of every young person in the 50’s was to someday own a pink Cadillac. In Tennessee we have become accustomed to people laughing at Elvis, at his tackiness, at the unbelievable absurdity of a hillbilly truck driver turned millionaire pop star. He was a caricature of irresponsible spending and gaudy taste. But you knew all this too, didn’t you?
Since his death, many have grown rich exploiting his legacy. He probably has more imitators than any performer in history. Elvis has become larger in death than he was in life, as so often is the case with those so easy to stereotype and so difficult to understand.
Perhaps those who laugh at the absurdity of Elvis are less tolerant, less accepting of differences, and less understanding of diversity in others. Yes, without a doubt, Elvis lived a strange life, trapped and strangled by the limelight of his own spectacular success.
Elvis is a legacy that we accept in Tennessee. He is a classic example of success and fame leading to downfall. He is a person that we admire and yet pity. His success was so noteworthy that people everywhere still speak of him in the same breath with Tennessee, especially Memphis.
We laugh at him even as we weep. Yet, his death is a reminder to us all, that we must strive to be more than great, we must also continue to be worthy of our greatness. But, you knew this too, didn’t you?
And, in my opinion, that is the true legacy that the king left for Tennessee and for all who seek fame or attempt to fill his blue suede shoes.