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Elvis

Author Shelley Fraser Mickle
Air Date 7/2/2002

Elvis Transcript

I was thirteen years old, living in Memphis, Tennessee, when Elvis let loose singing, “I’m All Shook Up.” Of course, it was a year before that when he sang “I’m nothing but a hound dog” that he really started shaking everything up. Something new was coming into the American culture. Elvis was changing the world as we knew it, and for kids growing up then, the effect boiled down into two parts: what we knew consciously, and what we still knew but didn’t know we knew. 

And remarkably, Elvis himself was only 21. He was the rebel with a cause which all of America seemed to be silently waiting for. When we heard him singing on the radio “I’m nothing but a hound dog,” we southerners recognized what we knew we were: people who loved to make fun of ourselves but didn’t want anybody else to. We loved the words “nothing but a hound dog,” since most of us had owned hound dogs or could count them in our past, and we knew exactly how hound dogs sounded, howling all the time. And then we saw pictures of Elvis singing that song and realized he was busting all of us out of sorts of boxes we’d been in for years. For the world then ran on labels – which class you belonged to, which religion you practiced, which race you were, and what gender you were that would dictate what was expected of you. And here was a truck driver mixing gospel music with blues and country. He was crossing all lines and erasing them as he stepped across. No wonder we were excited for reasons we could not recognize other than his swirling hips which The Ed Sullivan Show refused to show on the screens of our new TV sets. 

Elvis was paving the way for the South to free itself from its racist past, though no one consciously knew that, or at least would not speak of it. He was letting the whole country know that truck drivers could have hidden talents that could rule the world, or at least grab world culture by the tail and shake it up for good. 

Oh, yes, Elvis was the kid who was inside all of us at that time, and will be inside every kid coming of age, since the best thing kids do, and will do always, is to make us question who we are, for better or for worse. But maybe, no one said this better than my cousin Frank, who combed his hair into duck tails, wore his shirt unbuttoned, and forever wore suede shoes. 

Posted in Music, Stories