We descended in Memphis like locusts. We had come to feast on everything the city had to offer in that second week of August: music, humidity, legacy, food, tribute artists, and a live concert of a man who left us forty years ago. Well, his earthly form has "left the building," but it's undeniable that he is still present in many ways. I was back to get my fill: Elvis Week, my third time. 2017 marked the 40th year of his passing.
Without Love There Is Nothing
Elvis sang it, Without Love There Is Nothing. That's why he is still everything. Only an inexplicable love can bring over 55,000 people to one location to participate in a graveside procession.
My mom and I arrived Graceland at 7pm on the eve of Elvis's death. An hour later we finally found the end of the line. The gates of Graceland opened at 8pm after both Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley spoke. I told my boyfriend I'd be back at the hotel by 11:30pm. However, at 11:30pm we had not reached the wall that wraps around the estate. I obviously don't know how to calculate 55,000 people and the time it takes to pay your respects. Many of these fans had come in leg casts, walkers, and wheelchairs. I patiently waited.
In our now 4.5 hour wait, we had made friends with those around us. A brother and sister and their spouses had flown in from France. Their English limited, their devotion to Elvis, infinite. The sister displayed her Elvis tattoo. The brother, Francois, closed his eyes and sang along to the Elvis tunes being played over a loud speaker. He grabbed his wife to dance with her and sing sweetly into her ear. It was too late to get out of the line now. And I didn't want to. I needed to experience this in its entirety.
And the Grass Won't Pay No Mind
As we passed the gate, we made slower than snail pace up the mildly curvy path. Our steps were so slow that my Fitbit only picked up 18 steps between midnight and 3:05am. We had time to view the trees and I wondered how tall they were the day Elvis died. When waiting in silence, you have time to think about things like that. We stared at the light that illuminated Graceland. We inched our way, millimeter by millimeter, along the perfectly edged landscape while those returning from the grave wiped away tears. And the grass paid no mind-it was accustomed to countless devotees weeping to and fro.
Our candles flickered against the wind, burning our fingers with dripping hot wax. Our feet ached and ankles swelled. Like the grass, we paid no mind. We were almost there. A few minutes past 3am we reached his grave. I stood in front of it, knowing I had only a few seconds, and was filled with emotion. I finally understood what the word "loyalty" meant. I have Elvis fans to thank for that. I'd spent over two years of my life writing a book about the power of this man. I felt privileged to be there, to be part of the enduring entourage of fans, to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime moment.
When I told an aunt we had waited over 8 hours to pass Elvis's grave, she said, "I'd never do that. I have better things to do." Perhaps we all have "better" things to do. However, I chose to participate in an event that touched my human core in ways that I find difficult to explain. Strangers had gathered, as one, to recognize a life, a death, a spirit that still gives. Strangers, with language barriers, with physical handicaps, with different political standings, of different ages and ethnicities, united to walk this vigil for the one thing they had in common: A love for Elvis. And in that moment, there was nothing "better" to do. I will always know what I did on August 15/16 of 2017. If you can't recall exactly your actions and feelings of that day, you weren't experiencing anything. You were merely existing, getting through another day.
There's that saying: We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
Participating in Elvis Week is both, because love and loyalty at a heightened state is a spiritual experience. And that's what his fans bring to the table: in our very limited human capacity. Yet, it is beyond enough and beyond extraordinary. I am so proud to have contributed to it.
The Wonder of You
On August 16, the Fedex Forum hosted a sold out concert of Elvis: The Wonder of You, accompanied by a 40 piece orchestra. I did not have high hopes for this show. I've seen Elvis on TV performing many times and thought it'd be the same. However, the production was equal to The King of Rock & Rock, phenomenal. The Commercial Appeal's headline stated it best: Larger-than-life Elvis concert captures the essence of the King for 40th anniversary.
The orchestra started with "Burning Love." Large screens hung above. Then, Elvis was in the building. The moment he appeared and his voice started, it took my breath away. It was surreal. He was with us.
Lord Almighty, I feel my temperature rising. Higher, higher, It's burning through to my soul.
Outside the Fedex Forum, I had made friends with a young twenty-something year old from Japan. Think about that: a girl born in Japan, in the 1990's, had flown all the way to Memphis, Tennessee for this. A man, dead forty years, has this pull, to pack an arena with people from all over the world. Each person that filled a seat at the Fedex Forum had a story of how and why they had to be there. During Elvis Week, stories of long travel and deep devotion isn't rare, it's the norm.
My new Japanese friend spoke two English words: Elvis. Love. Even if those two words failed her, we spoke the same language. It's a language that has no words. We communicated when our eyes sparkled while showing each other pics of Elvis on our phones, or with our high-pitched squeals when I mentioned certain songs. We exchanged email addresses and used Google translate to communicate on non-Elvis related matters. I wish I had been sitting next to her during that show. It's easy to bond with people that love Elvis.
I'm a devout Elton John fan. I've been an Elton fan longer than an Elvis fan and have attended his shows twenty plus times. Elton is known for his fabulous performances, and rightfully so. But, this Elvis concert was one of the best shows I've ever attended. Even Elton, an Elvis fan himself, would have loved it.
I know I will be writing about the impact Elvis is having on my life for years to come. It's hard not to. There is something infectious about him. His fans are addicts. He brings forth a smile on us and a high that can only be obtained with him. We don't want a cure. We don't want it to end.
I pray that Elvis Week continues for years to come; the way Shakespeare in the Park or Mozart celebrations continue centuries after their deaths. I will return. Experiences like this are hard to come by and I want to be in the present moment for them, experiencing, not existing.
Child, touch my soul with your cries
And the music will know what we've found
I, hear a hundred good-byes
But today I hear only one sound
The moment we're living is now
Now now now now now now now
Lyric of: "And the Grass Won't Pay No Mind"