It was an average January morning: Cool with a brilliant blue sky. Tupelo, Mississippi had never looked finer. All the hard work and renovation downtown had paid off. Business was booming. Buildings and streets were tidy. I parked my car near City Hall. My son and I got out and walked to the east.
If we had walked a couple of miles, we would have made it to Elvis Presley’s birthplace, a small shotgun house east of town. But we decided to stop at his statue instead. Sculpted by gifted Mississippi sculptor Bill Beckwith, the statue mimics Roger Marshutz’s iconic photo of Elvis’ 1956 homecoming Tupelo Fairground concert. The statue had become an instant tourist attraction. My son, 12, knew a little bit about Elvis, but not much. Being of the Justin Bieber generation, he understood little of Elvis’ impact on the musical world. ”If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been the Beatles.” I quoted John Lennon’s famous quote about the King. Of course, the Beatles dethroned him, leading him to his ultimate demise.
“I’ve always felt a bit sorry for Elvis,” I said. I really wasn’t addressing my son. It was more of a blanket statement — a statement cast at the feet of the statue. It was almost a confession before the King on a frosty January morning.
“Why?” My son was curious. “Elvis lived an incredible life and was very wealthy.”
It’s hard to explain the true meaning of wealth to a 12-year-old. We stood there, looking at the statue and trying to allow the silence of the moment try to explain my comment.
“Why, Dad? Why did you feel sorry for someone who had everything?”
I told him about my first trip to Graceland back in 1991. How I was impressed but at the same time a little bit saddened. While it was nice — and a palace for its time — you couldn’t help but feel like the walls around Graceland held Elvis in as much as they kept his loyal fans out.
“He had more talent in his little finger than most people have in their whole body,” I explained. I told him about Elvis’ acting career. I believe he could have had an amazing career as an actor if he had gotten the right scripts. Instead, he was typecast in the same movies. I then told him about Colonel Tom Parker’s iron-fisted management of Elvis.
“Why do people think he is still alive?” my son was particularly curious now. He reached up and held the hand of the statue.
I took a picture and said, “Part of it is driven by the hope that he is still with us. But I think many other people felt like I did. They realized he was being held prisoner by the demons of his own fame. If he could have escaped it somehow. I guess that’s our hope. Think about it, thanks to better management, has made way more money since he died.”
“If he died,” my son smiled.
“Yeah, if he died,” I said as I patted him on the back.
The statue stood there silently, keeping the memory of an amazingly gifted man alive. I smiled. It was one of those teaching moments, really. A teaching moment about talent and fame. Not only for my son. But for me.
“He left the world a better place than he found it. Long live the king, “I said as I touched the statue’s hand. My son joined me and said, “Long live the King!”
We turned around and walked back to the car. Another generation had learned appreciation of Elvis Presley’s talent.
And as we disappeared out of sight, a tear trickled down the statue’s face.