It was, only in retrospect, one of those times when we remember just where we were and what we were doing when we got the news. Thirty five years ago today, I was driving from my Cedar Grove house to pick up a friend, on our way to summer jobs in the final, antsy weeks before starting college.
It was one of those rare August days without stifling humidity and I had the windows rolled down in the 1965 blue Buick Electra that had once been my grandfather’s. I stopped at a traffic light on Ridge Road at the corner of Bradford Avenue, the A.M. radio blasting pop rock hits (probably WABC) when the DJ (might have been Cousin Brucie) broke in: Elvis was dead.
The light went green, and three blocks later, my friend sprinted out her front door with a look on her face that told me she already knew. Talk about all shook up. Bad news traveled fast even then.
I was a too young to have been in the first wave of teenage girl Elvis mania, but even years before, when I was a little kid and my much older brother was a huge Elvis fan, I couldn’t help falling in love with that swagger, hips, lips.
A couple of years before Elvis died in 1977 at age 42 in his Graceland Mansion in Memphis, he was performing at the (then) International Hilton in Las Vegas, where I was staying for a week with my best friend Laura and my parents. Did I mention that Laura and I were routinely referred to as Lucy and Ethel? That earlier in the week we had sneaked into a 2:00 a.m. party for Liza Minelli? That we’d also cornered Bill Cosby at the tennis courts and told him jokes? That we’d fudged our way into B.B. King’s birthday party and the man himself had let us touch Lucille, his famous guitar? We had.
Laura and I got it into our heads to find Elvis’s room in the hotel. We button-holed maids, interrogated room service waiters, walked the stairs stopping at every floor, badgered the stage manager. It didn’t seem anyone had a suspicious mind back then about two tween girls asking a lot of questions. Finally, we knew the floor. Now, to find a way into his room.
Today I suppose, elevator access to the floor housing the biggest star on the planet would be restricted, but in the mid-1970s, we simply hit the floor number and were whisked up to a high floor. Now, to turn right or left? Right looked quiet, but left seemed to be buzzing – folks walking between rooms, doors left ajar, music playing. We walked on. But not for long.
Within seconds, two beefy men brandishing guns sidled out of a room and blocked our path. “What’s your business here?” they demanded.
We had thought this one through. “Oh, we caught one of Mr. Presley’s scarves at the show the other night and wondered if he’d sign it?” We hadn’t been to the show and the ‘scarf’ in my hand was a white room service napkin, but from a distance we gambled it might resemble the white satiny ones we knew Elvis tossed into the audience.
They seemed to soften, but the guns remained firmly displayed. One said, “He’s not in,” while the other countered, “You’ve got the wrong floor.” They both watched until we reboarded the elevator and the doors closed.
Oh, he was in the building all right, probably on that very floor. But we settled for milkshakes in the hotel coffee shop and trying to remember all the lyrics to a bunch of Elvis songs.
And that’s my Elvis story. What’s yours?
We tried to reach Baristaville’s resident legendary Elvis “impersonator,” to see how he might be marking the day today, but heard he may be traveling. Hey, perhaps he’s at Graceland for Elvis Week where last night thousands were gobsmacked by a surprise visit from Lisa Marie and Priscilla Presley, during a candlelight vigil.
And if you’re too young to know much about Elvis, this Star Ledger article and video links will get you right up to speed.