On this day in 1977, I was bent over at the waist in the Arlington High School football field end zone, stretching my calves and hamstrings alongside other teammates, wearing full pads, sweating, listening to Coach Porter bark out orders, and preparing for another hot and grimy practice, when the guy next to me said, “Did you hear about Elvis?”
“What about him?” I said, expecting a fat joke.
Silence. Went into a funk. Wanted to go home. But I made it through practice and then drove home and sat in my room and listened to Elvis records until suppertime.
Elvis wasn’t cool anymore by 1977, especially among high schoolers like myself. In his final few years he’d become the butt of fat jokes, which always pissed me off. He came across as being a nice and humble guy despite being the most famous rocker in the world, so it didn’t seem right to kick him down just because he was over 40 and gaining weight. (Al Gore hadn’t yet invented the internet, and snarkiness hadn’t evolved into an art form, and so it seemed even worse back then to kick a guy when he was down).
My friends and I had long since moved on to the harder sounds of Led Zepplin and ZZ Top, but I still admired The King. His impact on my life was huge.
Elvis was my first musical hero and the main reason I learned guitar as a young kid. Guitar led to songwriting, and songwriting led to journalism, and 34 years after Elvis’ death I’m still writing for a living.
So thanks, King, for helping illuminate my path, for providing a great soundtrack to my youth, and for recording many songs that still rank among my favorites. Here are some deep-cut ballads I plucked from YouTube that still resonate: