Elvis: Has he really been gone 40 years?

Published 11:58 am Saturday, August 5, 2017

by Danny Tyree

When I think about the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley (Aug. 16), it seems we were living in a completely different world in 1977.

News of his passing was relayed by television, radio, word of mouth or the next morning’s newspaper. Tweets, blogs and podcasts were far in the future. Grief over his demise was expressed with hugs, tears and wreaths, not emojis.

Later in the year, when one of my high school classmates (hi, Tavye!) protested the sparsity of coverage of the plane crash that killed three members of the Lynyrd Skynyrd band compared to the hoopla over Elvis, she had to do it via a snail mail Letter To The Editor designed for publication in a paper-and-ink periodical.

Distraught fans would talk about “that movie Elvis did with what’s-her-name,” since (in that pre-Wikipedia world) they didn’t have his biography and discography at their fingertips.

One of my customers at the convenience market where I worked after school implored me to save him a copy of the next “Photoplay” magazine, because he heard they were going to do an Elvis tribute, and this might be the last chance he would ever have to own a memento of “The King”!!!

Elvis fans resigned themselves to a future of scouring second-hand stores for vinyl records and bugging local DJs to play the occasional Elvis oldie. Little did they know that eBay, Craigslist, YouTube, Amazon, satellite radio and streaming services would eventually make Elvis more available than ever.

We knew our troops in Vietnam had listened to rock music, but who would have thought our soldiers would someday be listening to Elvis in Iraq and Afghanistan?

My parents’ generation clucked their tongues over how the infamous “Dr. Nick” (George Nichopoulos) could keep a nice boy like Elvis hooked on prescription drugs. Of course, the opioid crisis of 2017 dwarfs any excesses by Seventies rock stars.

Only a prophetic futurist would have thought that “apps” could someday perform most of the functions handled by Elvis’s “Memphis Mafia” entourage.

Elvis died at a time when there was no MTV or rap music, dramatic TV shows didn’t use hit songs in their soundtracks and the Super Bowl didn’t court pop stars to perform at halftime. We would have laughed if someone had suggested that DISNEY would use an Elvis song in an animated movie. (But along came “Burning Love” in “Lilo & Stitch.”)

Elvis (who was filmed from the waist up on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and whose bordello scene was censored from his 1968 comeback special) died as standards were loosening, but few of us anticipated the language, substance abuse and sexual situations on network primetime TV in 2017.

We might have suspected that Graceland would become a tourist shrine, but we had no idea we would someday get there guided by “GPS” and driving electric cars or cars fueled by gasoline from “fracking.” Take pictures with something other than Kodachrome? And what’s a “selfie?”

Yes, it’s a different world.

But some of our most basic needs remain. We still need a MIXTURE of songs about love, heartbreak, fun, reverence and patriotism.

I hope that the works of Elvis will remain available for many generations — and that other artists will try their best to stir all the emotions that Elvis stirred.

If they do, I’ll say, “Thank you. Thankyouverymuch.”

DANNY TYREE welcomes email responses at tyreetyrades@aol.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”