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God Save the King 

August 16 marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. Four and a half months later, on January 2, 1978, the Sex Pistols arrived in America for their brief abortive tour, and the seam of history unraveled. Coincidence?

Wednesday, Aug 14 2002

“It‘s dead, it’s a disease, it‘s been going on for too long. It’s history; it‘s grown old. It’s not achieving anything. It‘s just digression. They play rock & roll at airports. It is too much like a structure, a church, a religion, a farce . . .”

--John Lydon on Tomorrow, June 25, 1980

“Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiid!”

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Of the gaggle of rancid goslings just disgorged from the gravid underbelly of the transatlantic jumbo jet, their tiny outstretched brains now vodka-scoured and newly impressionable, the only one seemingly brave enough to leave the nest had just slid the entire length of the portable metal exit ramp, and lay crumpled on the tarmac below.

“Fuck me -- where’s Malcolm?” said the small angular one, green hair and amber teeth akimbo. “He‘s going to do damage to himself.”

“He’s your mate, John,” said the slightly taller one, sporting a white sleeveless cassock like a football jersey, and fitted with a helmet of werewolf hair. “You feed him and clean up after him, or me and your mum is gonna drown him in the lav.” A third figure, smaller than the first and incongruously bundled in a sheepskin coat, as if he had been told to dress warmly and rarely argued, cowered behind him.

“You grow tiresome, Ste-ven,” said John, the green pikes of his hair catching the declining sun, giving him the impression of an obdurate, brilliantined insect. “I do hope this is going to be pleasant.”

As they surveyed the barren expanse before them, an apron of asphalt pocked occasionally with silver wings shining in the sunlight, they could see scattered evidence of the big river, the Nile of the South, just a half a mile to the west. Behind them, a slightly older and more decorous figure in a green velvet jacket, with a fine aureole of flaming Irish hair, emerged from the plane trundling carry-on bags, passports and a flared bouquet of travel literature.

“Boys, gather round, Valhalla awaits,” he said. “Where‘s Sid?”

“He’s gone on ahead,” said Steve, the taller one.

“Oh, goodness. Sidney, are you hurt? Do you need to go to hospital?”

“Where are all the reporters and screaming teenagers you promised, Malcolm?” asked John. His voice dripped with a constant sarcasm that his companions never acknowledged, but instead treated like some exotic accent. “You said they would be ripe for the plucking.”

“And so they will,” enthused Malcolm. “But first you must know your enemy. That is why we are bypassing New York and Los Angeles on this reconnaissance mission, where they are trained to deal with people like us. This will be where we make our stand when we return, on the fields of Atlanta and Baton Rouge and Memphis, well inside their best defenses. This is the real Colonies -- a riot of genetics, a steaming cauldron of racial miscegenation and immigrant voices from the Continent and beyond. And we will find them in their beds, and we will infect them.”

“Welcome to Memphis -- Home of the Blues, Birthplace of Rock & Roll,” read the cursive banner that greeted this ragged crew as they entered the main terminal.

“Ach, this is awful,” drawled John. “Far worse than we were led to expect. These people look like pink, plump baked beans. And this cretin mewling on the radio . . .”

“Please forget my pastThe future looks bright ahead . . .”

“That‘s him,” whispered Malcolm. “That’s Elvis. The King.”

“I can‘t wait to destroy this country,” said John.

“Don’t be cruel,” chided Malcolm.

***

Hours later, they found themselves unceremoniously dumped in the parking lot of an all-night diner called LeRoi‘s out on Highway 61 by a cabdriver who assured them this was the only place that stayed open late, but who may just have coveted the $20 fare. And although they dutifully had visited the cramped reactor core of Sun Records, the murky Casbah of Beale Street, the mezzanine of the Chisca Hotel, now a Church of Christ, where Dewey Phillips once sent his Red Hot and Blues out over virgin airwaves -- even Graceland itself, where Sid yelled football-hooligan rhymes through the bolted gates while a minimum-wage security guard did his best to ignore them -- none of these was quite so welcome a sight as the fluorescence which now beckoned from within. As they made their way through double glass doors, they passed a pink Cadillac with one tire up over the curb.

“Typical,” said John.

Inside, they might as well have set a waitress on fire or shot up the ceiling, since fry cooks, hash slingers, busboys, truck drivers, rockabilly veterans and ancient black men alike stopped what they were doing to size up an advance guard of this latest British Invasion.

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