It was 30 years ago next Thursday. Colonel Tom Parker was in South Portland, Maine, blocking the windows of the Sheraton Hotel with aluminum foil, waiting for Elvis Presley’s arrival. The King was due August 17 to play two shows at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Never happened.
Back home in Graceland, his bloated body awash with codeine, morphine, Valium, Diazepam, Placidyl, Amytal, Nembutal, Carbrital, Demerol, Elavil, Avental, and Valmid, his arteries clogged with the gunky residue of countless fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, Elvis finally succumbed. He was 42.
Three decades on, the King is gone, but he’s not forgotten, though he occupies a somewhat different place in the cultural firmament than he did in the late ’70s. As generations marched forward, Elvis Aaron Presley stopped being a musician — a pop star whose recordings are loved by millions. Today, he’s a mythic figure, a secular saint. And he’s rich. Very, very rich. Richer in death than he was in life.
And so, as we mark another milestone of our Elvis-less world, the Presley cottage industry is ramping up to full throttle. Graceland is expanding, adding a gargantuan visitors’ center (80,000 square feet, eight times bigger than the mansion’s original dimensions) and a convention hotel. Viva Las Vegas, Blue Hawaii, Girls! Girls! Girls!, and many other mediocre Elvis musicals have been re-released on DVD, sure to add to the $42 million that Presley’s ghost earns every year.
Down in Memphis, Elvis Week 2007 — presented by Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. — starts in earnest on Saturday. The faithful can attend a Mass in his memory, go sleuthing on a Graceland Scavenger Hunt, or take part in an Elvis scrapbooking class. When hunger pangs strike, they can munch on Reese’s “collectors edition” Peanut Butter & Banana Crème cups, a candy commemoration of the very sandwich that helped kill him.
And any Mainers who were denied that Portland performance in 1977 can take in the next best thing in Memphis: the “Midnight in Vegas Concert” on Thursday, August 16 — in which Elvis’s TCB Band play live, fronted by a holographic image of the King himself, beamed from some glitzy otherworld beyond our ken.
Here in Boston, unless the theorists at ElvisLives.net are correct, we’ll have to settle for another simulacrum. At Dick’s Last Resort in Faneuil Hall on Thursday, Elvis impersonator Dana Zagoreos will serenade the faithful.
These days, the people to whom he croons are primarily silver-haired. “To the young kids in general, I don’t think they even know who [Elvis] is,” he says. “To them, he’s just like a president. Or Jesus.”
But Zagoreos does play to younger people from time to time. And if Elvis means little to the youth of America these days — “he was skinny, he got fat, and somehow he died,” was the bio proffered by one teen in Rolling Stone a few years back — the songs he sang are still vital.
The Presley estate may be plunging head-long into the 21st century, spiffing up the “Elvis brand,” and tricking out Graceland with high-tech finery, but “the biggest thing that keeps it alive is the music,” says Zagoreos. “Today’s music goes by so quick. Music like that always stays.”
Fifty-one years after the King’s first single, the songs still get people all shook up from the waist down. Most kids won’t seek out Elvis music, Zagoreos says. “But if they’re there, and Elvis shows up and does some songs? They go bananas.”