Searching for the King

elvis-montageI don’t remember when I started searching for the King. I think my fascination with Elvis Presley dates back to seventh or eighth grade. That’s when my mother began letting me stay up late on weekends. Now this was the 1970s, and there wasn’t a lot to choose from on late night television brought in by an antenna on the roof. But Friday nights at 10:30 offered me a steady stream of Elvis movies. Besides, Mom would watch Elvis movies with me, and I enjoyed her companionship. That’s also about the time she gave me half a dozen Elvis records for Christmas, and shortly thereafter, something from the King became her standard gift to me.

I was 15 years old when I heard the news that Elvis had died. It was 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 16, 1977. I was doing chores in the milk house, listening to the regional rock station on the barn radio. The disc jockey interrupted regular programming with the news. He kept repeating that it wasn’t a joke, that Elvis really was gone. And I cried. A lot. That’s when my Elvis obsession kicked into high gear.

I clipped all the newspaper articles I could find about his death and funeral. I bought the magazines that told his life story. I collected bubblegum cards featuring photos from throughout his career. I wrote a speech about him when I was in high school, and I wrote an essay about him when I was in college. My Elvis music and book collection continued to grow. In the 1990s I dragged my husband and kids to Graceland. We toured the mansion, the airplanes, and all the museums. That’s also when I started collecting Elvis impersonators, though today most of these guys call themselves tribute artists.

I heard my first pseudo Elvis at the Iowa State Fair, a free concert with the price of my fair admission ticket. This guy was Young Elvis, gyrating before the crowd in the beer tent. He wasn’t bad. It was as close to an Elvis concert as I was going to get. I’ve seen eight Elvi (the plural of Elvis) so far — facsimiles of ’50s Elvis and ’70s Elvis, Movie Elvis and ’68 Comeback Special Elvis. But I’m partial to Jumpsuit Elvis, because that’s the living Elvis I knew when I began my search for the King.

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem. Several years ago I decided I didn’t want to become one of those old ladies with three tons of Elvis crap that my kids would have to deal with after I moved to a nursing home. So I occasionally cull my collection. I’ve thrown away the newspaper clippings. I’ve thinned out my books and records. And I limit myself to one small shelf of Elvis figurines.

Friends and family still give me Elvis stuff, but that’s OK. Because they know as well as I, that Elvis has never really left my building.

Laura Sternweis


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