By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
“Who’s Red and Sonny?” asked John.
“Nobody,” said Elvis. “So I guess you hate pretty much everything you think I stand for.”
“Hate is too pedestrian an emotion,” said John, his back up now. “I only feel sorry for others. Luckily, they‘re usually too stupid to realize they merit my sympathy.”
“Well, hate is fine,” said Elvis, something inside him opening to reveal a crevice of light. “You can hate the hypocrisy and calumny of the secular world. ’For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire.‘ Deuteronomy 4:24. But you have to hate the right things. Otherwise, it’s just another sucker con they‘re running on you. Whites hate the blacks, blacks hate the whites, young hate the old. Whatever they’re showing you in this hand, it‘s the other hand you got to watch. You know what I’m saying to you?”
“Kind of,” said John in a smaller voice, the bluster gone out of it.
“Looks like your friend may have a problem over there,” said Elvis. John followed his gaze to where Sid, in an apparent act of bravado, was sawing into his arm with his a six-inch buck-knife, the blood dripping off his elbow into the clotted yolk of his sunnyside eggs.
“This will only get worse,” said John, more in sorrow than in disgust. “Sid is a born victim. Our real bass player quit three months ago, ‘cause he got cheesed off at Malcolm. Sid was my mate, and our number-one fan. But I fear he is in over his head.”
“You better take that knife away from him,” said Elvis. “He’s gonna make the wrong sonofabitch mad, they gonna slip up behind him one day when he least suspects it, and somebody‘s gonna wind up dead on a bathroom floor.”
He leaned in closer. His breath was acrid with the scent of chemicals, and you could feel the enormous effort of his heart beating in his chest. “Listen to me, now: You’ll get cheated. People around you will die, for no other reason than you can‘t save them. Your closest friends will betray you, because the temptation is too great. Your fans, they’ll love you and they‘ll hate you at the same time, and if you try and change, they won’t permit it.”
He cuffed the younger man around the neck and drew him in closer still. When he removed his shades, his eyes were pinpoints, bored into the soft mounds of fat that all but obscured them. His voice was a conspiratorial whisper.
“I want to tell you a story,” said Elvis. “People who were trying to hurt me just told the papers all of my secrets. And they‘re right; it did hurt. But they don’t know all my secrets to tell. Not the one I‘m about to tell you. You looking for something to write about, this’ll be a good one:
”I was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. Now, if you don‘t know it, Tupelo is down in the deepest, darkest roots of the Old South. ’The buckle of the Bible Belt,‘ they call it -- all moss and magnolia and black water up in the bayous. Franklin Roosevelt called it his first ’Electrified City‘ when they built the big dams. He come down on the train when my mama was seven months pregnant with us, and everybody went out to meet him. The National Guard lined the tracks.
“But where we lived, we didn’t have no electricity. We were just down out of the trees. It was a little bitty shotgun shack with a kerosene lamp, where you had to stuff rags under the doors to keep the cold out. Right across from Shake Rag, which was the Negro district, where the Elvis Presley Youth Centre stands today. They still had lynchings there, even when I was growing up.
”Now, my mama -- who I called Sattnin‘, and who I loved most dearly, her middle name was even Love, and she used to call me Nungin, which meant young’un in baby talk. She was scared of most everything. Wind. Thunderstorms. ‘The devil’s noise,‘ they used to call it. She was real high-strung. One time she had my daddy cut down all the trees around our house ’cause she thought there was something hiding up in there watching her. And she was real wild. She used to buck dance, just like a man, where she‘d lift up her skirt and jump around like an animal. She’d get a couple of shots of white lightning in her, and she‘d just go. She used to run with the menfolk too. Back before the Pentecostals got her.
“Well, when my mama had us, Jesse Garon and me -- he was my twin brother, who died when we was born -- my daddy’s folks come down to help. J.D. and Minnie Mae -- Jesse was his given name, he was the one who Jesse Garon was named after -- along with a midwife and one of the neighbor ladies. When it got close to time, they sent for old Doc Hunt. Doc sent everybody out of the room but J.D. and Minnie Mae. After about a half-hour, J.D. come out on the porch and he said, ‘The firstborn is dead.’ The story is: Jesse is supposed to have came out first, and they said he was stillborn. There was talk later on that Doc Hunt might have saved him, that he got startled when he saw me, cause he wasn‘t expecting nobody else. But my mama told anyone who would listen she was carrying twins. So that wasn’t it.