South Bend, Indiana--It was a really hot day that day. We were all outside playing, dreading the return to school that month. The last year had been extremely violent, especially just walking to Edison grade school. The sky had a real amber-hue to it, and my brother and I were outside in our front-yard playing. I was nine, and he was seven.
We were cute kids, but our neighborhood was an unusually troubled one. Next-door, there lived a woman who was literally insane, a drug-addict (cocaine and pills), a child-abuser, an alcoholic, and she was fucking someone in the prosecutor's office, so when she threw a lawn boulder through one of our living-room windows, there was no recourse whatsoever.
The story of this woman will have to wait for another time, it's so baroque. On that same day in a part of London, the Sex Pistols' guitarist Steve Jones was doing his guitar-parts for "Never Mind the Bollocks," when one of the engineers in the studio stopped-in and told him that Elvis had died (he didn't care). My mother saw Elvis at Notre Dame University's Joyce ACC, where Frank Zappa and everyone else played, on that last tour. She loved it.
It was the salad days of the Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Styx (yeccch!), Supertramp (double-yechhh!), Billy Joel, Alan Parsons Project, Steely Dan (back again, still good!), Carol King, Queen, Pink Floyd, James Taylor, Alice Cooper, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and even Frank Zappa...it was another time altogether from today, but familiar in some ways. Elvis just seemed out-of-place by 1977. It was actually hard to understand his place anymore, and I guess he felt the same. In retrospect, it was a decade literally teeming with cultural innovations, a flipside to today where there are virtually none.
The rednecks had entire photo albums the factory dog father had made, all from before Elvis went into the Army until the seventies. Some were faded-Polaroids, some were from negatives, but most were in color, and most were pretty impressive. I should say here that I love Elvis's earliest recordings with Sam Phillips and the Sun Records label, as well as his early-singles with RCA ("Hound Dog" is still one of the heaviest rock songs ever).
Hey, I even love "Suspicious Minds," a later single from the "fallow years." Never, ever, recite the lyrics to this song to a schizophrenic. Read the lyrics, and you'll know why. Oddly, they could easily describe the King's life at that time, as well as life in America in 1969-70. Or now.
This is what we heard: wailing and screeching--much like that of Muslim or Sicilian women at a funeral--that began emanating from the redneck house. It was really loud, then--all of a sudden, the fat brunette daughter came running-out screaming, and so did the other kids. I never saw the parents' reactions to the death of Elvis, but there wasn't much activity over there for awhile, it was really quiet. I assumed they were all in-mourning. We laughed really hard at the kids as they came outside squealing, it was pretty funny and ridiculous. Again, keep-in-mind that we loved Elvis too.
As a genuine cultural movement, created and played-by ordinary people for other ordinary people, rock has been dead in America ever since. The pockets are all that have ever mattered, not the mainstream. Rock was barely alive then. I miss Elvis. I wish he hadn't died in the state that he was in (Tennessee). "Train arrived, sixteen coaches long, ...Well, that long black train take my baby and gone." My baby's gone. The real Elvis is the lonely Elvis, the ponderous young man who yearned for a better life. How many whites listened to "Worried Man Blues"--the genesis of "Mystery Train"--in those days? It takes a worried man to sing a worried song.
Rockabilly rode a wave of Cold War fears, angst, and sexual-repression. It made a struggling redneck trucker a star, and it also ruined his life. On that hot August day--30-years-ago--we had a good laugh at the expense of the neighborhood rednecks--we loved Elvis too, but they made it into something more than it all was: a religion, and that's what it soon became, and what the Cult of the Dead Elvis still is today. Rock is a pathetic outgrowth of the American Dream, and it's a lie. Elvis, RIP (if you can).
At least my brother and I had a good laugh that day. We wouldn't be laughing the next year--in November--when Jonestown hit.