Tuesday, September 10, 2019


Those of you who have met me or spent much time with me know that I’m very much into Elvis. I have recordings of 600+ live shows, I have pretty much every circulating outtake, and I have the privately published books devoted to separate Vegas residencies, written by people who took off work for 7-10 days, stayed 4-6 in a room with other poor fans, and saw every concert while out there. The kind of people who would scout out the breakfast area near the hotel lounge, hoping to chat with Elvis’ father Vernon or one of the band or one of his entourage.

As a kid of 10 or 11, in the late 60’s, I would ask my parents to drop me off at the local movie theater on either Saturday or Sunday, the Lincoln Theater. My older sisters used to joke that you needed two sticks to go there—one to hold the chair up, and the other to chase the rats away. The Lincoln would have cheap double-and-triple bills on the weekend afternoons—different from what they showed during the week and at night on the weekends. Many times it would be random films united by some theme or some star. They would have 2 or 3 second-tier Hammer releases, often the ones WITHOUT either Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing (those must have been cheaper to rent)—I remember seeing FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH and THE VULTURE (the latter being faux-Hammer) on a double bill there. Another common offering—maybe every two or three months--was two or three Elvis movies dumped together. This was probably circa 1967-1969, so you would not get the present Elvis film, whatever that was, but ones that were at least six months old, together with ones maybe six or seven years old. The randomness of these double and triple bills was appealing. I probably saw 20+ Elvis films this way, virtually all of his 60’s output. It also affected my development. I would see Elvis with the pouty look and the curled lip and the Elvis attitude and I saw how it attracted women in the films. Not knowing any better, I began to affect the curled lip and the pout, thinking it would work for me too. I was probably 14 or 15 before it dawned on me that more was needed than that for real-world success with women.

Unfortunately, I never did get to see The King in person. He played Denver in 1976, when I was a poor college freshman, living in a furnished room and taking the bus everywhere. When tickets were announced, they sold out within a few hours except for “obstructed view” seats (and I was not sure what exactly that meant), and those were not cheap by the standards of the day….$12.50, $15, something like that. More than I’d paid for excellent seats to see David Bowie or The Kinks. I seriously considered getting an obstructed view ticket and taking the plunge, but when you are paying $60 a month for a room (and an unlimited monthly bus pass on Denver’s RTD was only $12!), and a ticket is $15, that’s a quarter of your rent, so I decided to pass. I thought to myself, “that Elvis, he’s ALWAYS on the road. He’ll be back next year or the year after, and I can catch him then.” Of course, Elvis died about a year later and never returned to Denver, so I’ve tried to avoid the “I’ll catch him later” excuse ever since.

Although the sullen Elvis pout did not help my social life in high school, I did during my single adult days (note: I’ve been happily married for decades now) meet a number of ladies because of a mutual interest in Elvis. While The King has a large male following, it’s no secret that there are millions of ladies still devoted to him today. If you are seeing or involved with such a lady, you simply have to accept that you will always be second in her heart to Elvis. However, since you are there physically and he is not, you do have that advantage, the old “love the one you’re with” logic. Remember the old Doug Sahm/Texas Tornados classic, “Who Were You Thinking Of (When We Were Making Love)”—who cares if she’s actually thinking of the King. In fact, that could actually work to your advantage, but since I try to keep my writings within the PG-13 rating area (and because I don’t want to be a bad influence on my grandchildren), I will leave that to your imagination—and I know that BTC readers have an active imagination in that area.

I remember one particular lady, Janet, I met at a gas station during my years in Oklahoma. We were both looking at the Elvis budget cassettes on a spinning wire rack while in line to pay for our RC Colas or Moon Pies or whatever. I forget who made the first comment, but one of us was impressed that the other knew about the film DOUBLE TROUBLE (a budget cassette of the soundtrack was on sale there), and we continued talking about Elvis for fifteen minutes outside after we’d both made our purchases. We agreed to meet for coffee the next afternoon at the Waffle House on the east-west state highway out of town, where we talked further.

She was probably in her forties and had reddish-chestnut blonde curly hair, freckles, and an anxious-to-please upbeat attitude and reminded me of the actresses Kathleen Freeman (who was in many Jerry Lewis movies) and Kathy Bates, when they were 40-42. She’d gotten married out of high school to someone from her then-church, Todd, who eventually got into a management position at one of the national furniture warehouse companies. He oversaw ordering and stocking and what was placed on the floor for sale, supervising a dozen or so employees. He was effective and efficient with that job, was a stern taskmaster, and worked there his entire career out of college. He also started drinking the minute he got off work each evening, and for the entire weekend. Usually, he’d go to an out-of-the-way sports bar where they knew him, he could stay out of the way and hang out with friends, and he’d watch whatever games were on. He stayed there until it closed and knew back roads home so he would not get caught drunk driving. Sometimes he would stay home at night, but it would be all beer drinking (with the occasional Jack-and-Coke) and sports watching. They never had children. Todd never drank on the job and never showed up late for work. Also, if company was over or an aunt was in town for a few days, he would not take a drink at all and would play the attentive husband and host. He could turn it on and off like a faucet. He was always polite and civil with his wife—he was not a mean drunk. He would probably have been the first person to tell you that he loved his wife, but the problem was that if you’d ever seen him drink (and I did on a few occasions when he was home when I visited), he was a man on a mission. He was out to get loaded as fast as possible and as heavily as possible, and don’t you dare get in his way. He would inhale a six-pack of Old Milwaukee in ten minutes or less. Clearly, he was drowning something inside with this drinking, but she never knew what it was. He was quite generous with money to her, but in a medium-sized town, it was all about preserving appearances, even when everyone knew that the appearance was false. Thus, they stayed together as a couple, attended the occasional work-related event of his together (her work-related events she attended solo), and she filled her time with other things.

