It’s Getting Harder and Harder
To Find the Truth About Elvis
I’ve been an Elvis fan for over forty years. I never tire of listening to his music (my iPod has over 800 of his songs on it), and I even like many of his movies. My professional life, however, has focused on the subject of history. My bachelor's and master's degrees are both in history, and I was a high school history teacher for thirty years.
So, while I retain the deep affection for Elvis that first developed in my youth, I also look at his life and work through the eyes of a truth-seeking historian. And so, after retiring from teaching and taking up writing as a second career, it was natural for me to choose Elvis as the subject of my first book and to focus on the history of a little-known part of his life. The result was Elvis ’57: The Final Fifties Tours. That, in turn, has led me to writing this Elvis blog.
Of course, for my book I spent a lot of time gathering information from the 1957 newspaper archives of the cities in which he appeared that year. Most of the factual information in the book came from that research. However, I conducted interviews as well. Jordanaires Gordon Stoker and Hugh Jarrett provided invaluable information, as did a number of disc jockeys, like Red Robinson in Vancouver, B.C.
• Listen to the memories of Elvis fans
I also knew it was important to listen to the memories of fans, who, as teenagers in 1957, saw Elvis perform live back then. I decided that the member directory of the Elvis Insiders, the fan group sponsored by Elvis Presley Enterprises, might be a good source of interview subjects. It wasn’t. I sent e-mails to about three dozen Insiders who lived in cities he visited in 1957, but most of those who responded explained they had been very young or not even born when he died in 1977.
Other contacts with Elvis fans, especially through the Insiders, eventually made it clear to me that there is quite a large number of these second-generation fans, ones whose love for Elvis has been passed down to them by their parents.
For example, Heidi Lively-Melton of Wilsonville, Oregon, was born just a few years before Elvis's death. She shared the following story with me: "My mother-in-law had attended a Portland concert of his in 1970 and kept her ticket stub all these years in her wallet with her pictures of her sons. I got to hold it on my wedding day as my 'something old.' When she passed away last year, my father-in-law gave me the ticket stub to keep (which I treasure). It has a wonderful spot in my wedding album and photos."
While we older fans share our devotion with the Generation-X fans, there are obvious differences between the two groups. Like that ticket stub, much of what younger Presley fans know about the King of Rock and Roll has been handed down to them. He came to them with his whole life and body of work laid out in front of them. They know him through his music on CDs and his movies on video.
• Older Elvis fans know joys, anticipation, and tragedy
They’ll never know the joys, the anticipation, and the tragedy of growing up with him, like we first-generation fans do. They'll never recall the excitement and controversy as he exploded on the national stage in 1956 and 1957 or the dismal cloud of uncertainty that came when he went into exile in the Army in 1958. They'll never have the memories of waiting for each new record release, of hurrying down to the record store to buy it, and then putting it on the record player and listening to it for the first time.
Then there were the movies. Each time a new one came out, I went to a downtown theater early on a Sunday afternoon to watch it. I wouldn't come out until five hours later. After watching Elvis's movie, I'd sit through the meaningless second feature and then watch the Elvis movie a second time on my one-dollar ticket.
Nor will the new generation fans know the thrill that we old-timers felt when we realized that we were actually going to be able to see our idol in person! (I first saw him on stage in Seattle in 1970, the day after Heidi's mother-in-law saw him in Portland. What a reward it was for remaining a loyal fan through all the dismal movie years.) The second-generation fans won't even know the pain and dismay we boomers felt on that mid-August day in 1977.
As an aging fan, I am both amazed and pleased that this new generation of fans has risen up to embrace Elvis. For some reason, though, the historian in me wants to help them understand who the man really was. He was more than a voice on an iPod or a character in a movie. A real person with unique talents, he had a profound influence on American popular culture in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
• Too many books clouds truth about Elvis
Like all human beings, though, he had good and bad qualities, to be sure, but in learning to understand and accept them, we learn about ourselves as well.
Where do we send those fans who wish to learn the truth about Elvis? It would seem an easy task, considering the multitude of books that have been written, and continue to be written, about him. Then there's the Internet. Certainly everything you'd ever want to know about him can be found there. (Surely Wikipedia wouldn’t lead us astray!)
As it turns out, this proliferation of Presley material in recent years complicates the process of discerning the truth about the man and his work. Some of it is simply false. Other sources mix half-truths and bias to distort, both positively and negatively, the real legacy of Elvis Presley.
The goal with this blog, then, is to provide an accurate historical perspective on Elvis's life and career for all his fans, both young and old. This will be done by unearthing new information through research and reviewing books, movies, fan magazines, and articles.
Also, there are some myths about him that deserve debunking, and they'll get it here from time to time. All of it will be done by a long-time fan with an eye for historical honesty. | Alan Hanson (March 2008)
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