Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Elvis Week 2011, Part Eight: Epilogue

I hope you enjoyed the tribute to Elvis Presley.  Contrary to what Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota said yesterday, it was not his birthday but in fact the anniversary of the day Elvis was taken from us.  One reason I started this blog was to counter misinformation such as that.  Elvis's story was one of extreme happiness but also one of sadness, and, while there is much to learn from his story that Inside the Rock Era presented this past week, there are two lessons that we can all learn.  

It was a story of extreme happiness and achievement for here was a young man who came from an extremely poor family.  They could not pay their bills and lived in low-income housing their entire lives.  In fact, Elvis was born in a one-room shotgun shack in Tupelo, Mississippi.  Everyone knew they barely had enough to eat and would sometimes bring food or offer the family money.  It truly is a rags to riches story in the most literal sense.  Elvis was shy and humble growing up and was teased often for his raggedy clothes and appearance.  

His parents had purchased him a guitar for his 10th birthday and developed a passion for music.  After graduating, Elvis failed an audition for the Songfellows.  They told him he couldn't sing harmony.  Rather than let them get him down, Presley continued his singing and playing.  Undeterred, Elvis tried out for a professional band led by Eddie Bond.  Bond's group had an opening for a vocalist.  Elvis tried out for the position but was rejected again.  Bond told him to "stick to truck driving because you're never going to make it as a singer."

Really?  Therein lies the first lesson that we can all glean from the life and career of Elvis Presley.  He could have become very disheartened but he kept on pursuing his passion.  We all have a passion and it is our God-given right to pursue it.  Of course, most of us will never be as successful as Elvis was, but it's not about money or success--it's about doing what we want to do and enjoying our lives.  In every life, there is a time of futility in which we realize to make ends meet we have to try something else and it is important that we be able to recognize that as well.  But even in those cases, we should certainly continue with that passion in some form.  So despite being teased by his classmates and looked down upon because of his family's stature, Elvis became the biggest single music star the world has ever known.

As is often the case, Elvis had one special teacher who believed in him and, while he sang a different style than she liked, she encouraged him.  Teachers are so valuable in that way; they give confidence to someone that might not otherwise have it and we are all deeply indebted to the teachers that took an interest in us.  We can all help a young person in this way.  All they need is for someone to tell them they are good at something.  They are so fragile and vulnerable at that age and what we say to them, either negatively or positively, will have a profound effect on them for the rest of their lives.  Elvis's parents bought him a guitar, his minister took time out of his busy day to help him with a few chords, his teacher got him entered in a talent contest.  And the young man was on his way.  

The big lesson was that he didn't give up, no matter what people told him.  His passion was music, the gift he was born with, and the world is so much better off because he pursued his passion.  

The second lesson that strikes me is that of Colonel Parker.  In the series presented, I hope I made it clear that he greatly helped Elvis.  Parker was shrewd and secured landmark opportunities for his young singer.  But Parker had drawbacks as well.  Rather than have Elvis continue to record and tour, which was his strength, Parker signed Elvis to scores of movies in the 60's.  A few movies were great for exposure but that wasn't what Elvis was meant to do.  By concentrating on movies, he didn't produce the great music he had become famous for.  Further, Parker's overwhelming control robbed Elvis of his two chief songwriters and the two backing musicians (Scotty Moore and Bill Black) who had been with him every step of the way in his professional career.  

While everyone needs a mentor, and someone to bring them up and help them in their career, the important lesson here is that we are our own man or our own woman. We are in control of our lives. By letting this man totally control his life, Elvis gave up a part of himself. Parker made career decisions that had a very detrimental effect not only on Elvis's career but on his life. The lesson here is that we should never place so much trust in someone that we lose ourselves. Elvis could have told Parker "No" but he didn't, or at least not enough. When someone is that controlling, there comes a time to get away from them. Elvis was a big enough star that he didn't need Parker at that point and he should have been able to realize that Parker was ruining his career.

Elvis was an amazing performer and his story is so poignant for the positive and the negative. His music will live on for hundreds of years and so will the lessons from his life.


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