By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
”My mama was the one who finally told me what really happened. She made me promise never to tell another living soul, and I haven‘t up to now. But I’m fixing to tell you. I‘m tired of carrying it around as a secret: Jesse Garon was black. He was as black as the ace of spades. When Doc reached in and pulled him out, they all just set there looking at him; there was no mistaking. Vernon -- that’s my daddy -- was crying. And J.D. said, ‘She don’t want a baby that looks like that.‘ And then he said, ’I don‘t want a baby that looks like that!’
And before anybody could do anything, he grabbed Jesse Garon by the throat, and he just squeezed on him until he went blue, and then he stopped breathing. J.D. said, ‘No namesake of mine is gonna be no nigger.’ He would‘ve strangled me too, except for Minnie Mae cried out, ’He‘s white; he ain’t colored!‘ and made him stop. Nobody ever saw the body; Doc Hunt spirited him away, and they buried him in an unmarked grave. J.D. finally moved away up to Louisville and changed the spelling of his name so nobody could find him. He couldn’t take the shame, I guess. Later on, I took care of Minnie Mae up until she died.
“My daddy -- Vernon, I mean -- he never spoke Jesse‘s name after that. Mama told me he was steer-cotted, which is a steer that’s been castrated. Folks always said she was the one who was barren, because she didn‘t have no more children, but that weren’t it. She said that one time after they were married, he got drunk and hit her, and that she went down to Florida and took up with a black man there. She couldn‘t tell me nothing about him, except that he was real handsome, and he played the guitar. He was a traveling musician who took up with a lot of married women, and he was always changing his name so that jealous husbands couldn’t find him. She called him Poor Bob; that‘s what he called himself. We tried to find him once when I first got out of the Army, me and Scotty and Bill, my backup players. Frank Sinatra hosted this welcome-home party and TV special for me down in Florida. But by then the trail had gone cold.
”After we moved up here to Memphis -- ’the lights up the river,‘ we used to call it -- I never a had no friends. The coloreds didn’t want me; the whites didn‘t want me. They couldn’t even say why -- they just took one look at my cat clothes and my pink and black, my big old process, and they knew there was something just weren‘t right about me. I think that’s why Mama and me was always so close. And Jesse.“
”‘Substitute,’“ said John. The carapace of anger he had worn in with him had now softened into a kind of silent wonder.
”What‘s that?“ asked Elvis.
”Pete Townshend’s ‘Substitute’: ‘I look all white but my Dad was blackMy fine-looking suit is really made out of sack.’“
”Yeah,“ said Elvis. ”Something like that. Same thing as an adult. Pink Cadillacs, like the one I got parked right outside; the way I fixed up Graceland. I‘m a seventh-degree black belt ’cause I took to it after I saw Black Belt Jones and Dolemite, and now everybody just makes fun of me. Even me getting so damn fat: Muddy Waters is fat. Howlin‘ Wolf is fat. Willie Dixon? That is one fat sonofabitch. But let Elvis get up around 255, and I got to wear these damn jumpsuits and capes and a woman’s girdle. I‘d make a lot more sense as a black man than a white one.“
”I had meningitis when I was 8,“ said John. ”I was held back a year in school. It gave me terrible eyesight; that’s why my eyes bulge out like this.“
”Well, then you know what I‘m talking about. Sam knew -- Mr. Phillips -- because I told him that first night in the studio, right after I pulled out Big Boy Crudup’s ‘That’s All Right, Mama‘. And of course the Colonel knew. He never said nothing -- even after I had my plastic surgery in the army. They cut my nose down thinner, made my eyes less hooded -- less ’slumbrous,‘ like they called ’em in the Memphis Press-Scimitar. They wanted to redo my lips too, but I wouldn‘t let ’em. And they had a doctor come in from South Africa -- well, he wasn‘t a real doctor, but whatever he was -- and give me injections to make my skin lighter. Watch King Creole and G.I. Blues, you can tell the difference. But the Colonel found out about it somehow down in Florida. He claims to have the evil eye, so who knows how. The only time he ever brought it up was after my TV special in 1968. I got back some of the old fire, and me and Scotty and Bill and D.J. was gonna go back out on the road. We decided that night in the studio; we had it all worked out. But then the Colonel asked me how I’d feel if my fans found out I‘d been lying to them all this time -- how they’d cotton to the fact that I was a half-black man. They would have lynched me. It would have destroyed everything I‘d worked for.
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