It was a warm August day in 1977. I was across the street at my friend Kim’s house, trying desperately to ride a 10-speed bicycle. Having no knowledge of how to work the gears was causing enough problems, but my feet not reaching the pedals proved to be an insurmountable obstacle.
But it was the scream that really did it, the scream from the upstairs window that distracted me. I was on the verge of falling over anyway — it was just a question of whether it would be into a kiddie pool or a rose bush. (If I remember correctly, it was both.) But the scream pushed me right off the seat.
Kim had just gone inside to go to the bathroom. Why would she scream like that? Had a bee stung her? Was the house on fire? Was she being murdered?
None of the above. The answer: She’d just found out Elvis Presley had died.
Thirty-six years ago today, Elvis left the building for good. He also left a world that has changed so much I doubt he would recognize today.
I’m writing about The King not so much because of the anniversary of his death but because they played one of his concerts on television the other night. It was the Aloha show from Hawaii, and it was mesmerizing.
I’d forgotten a little about just how popular — and what a presence — Elvis was. This was a few years before he got so strung out on drugs and the jumpsuits quit fitting. This was high-powered Elvis, owning the room — and the world. I don’t know if the claimed 1.3 billion people watched, but many millions did in something like 40 countries.
As much as I enjoyed it, it was also a little sad to watch that concert and think of what he would become just a few years later. And it made me think what it might be like if Elvis were around today.
We can start with the handing out of silk handkerchiefs soaked in his sweat. I’m sure that would be a no-no. The TSA or Homeland Security would probably accuse him of trying to spread a bio weapon. Kissing female fans on the lips would also be out. Couldn’t risk the lawsuits if somebody’s hair got hung on a sequin.
In fact, I doubt the fans would be allowed to touch Elvis at all these days or take pictures. Well, they might, but only if by buying a 30-second VIP experience for $2,000. I’m sure Col. Tom Parker is spinning in his grave right now and slapping his forehead because he didn’t think of that little bit of capitalism first.
Elvis, of course, might leave a building today but not without checking in on FourSquare first. And he would never leave Facebook or Twitter.
Neither would his fans. Or his detractors. Legions of “comedians” would live-tweet the Aloha show — and anything else Elvis did. His movies would make great fodder for the trolls. And all of these “experts” — most of whom would have the stage presence of a layer of dust — would be so cruel, would rake The King over the coals for every misstep, every poor choice of song, outfit, dance move, stage banter, etc., deconstructing his life and his psyche until instead of OD’ing in the bathroom at Graceland the poor man might follow the words of Mick Jagger and commit “suicide right on the stage.”
I know Elvis was a drug-addled mess at the end. But he was also arguably the greatest entertainer who ever lived, and he only made it to 42 in an age when we weren’t all intertwined so instantaneously. I wonder how far he would’ve made it today.
My guess is that sometimes Elvis looks down from rock and roll heaven and he’s glad he left the building.
Email Nate McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.