This Wednesday, August 16th marks 45 years that Elvis Presley died at his Graceland mansion in Memphis Tennessee. I was just 11 years old in the summer of 1977 and as usual with my best friend Trish. We were just two kids hanging out in the back bedroom deep in concocting some dreamy imaginary world, when suddenly her mom walked in the room. When we looked up at her as she was white as a ghost, her only words, “Elvis Presley has died.” We weren’t sure we fully understood the gravity of the situation but we were old enough to know something pivotal had just happened that immediately dropped us back into reality.
So, this weekend when I visited my aunt, at her new retirement pad, she was very excited because PBS was showing the ‘Elvis '68 Comeback Special’. I’m not sure if they called it that back then, but it is aptly called that now and was a pretty big deal when it first aired on TV, December 3rd, 1968. I had never seen the special in its entirety, so I was happy to watch with her. She is 87 and was a teen when Elvis was taking the world by storm; this was her generation’s icon and music.
While we watched she made comments during the show, about how incredible he was. She was still mesmerized. His voice was exceptional; he could sing any genre and as a performer he was impossible to take your eyes off of.
Elvis was 33 at the time of the special and it’s hard to believe that just nine years later he would be gone. He was magical as he sang and moved around the stage. He was naturally confident, funny and so sultry in his black leather and red Hagstrom Viking II show guitar. He casually bantered back and forth with this band all seated in the round on a lit stage. The special itself goes back and forth from Elvis and his audience to staged vocal performances with some phenomenal up-tempo dancers. Elvis was coming out of his movie phase and he seemed very comfortable with added drama and late 60’s groove.
I’m sharing the special’s finale performance, a gospel infused, If I Can Dream, which is an intensely emotional and powerful performance and considering the turmoil going on in the country at the time, a very appropriate end to the show. He seems to try to reach into us, to our very soul, with his arm flailing at times you think he may just bust right out of the TV. Elvis was bringing you in to the performance and trying desperately to reach you and make you feel the song’s message. As a singer I do understand this. You just want your audience to feel as you do at the time.
Elvis will always be a force, but his appeal will wane as time rolls on and generations pass. His major significance will end, quite possibly when my GEN X brethren passes on and slips away to just a blip on a Wikipedia page of note. I hope that’s never the case to someone who was so pivotal to the great modern American songbook, but I know I can always go back into that deep imaginary world and dream.
Here is Elvis' '68 Comeback finale, If I Can Dream....