WILKES-BARRE — The first Elvis Presley song I listened to was “Heartbreak Hotel.” My friend’s sister had purchased it, and we listened to it on a record player in their house.
“Well, since my baby left me/
I found a new place to dwell/
It’s down at the end of Lonely Street/
At Heartbreak Hotel.”
It had this driving beat to it and the guitar was loud, but it was the voice that made the record.
We were just kids. We had no idea what it meant to be heartbroken. I doubt that we had ever experienced any feelings of loneliness.
But we were on the cusp of adolescence, soon to be teenagers and about to find ourselves in a new world where our voices deepened, hair grew from our armpits and girls seemed to look different in some yet-to-be-explored way.
As I look back on those days, I think of Elvis before he became so famous — before he burst onto the scene with his hips a flailing, his lip curled up, his hair slicked back into a DA and girls fainting at his feet.
Before all that, Elvis was just a kid, like me and my pals. He probably liked to play a little baseball, run through a creek in the woods, and then he would run home for his mother’s home cookin’.
And now here he was, soaring to the top of the charts with every song, appearing on television shows and sending the music world into a renaissance.
We didn’t know Elvis Presley, but we knew we liked him. We knew his music made us move. We knew all the girls loved him. We boys knew if we were going to have any chance at being popular with girls, we had to be as much like Elvis as we possibly could.
Elvis changed the world. He moved the bar on morality. He challenged the rules on respecting authority. He was responsible for more boys dancing with girls. When the dust settled, Elvis made life more fun for everyone. It’s really that simple.
So when I spoke to Addie Bearde, of Kingston, who is a lifelong Elvis fan, I was taken aback when she said she felt that Elvis died a lonely man.
Really? The King lonely? The man who had everything — was loved by everyone and who everybody knew — was lonely?
Could this really be true?
Addie Bearde said she never saw Elvis in person, but she has 602 of his LPs — long playing records of the vinyl sort. She has another 200 Elvis 45’s and a bunch of CDs. The walls of her home are covered with photos of Elvis and she has books, magazines, newspaper clippings — all about Elvis.
“It’s an Elvis museum,” she told me.
Addie has been to Graceland a few times. She said it’s really nice down there. Addie misses Elvis, who died 40 years ago today. He would be 82 had he lived.
Addie said she loves Elvis more for what he did for people — helping many strangers he had never met — than she does his music. That said, Addie only listens to Elvis in her car. She loves those slow, Elvis love songs and she enjoys his religious hymns.
Addie still dresses up like Elvis every Halloween — not as a joke, rather as a tribute to the iconic performer.
Addie remembers that Elvis stage presence — how he would just command 100 percent attention from everyone in the audience.
Addie said if Elvis were around today, he probably wouldn’t be swiveling his hips. She said she truly believes he would be helping people wherever he could.
And, Addie said, Elvis would be enjoying his family.
Just like Elvis the kid did before he even knew he was Elvis the icon.
There are so many great Elvis songs — “Jailhouse Rock,” “Hound Dog,” “Love Me Tender,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “Blue Christmas,” “In the Ghetto” and on and on.
And then there was “All Shook Up”:
“A well’a bless my soul/
What’s’a wrong with me?
I’m itching like a man on a fuzzy tree/
My friends say I’m actin’ wild as a bug/
I’m in love — huh/
I’m all shook up/
Mm-mm-mm, oh, oh, yeah, yeah.”
And then he describes what all young boys felt during their first close encounter with a girl:
“My hands are shaky and my knees are weak/
I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet/
Who do you thank when you have such luck?
I’m in love/
I’m all shook up.”
And then …
“She touched my hand what a chill I got/
Her lips are like a volcano that’s hot/
I’m proud to say she’s my buttercup/
I’m in love/
I’m all shook up.”
Those words, those Elvis songs — this is how young boys journeyed from little boyhood to young manhood.
And Elvis served his country. He made us proud and The King showed us there were far more important things than rock ‘n’ roll.
I hope Elvis wasn’t lonely at the end, and I pray he has found eternal rest.