'amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me...'
As a small boy, I would visit Pop on his farm in country Victoria. He had a modest blue-stone cottage, flanked by untended paddocks and stringy-bark eucalypts. The old sheep, dogs and chooks roamed about free. And the air smelt fresh. Pop was my great-grandfather, well into his ninetieth year. He possessed the mysterious Australian spirit and peculiar sense of humor, you read about in World War 1 books. He had lively brown eyes dug into a sun baked face, with a posture brought low by years of thankless labour. He would often take my hand in an iron grip and shake it forcefully, as if to assure me of his immortality. We always went through the back door. And would sit in his little living room with the fire smouldering. Around the room there were many black and white photographs of distant faces. Some wore strange hats, others in fancy dress. They all seemed to be dead and gone. Not that I knew about death. When we'd leave, I'd catch a glimpse of an upright piano in a dusty back-room. One day, I mustered up the courage to have a peek in there. There was the piano, with various items covered in blankets, piled up around. Above the piano, hung two pictures. One was a bearded man with a burning heart. I knew that to be Jesus. The other was a young man with slick black hair. I pointed to Jesus and said, 'I know that's God, but whose the other one?' Pop turned to me with a sly grin and said, 'They're both God, son. And his name is Elvis Presley.'
Like most kids, I didn't like school. I'd try to skip it at any cost. And when Elvis had the midday movie slot, my efforts doubled. I'd appeal to my Mother's better nature and fake I was sick. I'd sprint on the spot beside my bed, so when she'd come in, my temperature was running hot. She clued in soon enough, but on this particular day, my con was successful. I waited impatiently for Elvis to fill up the screen. Today they were showing a movie called - Jailhouse Rock. As soon those grainy, black and white titles started to roll, I was transfixed. I'd never seen someone move, speak or act the way he did. Every gesture, every word, seemed to have a magnetic force behind it. But, really it was when, Elvis donned the prison uniform, swung those famous hips and sang - 'The warden threw a party in the county jail...' that really got me going. It was like someone plugged my little brain into a big electrical charge and pressed 'on'. At that moment, a light went on in my head that never turned off, and my little world changed forever.
From that moment, I was obsessed with Elvis and tried to watch all his movies and listen to all his songs. Some movies were better than others, but to a little kid they were amazing. My other classmates got into Batman and Spider-man (I liked them too), but Elvis for me was the ultimate superhero. He looked cooler, beat up the bad guys, got the hottest chicks, drove the fastest cars and had the best songs. In my mind, Pop was right, Elvis was the greatest person to walk the earth since Jesus Christ.
I remember watching a documentary about Elvis' last days. There were clips of him on stage, crooning to adoring fans, with a desperate look on his face. I wondered how the greatest singer ever could be sad, lonely or lost. They showed the funeral procession from Graceland through Memphis. I imagined myself as one of the thousands of fans trying to catch a glimpse of their fallen hero. I saw myself there, crying, wondering why God would take one of his most gifted sons.
I eventually discovered more music and idolized other musicians. But, Elvis was/is always there. To this day, he is still one of the main reasons why I continue to write and perform music. I wouldn't be who I am without him. In my darkest hours, I have often sought him out, to lift and console me. I think, in some way, he is a mainline to when I was a small boy, in my Pop's blue-stone cottage, looking up at a young man with slicked black hair with my whole life ahead of me. How those days pass so quickly. Anyway, long live The King - Elvis Presley.