Elvis at 50
by Arthur Byron Cover
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
The upshot of Elvis’s explanation was a three-day stay in the drunk tank. Alone and in solitary. By the time he was released, he was in deep cold turkey and had no choice but to admit he was an addict.
He never learned what happened to elvis on the other side, and in time ceased to care. In the beginning he only returned to elvis’s house because he had to live somewhere. Since no one believed he could sing and apparently had been discouraged from even trying all his life by his brother, the fabulously successful opera singer Jesse Garon Presley, he deliberately refrained, until he got his bearings.
In the beginning, Lor was suspicious of his motives when he began making her breakfast before she left to work and began attending childbirth classes with her. The boys resented him terribly and were absolutely contemptuous of him when he tried to help them with their homework. For some reason they thought him incapable of reading. And like their mom, they thought he was up to something.
Even more perplexing, from their point of view, was the sight of their father doing volunteer and then handyman work for some of the churches in the area, including the black ones. When the cat got sick and died — she was his only friend in the house — he was genuinely distraught and had to fight back the tears every time someone looked at him.
Regardless of how his family treated him, though, Elvis never became angry. He apologized at every opportunity for infractions he hadn’t personally committed. Upon those occasions when he became afraid he might lose control, he simply left the house and went to a meeting. In the early days he went quite frequently. At times it seemed all his efforts to convince them he was no longer the man they’d known would be in vain.
But the boys warmed up after they trusted him enough to allow him to give them a few baseball tips. One night Elvis rented a VHS tape of Pretty in Pink. While he and Lor watched it, she declared she was falling in love with him all over again.
“Me too, hon,” said Elvis. It was no lie. By this time he wanted nothing more in life than to have this woman rule his world. Any world. Long as she was in it.
* * *
He figured something was up when he noticed the lack of available parking spaces two and three blocks from his house. Most of the parking on the cul-de-sac where he lived was empty. That only happened during big football games.
This was the middle of the week. It was already dark. And the temperature was down to fifteen. Plus, the house was dark. He knew that wasn’t right.
The moment he opened the door, someone flicked on the lights. “SURPRISE!” A rainbow coalition of family and friends filled the foyer and front room. He barely had a chance to recognize anyone as they hugged or slapped him on the shoulder, congratulating him for having lived this long.
Lor walked out from the kitchen carrying a three-layer cake festooned with burning candles. Elvis protested, there was no way he could blow out 50 candles. Everybody helped.
“I see you bought my new CD!” boomed out a familiar voice. It was his brother Jesse. “Sorry, I’m late! I took the liberty of letting myself in!”
“You always do,” said Lor, to the amusement of all.
Jesse put his hands on his brother’s shoulders, looked him in the eye, and said, “Never thought I’d feel this way, but it’s good to see you, baby brother.”
“I love you too,” said Elvis.
“I mean it, little brother. I want to tell everybody — listen — for the past few years this man has been my inspiration! I thought I was finished — washed up — but this man — who I treated like crap when we were growing up — showed me the way. Not just by word — but by deed, too!”
Elvis blushed and ordered his brother to cease and desist immediately. Jesse relented semi-gracefully, as was his wont. In ten minutes he was at the piano leading a bunch of the folks in a melody of oldies. Middle of the road hits from the ’50s, mostly. Elvis thought he’d like to take a cue from The Clash and cover “I Fought the Law.”
From then on Elvis helped his wife with serving and keeping the kitchen from becoming too disorganized. He thanked her profusely for putting together the party when all he really wanted to do was annoy the children by listening to his new CDs.
One of the guests was none other than Billy Smith, the peace officer who’d been among the first to witness the birth of the new Elvis, though no one had realized at the time. Billy wanted to know if he had the time to be on the staff for the class reunion this spring. Elvis said sure, if nothing else he’d sweep up afterwards.
Later, Elvis took Jesse aside, to his study where his music collection was set up, and told him how much he appreciated his flying in.
“It was the least I could do. I wasn’t just blowing smoke out there. A few years ago I had this throat condition I couldn’t shake, and I thought I was all washed up, that I’d be naught but a voice coach for the rest of my life. Then I remembered how you picked yourself off your feet and became the kind of man I — my God, the kind of man I could respect. And I figured, hell, we’re twins, we share the same DNA, why can’t I?”
“Glad I could be of service.”
“I need to talk to you about Junior, though.”
Elvis raised an eyebrow.
“He has a good voice, Elvis. When I was here at Christmas, we sang together, and I taught him how to sing some Mozart. He has genuine talent. I was thinking: with your permission, I could rent a few hours in a recording studio and make a really good demo tape of him. Then I could take it to a few voice coaches I know and see if they’d be interested in taking him on.”
“I thought you didn’t like voice coaches.”
“I don’t, but they make art possible.”
