Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Are you lonesome tonight?

Elvis died 29 years ago today at his home in Memphis. This is one of those moments where I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing. I was a teenager, not an Elvis fan. His music was for the previous generation, not mine, but I was a suburban Memphis girl, and the shadow of Elvis was everywhere in my hometown.

I was at home alone. My mother had gone to Jackson, TN on one of her weekly trips to see her father. My dad was at work, and the news came over the TV that Elvis was dead. I tried to call my dad and see if he had heard. It was impossible for the rest of the evening to complete a phone call. The overloaded telephone circuits in the city produced a constant busy signal before you could even get a dial tone.

I headed up to the Big Boy restaurant where I was a waitress to pick up my paycheck. When I got there, the manager had pulled a television set into the dining room, and all the diners and staff were gathered around it. I remember the female manager I disliked crying with complete abandon, tears and mascara streaming down her normally unemotional face. She wasn't the only one sobbing.

I've come to appreciate Elvis' music, showmanship and the tragedy of his life over the years. To me, he is the ultimate example of the American Dream turned sour and ugly by corruption and excess. The sweetness, tenderness, sexiness and generosity he showed in his life all metamorphosed into a caricature at the end. It's definitely a warning tale to all who listen.

Tonight, a candlelight vigil will be held at Graceland. Thousands of people from around the world will march outside the graffiti covered walls of his large southern home. There will be music, tears and memories. For many, this is a pilgrimage, comparable to Canterbury and even to Hajj, something that simply must be done to show honor and have some form of completion in their lives. I still don't get that, but I acknowledge the power it holds for these people. For others, it's just an odd sort of party.

What gets to me today is how many deaths become milestones in our lives. My earliest, traceable to a definite time memory is the death of President Kennedy. I remember where I was when Martin Luther King was killed. I remember my family watching TV together when Robert Kennedy was killed. I remember where I was and who I was with when John Lennon was killed. I know what I was doing when Princess Diana died. I wonder how many more deaths of cultural icons will put a freeze frame on moments in my life. What power do these people and does fame hold that we allow it to define our own relatively anonymous lives?

I've come to believe that pop culture has become the mythology of our times. We look not for guidance, wisdom, and inspiration to the heroes and gods of myths and fables, but to the stars of tabloids and glossies. It seems cheaper and coarser, but some of the greatest classics of literature were written for mass consumption of the general public, not for the educated, cultured, monied elite. Age has refined what was deemed vulgar in its original days. If humankind makes it another thousand years, will scholars be poring over fragments of People and the National Enquirer? How will they see us if this is our fate?

Is this an unconscious reason why so many of us blog? We're leaving a record, all of us, from the A-list bloggers to look what cool snippets I've found on the net bloggers to the original writers of varying degrees of talent bloggers to the photobloggers to the mommy bloggers. All of us are saying that there is more to life than the shadows cast by the rich and famous. Our lives, thoughts and dreams matter too. We are not shadows. We are not myths, and we will define our own lives.


Blogger Lisa :-] said...

The first comment that came to mind was that it is not necessarily the icons that are "freeze framing" our lives, but the media that report their comings and goings. Our twenty-first century lives are so intricately interwoven with the media that we hardly know where the dividing line is between our own lives and the lives of the pop culture icons. I don't think this is something people had to deal with a hundred years ago. I envy them...

Secondly...I hesitiate to think of my blog as an historical record, because of its ethereal nature. I don't believe it would exist for more than a wink if I abandoned it. Whereas writing on paper can be left behind for the generations that follow...

August 16, 2006 10:22 AM  
Blogger Theresa Williams said...

Wow, Cynthia. I think you've really hit the nail on the head about so many things. I agree that Pop Culture has become the new mythology. You can see the whole pattern there. We were the first TV Generation, so that's what speaks to us. With our children, maybe it will be computer games and the Internet. I also agree with you about the unconscious reason many of us blog. It is an attempt at authenticity, as if to say *something* about the human spirit is still alive, even though you won't find that *something* in the tabloids. I can so easily see this as being expanded into a longer essay, a back and forth exploration of society and your personal life and where each intersect.

August 16, 2006 9:05 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

I've never tried to analyze why I blog, and now I don't have to. You've figured it out for me.

August 18, 2006 11:11 AM  

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