One of our holiday traditions for the last several years has been attending a holiday party hosted by the parents of one of my daughter’s classmates. They are generous and gracious hosts and I’ve never met anyone who enjoys entertaining others more than they do. We always have a lot of fun and it helps set the tone for the season.
At their typical party, you’ll find, in addition to a large number of great people, diversions ranging from magicians and musicians to palm readers and handwriting analysts to a Marilyn Monroe and an Elvis Presley impersonator.
For several years, people have carried on about how great the Elvis impersonator was. He looked the part and he certainly can sing the part, but I’m a little reserved when it comes to talking to a guy playing Elvis. However, people told me that this guy was amazing because of how well he knew his facts and how he never ever broke character.
Last Saturday night, I was at this year’s party, sitting and talking with a group of people around a table. The chair next to me was open after someone left and Elvis came and sat down in the chair. Despite what you might think later, Elvis and I were the ones at the table not drinking.
I resisted my natural “flight” impulse and decided to hang in there.
People proceeded to hit Elvis with all kinds of questions and I’ll be darned if he didn’t answer them all completely in character. It’s an odd thing sitting with someone who is telling you a detailed, fascinating, first-person account of Elvis’s meeting with Richard Nixon at the White House and finding the story absolutely compelling.
He also told a great story of the only meetings between the Beatles and Elvis. Since it was getting late, people gradually left to go home. Eventually, there were three guys at the table – Elvis, another school parent and me.
I recently finished reading a great collection of articles on Johnny Cash. To my surprise, I heard myself asking Elvis about his relationship with Johnny Cash. His answers to my questions were so compelling that I decided to move into the state Coleridge called “the willing suspension of disbelief.”
I decided to ask the questions that I was most interested in about Elvis, as if I actually had the chance to talk with Elvis.
In short, I asked about the music.
So, for what was probably close to an hour, I had a wide-ranging discussion with Elvis about the music. We talked about the band members, the history of the bands he used, guitars he and Scottie Moore and James Burton used, the Southern tradition of “rendering” songs (I’m fascinated that Elvis never really wrote any of the songs he performed), the role of the Mississippi region as both the source of the delta blues and country/rock and roll, what I refer to as country acoustic gospel music, the role of the Stax sound in Elvis’s music, Motown, Graham Parsons, the 1968 comeback show, the Million Dollar Quartet, Roy Orbison, the Carter family and lots of talk about Johnny Cash. The term “wide-ranging” is an appropriate descriptor.
Although I haven’t done this for a few years, I used to try every year to “learn” an important musician (e.g., my Duke Ellington year) by listening to a lot of the music and doing a lot of reading. I had already decided that 2005 was going to be my Johnny Cash year, although after my conversation with Elvis, I might refer to it as my John Cash year – it seems more respectful. I admire Elvis’s way of respecting people.
I must admit that when Elvis was urging me to make 2005 my John Cash year and suggesting the albums I should get, I got the feeling that, although this might seem like a bizarre event to some, it was, in its way, quite magical. It was like getting a personal version of a great documentary in the form of stories from someone who actually “saw” what happened. I’ve wished from time to time that I could “master” a single subject to the kind of depth this Elvis had, but people tell me that my gift is the opposite one – the ability to understand and explain many things and to see the connections between seemingly dissimilar things, but with a push and a willingness to move on and explore new things on a regular basis. How many other lawyers do you know who figured out ways to work in a discussion of Twyla Tharp into presentations on several different legal technology topics last year? That night, however, I was getting the point of view of a master of a subject.
Eventually, someone came up to ask the most commonly asked question that I heard: what does Elvis think of his daughter marrying Michael Jackson? The answer, if you care, is that Elvis realizes that you can’t micromanage your children’s lives.
Anyway, it came to be time to leave and Elvis thanked me for giving him to chance to have that kind of conversation. I agreed that it had been great, really great. He encouraged me to get those last John Cash albums, but to get some of the early stuff too. We shook hands and I realized that, even though Elvis never broke character during the whole time, he almost broke character at that point. I actually broke my own character of being the reserved guy who thought he was too cool to play along. There was a point where I consciously chose to stop saying “Did Elvis . . .” and instead asked, “Did you . . .,” which I did out of respect for the quality of the performance and how impressed I was with the thoroughness of his knowledge and the obvious respect he has for Elvis.
I don’t know that I have to make a point with this story. It makes its own points. Once again I learned to move past some of my preconceptions and be a little more open to new experiences. Perhaps more important, whether someone is impersonating Elvis or blogging or whatever, you can find true art and artists in unexpected places if you are willing to see things in new ways and respect the integrity, work and vision people put into any number of non-traditional forms. In many cases, it can be an unappreciated and lonely art – Elvis walked off into the cold night by himself – but, given a chance, it can be as vital and touching as anything you’ll ever find. If you’ve read all the way to this point, I know that you agree. Let it rock.