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FORTY YEARS ON AND ELVIS ENDURES
July 13,  2017   -    Carl Golden for Express Tomes  /  Elvis Express Radio
In another month -- Aug. 16, to be precise -- it will have been 40 years since the death of Elvis Presley in his mansion in Memphis. 

His passing didn't rise to the memory level of other public notables -- "I remember where I was when Elvis died" -- but it shocked millions around the world who mourned one of the
most enduring cultural icons of the 20th Century.

Those of us who were on the verge of our teen-age years or had just edged into them were convinced that music wasn't invented until Bill Haley and the Comets recorded "Rock
Around The Clock" in 1954. He invented it, but it was Elvis who perfected it in 1956 when he recorded "Heartbreak Hotel."

We reveled in the adult reaction to Elvis, snickering when he was denounced from the pulpit as the embodiment of evil or shaking our heads in disbelief when local government
officials banned his concerts in their communities.

It was our way of rebelling, of kicking the establishment in the shins and grinning when we got away with it.

It's pretty tame compared to the rebels of today who express their displeasure by heaving an iron bicycle rack through the plate glass window of the nearest Bank of America.    

We listened to his music at home or, if we were lucky, in the car. His television appearances were anticipated at the level of The Beatles in the mid-60's.

His movies were dreadful, remarkably thin plots which only served as background noise for his singing.  We went anyway.

I can still recall sitting in the darkened Boyd Theater on North Third Street in Easton, watching "Love Me Tender," Presley's first movie.  He sang four songs and was killed in the
end.

We grew older and our rebelliousness faded with the realization that we had become the establishment, the recent targets of our shin-kicking.

But we still followed Elvis, bought his records and jammed with the upbeat material and hummed along with the ballads.

We stuck with him through the leather jumpsuit phase of his career and his engagements in Las Vegas.

Even as his appearance deteriorated and his physique transformed into a badly overweight middle-aged man, his voice still reached and touched us.

When the stories surfaced and grew more intense about his drug use, we didn't try to rationalize it or ignore it. The voice was still there, strong and vibrant, and we could always
conjure up the Elvis of the movies or the Ed Sullivan show.

His work has been remarkably enduring. Videos of his shows and CDs of his songs are hawked endlessly on cable television. Documentaries tracing his career, featuring interviews
and concert footage crop up periodically and draw decent viewership levels.

Rarely if ever has an entertainer spawned so many impersonators, people who either grew up with him or who were captured by his music and style even after he had died.

Elvis stood alone in the center of a music-centric generation. We were witnesses to the birth of rock 'n roll (even if we didn't call it that), and our AM radio was to us what iPods are
to today's generation.

We could choose to listen to close harmony groups with silky mellow tones or to solo artists -- male and female -- who sang of love, loss, triumph or defeat and did so softly or with
driving intensity.

But Elvis stood at the center of it all. For us, his only real rival for our affection and admiration was James Dean, whose three films before his death made him, in our eyes, America's
greatest actor.   

Elvis was 42 when he died, an age most of us have long surpassed.  We married, began careers, became parents and grandparents and retired. 

We lived through musical permutations which made us cringe -- disco, heavy metal, rap -- but we could always find refuge in Elvis.

Had he lived, he'd be 82, probably long retired from performing and spending his days at Graceland listening to himself and reliving the fifties.

If he'd be 82, all of us who memorized "Heartbreak Hotel" and who saw "Love Me Tender" multiple times are closing in on that as well.

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