On a sunny afternoon, walking from the university back to my apartment, I see Elvis’s face stickered on a lamppost. He is smiling and wears a cowboy hat. Here, in Texas, I often hear Elvis’s music drifting out of the bars and see his face stenciled on crosswalks. Elvis is everywhere. He is the ghost story in Mystery Train. He is Val Kilmer in a mirror talking to Christian Slater in True Romance. He is the blue eyed skinny southern son in a shack in Tupelo, the hunk a hunk of burning love in leather, the jailbird rocking in stripes, and the soldier off to war. He is bloated and beautiful. A player of racquetball. A lover of pills. He sings the slow and best version of “Blue Moon.” I live in Denton, Texas now for a belated stint in graduate school, but Memphis is where I am from. Memphis is home. Yet, I’ve only been inside Graceland once when a friend of my sister’s, a New Yorker, was passing through. Most Memphians have never been inside the mansion of the King, but practically every member of the older generation, the parents of my generation, have an Elvis story. My mother has a few.
My family on my mother’s side is from Tupelo like Elvis, but they didn’t know him then. It wasn’t until after my family settled in Memphis and my oldest aunt attended Humes High that the Elvis stories began. My aunt smoked cigarettes with her bright red lipstick smudging the filter. Her hair swooped up in a blonde beehive, and her cat eyes sizzling the heart of teen boys. She had a car and drove her best friend plus the dorky boy that lived a few blocks away to school with her. The boy dressed funny, talked funny, and was painfully shy. She made him lie down in the backseat so no one would see him in her car. That boy was Elvis. By the time Elvis shook his hips all over national TV, my aunt was married and working as a custodian at Baptist Hospital, the hospital where Elvis would have his own private wing, the same hospital where he was pronounced dead in August of 77, a month after I was born.
While I enjoy the stories about Elvis, Memphis is more than just the King to me.