Elvis Faced Economic Crash, Too

By William F. BuckleyApr 30, 2000
If you think you were hurt by the stock market, think about what happened to Elvis Presley.... So you don't care what happened to Elvis Presley? But you would care if you stopped by at Graceland in Memphis, which 700,000 people do every year, one-quarter of them foreign-born. So that's all very interesting, but why the economic blues? Did they cause him to sing a song or whatever about how lonesome he became one day after his market went down? Can't Get On Slow down--even if you care not at all about Elvis Presley, never listened to one of his songs; or if you did, certainly didn't intend to listen to another. Yes, he was an important musical figure, but he blanked out in the mid-70's from drug-bloat, so why can't we get on with somebody else? We can and do, but how to account for 700,000 people going to Graceland every year? And here's something else. He died on August 16, 1977, and a year after that, a few fans began to congregate on the eve of the anniversary of his death, carrying, each one, just one candle. They would walk up and down in front of Graceland. But in 1981 the property was opened to guided tours, so beginning then, the candlelight vigil made its way in and around the Graceland preserve, passing by the little graveyard where Elvis is buried, alongside his father, mother and grandmother. What nobody was able to control was the number of people who came by with lighted candles. Jack Soden, who is the chief executive officer of the Graceland operation, tried trimming the crowd down, but after a few years had no alternative than to permit the earliest arrivers to begin their walking vigil at 5 in the afternoon. Are these old baby boomers who come to Graceland? You'll have guessed that the answer is No. There are still many teenagers who come every day. Graceland doesn't anticipate ending its operation when contemporaries of Elvis die off, which will begin to happen about 10 years from now. But what was his economic crash, that could distract attention from our own freefall? The man who managed Elvis affairs was a mysterious, assertive marketer who called himself "Colonel" Parker. He was a libidinous patron of the casinos. The speculation is that when he made the proposal to Elvis in 1975, the Colonel terribly needed some cash. He persuaded (or simply instructed) Elvis to sell to RCA all of his recording royalties as of that moment. The deal was $5 million, and the Colonel got his customary 50 percent. Well, those royalties now earn $25 million per year. The dummest deal in musical history. The same curiosity that brings visitors to Graceland inevitably prompts them to ask to see the second floor, where Elvis lived in the grisly stupor that ended his life in his bathroom asquat his toilet. The answer is a flat No. That is the deal, imposed unsparingly by Lisa, the daughter and heir. Even Al Gore we had to say no to. Even Peter Guralnick (the renowned Presley biographer). Why should anybody want to visit those quarters and to ogle at the 7-foot-diameter shower in the bathroom and the voluptuous bedroom, an extension of Elvis' resoundingly vulgar tastes? A silly question. Why do people want to poke into the spot in the warehouse where the killer waited for President Kennedy? Why the allure of the balcony on which Martin Luther King strolled, awaiting the fatal bullet? Elvis Presley is something of a legend, and it is in very full display at Graceland. Lots To Venerate But there also, in dazzling numbers, are the gold records he won from the industry. What seems thousands of them, authentic memorabilia of a voice and manner and style that dumbfounded, enthralled and repelled the largest musical audience ever got together by a single musical artist. What are they there at Graceland to venerate? An aspect, perhaps, of the spiritual inclination of the American people, who do not require that the memory being venerated should have been a martyr or a prophet. Just someone truly singular and mythogenic, who contributed to his own legend his suicidal ending as a victim of the drugs he inveighed against with the strange, disquieting, appealing innocence that marked his entire life. Source: The Birmingham News, written by William F. Buckley
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