Shadows of Elvis
Tupelo: The land where Elvis was born and where his gyrating hips caused quite a stir.
By TTM on 06 July 2006 in Travel Articles
If you think Elvis remains the King you are not alone. Earlier this year the prime minster Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, a self-confessed Elvis maniac, who shares the same birthdate of January 8th, enjoyed a spiritual communion with the rock and roll star at his home at Graceland. He was joined by President Bush and both of them paid homage to the star during a private tour of Graceland led by Precilla Preseley.
Perhaps Koizumi would have enjoyed a more poignant time had he visited Tupelo, the place Elvis was born. This small city so rocking chair relaxed may well seem asleep. Even the slow Southern drawl of the locals is soporific. But in 1956 the city was reawakened to the sounds of a screaming teenage army. Down Main Street came the procession. Dancing and singing all the way to Fairpark where a heartfelt homecoming concert was going to be staged. Youngsters for miles around were turning up to see and hear the city’s most famous son. Many turned up without their parent’s permission. Elvis had returned to his home town a star and they were not going to miss a moment! His gyrating hips had sent shock waves pulsing through the nation and put so many frowned burrows on disapproving faces that to avoid censorship, television stations covering his performances would only show images above the waistline.
In 1956 most of the audience were teenage girls pressing towards the stage, arms outstretched desperate to touch a hand or even a hem. Fifty years on those young girls have grown and become mothers, even grandmothers. Here they had a chance to turn the clock back, returning to an age when they were impetuous, excitable young things with no cares beyond the moment. Now they were back – a sea of grey-haired ladies pushing up against a metal crush barrier, singing and waving as if their very lives depended on it while renditions of old favourites blared out. The audience sang along loving every moment. Almost without warning it was all over. The performers exited the stage; the spots dimmed and went black. Lights from the Ferris wheel and the fairground stalls glowed bright against the dark blue night sky. The crowds gathered up their possessions, most reflecting on this one evening. Some who were old enough chatted away comparing two near identical events separated by the years. No tears of joy or sadness. Just warm summertime memories.
The Thirties was a time of segregation and poverty in many southern regions. Tupelo was no exception. The local population was predominately black and employed to work in the cotton fields. Nowadays they would be entitled to all sorts of grants but this was a very different time. In America it was called segregation. In South Africa it was called apartheid. Abuse and attacks on blacks was almost as commonplace as littering is now. Age and gender of the victims was irrelevant. It was skin colour. With many law officers and members of the judiciary either being actively or indirectly involved, most racial crimes went unsolved or unpunished. Ignoring the prejudices of others Elvis grew up making friends oblivious to their colour or financial status. Elvis unconsciously absorbed a lot of their music influences including gospel and the blues all of which had a lasting influence.
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