Janet worked in home health care, when that field was starting to expand in the early 1980’s, and supervised six home health-care nurses, handled the billing and the insurance issues, etc. She worked from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. When she came home from work, she loved to eat a pint of ice cream, mint chocolate chip and vanilla bean being her favorites, and she’d put on an Elvis cassette on her boom-box in the kitchen (she did not have a record player—it was all cassettes). I’d say she had 30 or 40 cassettes, especially the budget-label ones on Camden, which had an odd mix of movie songs from films that did not have soundtrack LP’s (some actually getting their first release anyplace on these budget albums), B-sides of singles, and oddball combinations of things going back to the Sun era. These albums certainly showed off Elvis’ versatility as an artist, and to isolated fans in the hinterlands like Janet and me, they were even more interesting and satisfying than the better-known, mainstream albums.

After our meeting at the Waffle House, we agreed to get together from time to time to listen to Elvis, and we would meet at her house in the evening, while she was home and her husband was out drinking. While The King entertained us, we would chat and sometimes make dinner. She was heavily into dill, and she put it in virtually everything, except perhaps oatmeal and ice cream. When I held her, her body smelled of dill, and her mouth tasted of dill.

I was soon spending two or three evenings a week at her house, always with Elvis playing, so some of these albums, I surely heard 20 or 30 times, and I still have them memorized today. I can’t say that I felt exactly comfortable, being at this lady’s house who was married though acting as though I was at the home of someone I was dating, but true to form, her husband NEVER came home before midnight, and she told me that even if he did, he would not mind. She told me that he wanted her to be happy and that he knew that he was not providing her with what she needed emotionally. I actually wound up meeting the man 3 or 4 times, and he was pleasant enough to me, treating me as if I were an old friend of hers or some close work colleague. He HAD to know what was going on, and indeed, she told me on a few occasions that “he’s OK with things,” but never clarified what that meant.

This might have gone on for a year or so, but one day when I entered the living room of their modest home, I saw something new—a gun cabinet, with a rifle, a shotgun, and down at its bottom, a revolver. I asked what that was about, and Janet told me that Todd was “getting into guns.” The next month (presumably after payday) I noticed another new and attractive rifle and shotgun (I did not go close enough to check if he’d gotten another pistol too) in the case, and I felt a cold chill up and down my spine. I’d seen enough B-movies and read enough crime paperbacks to see myself becoming a character in one of those, the character blown away by an angry husband tired of being made a fool of, and in Oklahoma, he’d probably have gotten off with a claim of self-defense for protecting his family or his manhood or whatever.

So to my regret, I took up with someone else and never went back again to her home. I’d told her that I was uncomfortable with the guns being there and told her what I feared, but she said, “it’s just a hobby with him—he’s fine with us being friends as long as we remain discreet. You should not worry.” I felt guilty about cutting her off, but I was still in my 20’s and felt that I had a long life ahead of me, one that I did not want to lose in some tawdry love-triangle killing.

I myself still own a number of Elvis cassettes today, and I play them often. Last night as I was listening to the PARADISE HAWAIIAN STYLE soundtrack on cassette, I thought of Janet, the old-fashioned red and sparkly-white diner-style chairs in her kitchen, the wok in which we would do stir-fry as The King crooned on about “Hawaii….USA.” As the tape played, I could taste the dill scent on her loose and frilly cream-colored blouse and see her turquoise and silver earrings swaying with the beat, as if it were yesterday.

Once maybe five years ago, as I listened to the budget cassette ELVIS SINGS FOR CHILDREN AND GROWNUPS TOO, I wondered whatever happened to Janet, so I did an online search for her (as the album played with songs such as “Cotton Candy Land” and “Five Sleepyheads”), both under her married name and her maiden name (in case she’d gotten divorced). She was nowhere to be found, no Facebook page, no reference to her with the company she worked for, etc. No reference to her husband either online.

I have no evidence to support this, but my guess is that her husband drank himself to death, and then she re-married and took her new husband’s last name, and all of this happened in the pre-internet age, so there is no online record of any of it. But I’ll never really know…

I still have and enjoy my Elvis cassette tapes, and I hope that she still has and enjoys hers. Whenever I hear that jaunty theme from the film DOUBLE TROUBLE, I get a little tinge of excitement inside me and remember that first meeting at the gas station. Life brings us together temporarily with people in strange ways, breaks us apart and turns us against each other in stranger ways, and then we stagger on to the next encounter, the next month, the next year. As The King himself once recited, on “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” one day THEY’LL BRING THE CURTAIN DOWN, so best to enjoy what there is to enjoy about today because you’ll never get a chance to do a re-take of it…and you never know when the show will close down for good…

1 comment:

diskojoe said...

Great article Bill. A close friend of mine is also a big Elvis fan & I went whim to Graceland twice in the late 1990s, once during a very cold January & a very hot August. I always get him the FTD CD's as birthday/Christmas gifts, a lot of them probably first came out as bootlegs.