I can still see it. I can still FEEL it and smell it. I was standing over a little record player and watching the record turn as the needle moved over and landed. The scratchy sound before the music starts…and then there it was: “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog…” followed by 2 minutes and 18 seconds of pure-bliss rock ‘n’ roll. Clapping, drums, electric guitar, and that voice, that attitude.
I just know I played it over and over and over and over and it never got old. I think I was about 5. I danced. I shook my little butt. I sang. I clapped along.
And then I was at Grandma’s house for a few days. I’m not sure why they’d left me there, but one of my favorite pictures from my childhood is of me snuggled in her arms because I didn’t want to leave. One of the reasons I didn’t want to leave was that we watched TV together, and we watched Girl Happy, the 1965 Elvis “beach party” movie. Yes, the seeds were planted and it all goes crazy from there.
I know I’m not the only one who has strong feelings for Elvis. He’s become everything from a cliché to an icon of tackiness that people love to laugh at, which is a terrible shame because there is nothing about his primal talent and his beauty in those early days that deserves to be laughed at. What happened to him after that is a great American tragedy.
I have a British son-in-law who likes to give the Brits credit for everything throughout history. We often argue about the role of the Beatles. I was never a Beatles fan. Still change the channel every time they come on (sorry!). But Elvis came first. Elvis was born out of the Black American South. The Beatles wouldn’t exist without Elvis.
Anyway, from Elvis my love of music progressed rapidly. Just the other week I was showing my youngest daughters my 45s case—swirly, psychedelic hot-pink cardboard with a little brass closure and a matching gold plastic handle. “THIS,” I said to them in all seriousness “was the iPod of my childhood.” It’s filled with a veritable wonderland of the songs important to my childhood: “Puff the Magic Dragon,” by Peter Paul and Mary; “Love the One You’re With,” by Stephen Stills; “Vincent,” by Don McLean; “Blowing in the Wind”…sung by Stevie Wonder??? (I don’t think I discovered Dylan until a bit later); “School’s Out,” by Alice Cooper; “The Birds and The Bees,” by Jewel Akens; “Clair,” by Gilbert O’Sullivan.
And then there it is, the missing link of history: The 1976 recording of “Blinded By the Light,” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band…written by…Bruce Springsteen! Ahhh, it all makes sense now. It was 1976 when, at age 14, I “borrowed” the car and drove to Laneco to buy my first LP: Jackson Browne’s The Pretender. I’d never heard of him before, but the title and picture called out to me. And I haven’t looked back since.
It all goes back to Elvis. As research for writing this blog I went online to look at the video of Elvis singing “Hound Dog.” (My 6-year-old came in and was mesmerized. She asked me to play it again, but first she had to run and get her plastic “electric” guitar shaped like a hound dog! And so, the tradition continues….)