Celebrate Elvis this week…and beyond
I was born the year Elvis died. I knew him through my mom and the movie marathons that ran on TV every year around his birth and death.
Then I moved to Memphis.
You don’t have to love Elvis to hang out in my hometown. But it’s hard not to at least appreciate what he did for music, for culture, for people the world over – even 35 years after his death.
My Elvis epiphany happened at Sun Studio. I’ll never forget standing in that shoebox of a room – sagging ceiling above; beat-up floor below – when the tour guide cued “That’s All Right.” I couldn’t keep my shoulders/hips/feet from ticking. I wasn’t the only one. And I’m certain I wasn’t the only one trying to wrap my head around how a space so small once held a star so big.
It’s a thought artfully provoked by Alfred Wertheimer, who was hired by RCA Victor to photograph an Elvis on the edge of stardom. The result is a collection of images as candid and close-up as it gets – as Wertheimer tells it, Elvis allowed him to go wherever he wanted, shoot whatever he wanted and zoom in as close as he wanted. That last bit works literally and figuratively: Wertheimer captured iconic images like “The Kiss” (which makes you a fly-on-the-stairwell-wall during Elvis’ tongue-tryst with Barbara Gray), but also moments of solitude – Elvis listening to records on a train; Elvis walking home from the train – the kind of all-alone moments you wonder if Presley ever reclaimed following those days in 1956. See Elvis at 21: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer at the Pink Palace through Oct. 14.
There’s a smaller collection of Wertheimer’s images, plus a few from local photogs Ernest Withers and Don Newman, at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. See Elvis is in the Building through Oct. 31. My favorites are Withers’ 1957 shot of Elvis with B.B. King and Robert Dye’s 1955 pic of “Elvis at The Shell” (the Shell, located in the Brooks Museum’s backyard, is said to be the site of the first rock-and-roll show – featuring Elvis, of course).
Bonus: Get to the Brooks by Sept. 16 to view the winning entries of If I Can Dream… an international art contest sponsored by the Brooks and Elvis Presley Enterprises. The entries form a kaleidoscope of cross-stitched, sculpted and Photoshopped works by professionals, amateurs and adolescent artists from New Jersey to New Zealand. There’s no shortage of Elvis’ likeness here, but the master thread of the exhibit is the power of dreams and self-expression so woven into his likeness.
Now that you’ve got the visual, get the audio. You’ve got some ear candy coming if you’re in town this Elvis Week, when acts from the Sweet Inspirations (Elvis’ erstwhile backers) to Star & Micey (modern Memphis music-makers) are scheduled to perform. Outside of Elvis week, hit B.B. King’s Blues Club on Beale to catch Memphis Jones’ twice-weekly show. Memphis isn’t an Elvis Tribute Artist, but his three-man act covers everything that’s good about Memphis music (which is everything, naturally) – from Elvis to the Stax soul standards to Alex Chilton. The music is infectious, as is Memphis’ passion for it and its stories, which ooze out of him between songs. It’s my family’s favorite new way to do dinner – the food is good, there’s room to dance and it’s as much fun for my mom as it is for my four-year-old. Catch Memphis Jones at B.B. King’s Mondays and Wednesdays from 5:30-8 p.m. (and during Elvis Week here – he’s the official host of ElvisWeek.com).
The 35th Annual Elvis Week kicked off Aug. 10 and officially runs through Aug. 18. View the full schedule here. How are you celebrating?