Viva Elvis - The wonder only grows
Like the light from Graceland’s eternal flame flickering near the famed estate, the memory of rock and roll’s undisputed King seems inextinguishable in the public conscience.
Even 27 years after Elvis Presley died inside his Memphis residence - an event commemorated Sunday night at the annual candlelight vigil attended by an estimated 8,000 - the multimedia entertainer remains a constant force in the world of popular music.
In Memphis, another Summer of Elvis began winding down as throngs of fans winded up the long driveway on a clear evening much cooler than usual for the middle of August. The official vigil song, “I Love You Because,” was a somber contrast to what Elvis lovers were singing several weeks ago.
Last month, the world marked the 50th Anniversary of Rock and Roll with a street festival outside Sun Studio. It was there, on July 5, 1954, that a skinny, 19-year-old delivery truck driver created the so-called Big Bang of popular music with a tune called “That’s All Right.”
“A new world of music was born,” said devotee Jerry Engleby, 61, from Jefferson City, Mo., who made her 13th August pilgrimage to Graceland this year. She also comes to celebrate his birthday in January. Wearing a pink and black handmade blouse (the colors of Elvis’s early career) and black and white saddle shoes, she is a tribute to an era forever altered by one man’s iconoclastic style. “He opened a door and now there is no end to Elvis. Musicians of today, if they are sincere, have to thank Elvis for what we have now.”
“That’s All Right,” an up-tempo version of an Arthur `Big Boy’ Crudup blues tune, was one of the first singles to unite all the idioms available to the average radio-listener.
Recorded 50 years ago, the song is still racking up sales.
“That’s All Right” was certified Gold (500,000 sales) this summer, and is one of Elvis’s first five Sun Studio recordings to officially do so.
Recent Elvis releases are also scaling the charts.
At a Sunday morning ceremony at Graceland, BMG Strategic Marketing Group announced that “Elvis: ‘68 Comeback Special - Deluxe Edition DVD” and “Elvis, Aloha from Hawaii - Deluxe Edition DVD” had been certified Double Platinum and Platinum (1 million), respectively.
Vigil attendee Annie Schmutzler, 78, also from Jefferson City, Mo., saw new faces at the vigil - young ones.
“Ten years ago, there were never so many young people out here,” she said. “I think that the way they are marketing Elvis has had an impact.”
Elvis has had a strong year.
On Jan. 8, 2004, what would have been Presley’s 69th birthday, the RIAA declared him the best-selling solo artist in U.S. history after an audit of his early record sales brought his total album sales to 117.5 million. In all, he has received 97 Gold Records, 55 Platinum, and 25 multi-Platinum. Elvis-mania continues. This summer, Elvis’s teenage home became a new shrine. A new wine was issued in his honor. There are new Elvis stamps, a new Elvis coin, an Elvis bingo game, a two-part CBS television miniseries (sometime next year), an Elvis Broadway musical (in spring 2005) and even an all-Elvis satellite radio station.
“Our motto is, `If he didn’t sing it, we don’t play it,’ ” said sole disc jockey Rob Grayson, broadcasting live from a booth at Graceland’s visitors center. Why Elvis? Why now?
“I think part of it is that we now have the technology to do it,” Grayson said. “I spend a lot of time adding in Elvis trivia and trying to find ways to relate the music to modern times.” Grayson says that despite that fact that he was only 19 when Elvis died, the King left a lasting impression on his life.
“I had just moved to Memphis in 1976 and (radio deejay) George Klein had hired me at WHBQ-AM. I was on the air when my roommate - a nurse at Baptist Memorial - called in to say Elvis was there and it didn’t look good. We were one of the first stations to broadcast the news. I was stunned by it. But it was an event I didn’t appreciate at 19, so I didn’t roll tape (to archive the broadcast). I wish I had, because now that tape would be priceless.”
- Christopher Blank: 529-2305
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