Copyright © 2006, Glenn Story
I have a program that tells me whose birthday it is very day. Today, it turns out is Elvis Presley’s birthday.
Unfortunately, my Internet connection is down. So by the time you get this message, “the king’s” birthday will be past. Nonetheless, I decided to write a few reminiscences in honor of the occasion.
Elvis and I sort of grew up together. So did Rock and Roll. Actually Elvis is older than I am. He was a young man just starting his career at the time when I was a young boy just starting my interest in the kind of music he was making. When he was singing of love, I didn’t yet know what he meant.
In those days my family had a habit of getting in the car on Sundays and just driving around. Often, with no particular destination in mind. We would listen to a radio station that played the top 20 records of the week, based on sales at one particular large record store, Music City. (Their jingle went, “It’s Music City, Sunset and Vine.” They were at the very center of Hollywood.) My first memories of that program was of artists like Rosemary Cloony; it was rather tame pop music. Then rock and roll started getting popular. The records were selling so the songs were playing on the radio. I particularly remember hearing Elvis’s “All Shook Up.” I thought I knew what he was singing about—I knew, after a fashion, what being in love meant. But at that age I had no real idea what it was like. And I certainly had no notion of the power of the underling—unspoken—sexual passion that songs of that era only tangentially referred to.
For my 11th birthday my parents got me a portable radio. “Portable” is a relative term. it was laughable in both size and technology by today’s standards. It was huge: probably nine inches tall by twelve inches wide by and inch or so deep. It used vacuum tubes instead of transistors and needed a 90-volt battery to power it.
When I first got that radio I listened to the same station my parents did—the one that played the top 20 on Sundays. But it wasn’t long before my friends at school at turned me on to a much better station: one that played rock and roll all the time. It was KFWB, one of the pioneers of the top-40 format. They basically played the same 40 songs all day long.
Now I fast forward to a time when I was in the army. Rock music—and I—had changed a lot. I was stationed in Okinawa, and the Armed Forces Radio station was playing a series called “the History of Rock and Roll”. I dutifully taped (and still have) every episode. Naturally they had an extensive chapter on Elvis.
Moving forward again, I was living in San Francisco. I remember we were having a couple over for dinner. By happenstance I was playing the Elvis chapter of the History of Rock and Roll. “Oh, so you’re an Elvis fan too.” He launched into a long story of how they went to his concerts, and visited his home at Graceland, etc., etc. I don’t remember whether I confessed that my interest was less intense than his.
Now it is the 21st Century. I used to wonder if I’d make it to the new century. I did. Elvis didn’t. Astronomers tell us that the bigger the star the faster they burn, and the sooner they burn out.
It’s just past Christmas. I have a collection of Christmas music that I play every year. In it there is one song by Elvis: “Blue Christmas:” “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you…” I have lost not one but two girlfriends right at Christmas time. So the song has a somewhat painful meaning for me.
Things have changed a lot. I have changed; the world has changed; rock and roll has changed. Elvis’s music, like my world, was much simpler then. But some things don’t change: the love and passion he sang about is till a potent human emotion. Love gained is still a great pleasure, and love lost is still a great hurt. And a song with a good beat is still a good thing.