“Well, you can make all the demo tapes you want, but if Junior wants voice lessons, it’s going to be a coach in Memphis. I’ll find a way to pay for it.”
“But it might be the best thing for him!” Jesse protested angrily.
Elvis tilted his head and gave him a stern look. Apparently Jesse’d used that tone of voice during their childhood and had always been able to intimidate small-elvis. Well, the King didn’t intimidate that easily. “I know you mean well, Jesse, but a boy his age needs his father.”
“I was just thinking with the new one you might have your hands full. And considering his talent, it might be the best thing for him.”
“The best thing for a boy is his father,” Elvis reiterated. “Accept no substitutions.”
Jesse shook his head and touched his little brother on the upper arm. “Okay, we’ll do it your way. And don’t worry about the financial end. I think I can arrange a modest grant.”
“So it won’t cost you anything?”
Jesse winked. “Maybe a little.”
“Well, thank you very much, big brother.”
“I’m surprised at you,” said Jesse, regarding him as if for the first time. “You’re so adamant!”
Elvis shrugged. “I missed — rather, messed up — this time of life with Jay and Vern. I want to try to make it up somehow, karmically speaking, with Junior.”
Jesse shook his head. “You know, all those years I was wrong about you. When you started stealing from Ma—”
“For the attention.”
“For the attention. Agreed. But back then I thought you were just no good. A bad seed, like in that movie. I discouraged you. I thought you’d never amount to anything. And look at you now.”
“I’m just a garbage man,” said Elvis defensively.
Jesse put his arm around his twin brother. “Oh, there’s more to you than that.” He shook his head. “It’s a goddamn mystery too. I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is. Doesn’t matter though. Whatever it is, it’s working for you.”
* * *
When the party began breaking up, Elvis kissed Lor on the cheek, thanked her for the best surprise party ever, and informed everyone he was going to a meeting. Jay, who had this military buzz cut his father couldn’t quite get used to, asked if there was anything he could do.
Elvis smiled and shook his head. The smile toward Jay was practically habit by now. The poor lad always looked at his old man as if he were seeing a ghost. His father’s transformation still quietly astounded him.
Elvis understood that. He was amazed too. Nonetheless, something long suppressed was growing inside. Call it what you will — nostalgia, ego, the need for adulation — it had grown to the point where he was no longer content with mere domestic bliss.
A river flowed through him, an electric current of the spirit of the modern age. It was the soul of black music, the cry of high lonesome, the relentless boogie of the bayou. All coming together like tributaries in his heart. It’d built up in him till it was ready to explode, and there was nothing he could do about it. Nothing he wanted to do.
He’d left with all intentions of going to a meeting. Usually meetings quelled the restlessness inside. There was a meeting within walking distance of his house, half a mile away, but that wasn’t the direction he took as he strode away in the cold and dark.
Instead he hopped a bus to Beale Street, where the bars and pubs were open. Where the young people came to do whatever it was the young people did these days, and the musicians and their fans came to play.
Once there, he smoked a cancer stick to get his courage up and walked around until he saw a place called B.B. King’s Blues Club and Grill. In the theatre lights was a notice he couldn’t resist: Open Mic Nite.
Once inside he ordered a Coke and watched and listened as a couple of amateurs sang a favorite song and pretended to be talented for three to five minutes. The audience was rowdy but good-natured, and laughed along with the singer when she or he flubbed a lyric. Or even an entire verse.
The girl singing when Elvis first came in had a decent enough voice, but it had too much twang, which is saying something when you’re talking about country. The next performer was a guy with all the pitch of a one-armed baseball player. He was followed by a young man large enough to be a football player but with a voice high enough to be a soprano. His choice of material was “Billie Jean.” The audience groaned and guffawed in turns, but laughed uproariously when he tripped off the stage while moonwalking.
“Okay! My turn!” exclaimed Elvis, bounding onto the stage. He was positively lightfooted in comparison with the thankfully unharmed young man who’d fallen off. Elvis waved at him and his group of equally large buddies and their attractive ladies.
The piano player grinned at Elvis. The band, like most of the paying customers tonight, was on the average approximately two decades younger than this old-timer. Clearly they bore this next singer no ill will, but they didn’t expect much either.
“You boys know Sonny Curtis’ ‘I Fought the Law’?” Elvis asked.
“Know it?” answered the lead guitar player. “I lived it.”
“Hey, old man!” shouted a slightly inebriated individual from the bar. Elvis recognized him as Scotty Moore, his original lead guitarist and a significant part of the alchemy that’d led to his success. But of course Scotty didn’t recognize him. “Sure you got the stuff for this?”
Elvis favored Scotty with his soon to become world-famous lopsided grin. “Trust me.”
Copyright © 2015 by Arthur Byron Cover