I grew up near Memphis, but didn't tour Graceland until I was of drinking age. I'm not saying the 50,000 Elvis fans who make the pilgrimage every summer for the anniversary of his death are wrong, but I'm not alone in my lack of curiosity about the place. My parents have spent most of their lives in the area, and my dad even did a rotation in the pharmacy that filled Elvis' prescriptions. (“There were a lot of them when he was headed out on tour,” he says). To this day, though, they've never been to Graceland.
I think it's because many of us natives don't want the image of our local god defiled with memories of his sad, shabby demise — after all, he died on his bathroom floor, bloated and drug-addled. We prefer to remember him as the shy, sweet loner whose every song is a lullaby, the sex symbol who effortlessly charms. Yes, that's right, he remains a sex symbol, even to a someone like myself who normally goes for more contemporary types like Curren$y. And so, to celebrate of what would have been his 77th birthday this Sunday, here are the reasons why.
Elvis' silky warble, cribbed largely from black gospel and R&B singers, is still an aphrodisiac. When he near-whispers “Do you miss me tonight?” in “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” you can almost feel the tickle of his breath on your ear. If some old lover played “Heartbreak Hotel,” Elvis' husky lament about being so lonely he could die would melt your resolve. You'd tell the guy to come over right then.
My aunt, who's 60, told me before she saw Elvis in concert for the first time, she practiced how, as well as when, to scream. “We screamed so much they turned the spotlight on us,” she said.
Well, first of all, he's a Southern boy, and that stuff is just beaten into them by their mamas. But Elvis had the spark that makes the camera love some people more than others. His smile came easily, but not sleazily, and he always retained a bit of the self-effacement that came from being bullied as a child. When he dips his head and lifts it — a sheepish grin spread across his face — your heart has to flutter a little. And his hip-swiveling was censored because it made another body part flutter.
Some stars — James Dean, Jim Morrison, Tupac — die in their primes, leaving behind good-looking corpses. Elvis didn't, but that was the least of his lusty attributes, anyway. In his better days, his luxuriant black hair looked almost blue with the addition of the rose oil and Vaseline he smeared into it. Thick lashes framed his eyes, but their most arresting quality was the pain that never seemed to quite disappear. Let's face it, we all love a strong, silent man who might need to be saved.