Gulp. I jumped the gun. In my excitement over the King’s upcoming remembrance, I published this on January 7 when he was, in fact, born on January 8, 1935. So I’m editing the beginning of this post to reflect that accuracy, and apologize for my inaccuracy, or eagerness, whichever one makes you more likely to forgive me. The rest remains the same. Rock on, Elvis.

Tomorrow would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday. And this is my tribute, admittedly a very tiny one, to someone who literally touched my life across space and time. Is that a strange thing to say for a gal from India who landed in DC via San Francisco?

Back in The Day

I grew up in a home attuned to music. My maternal grandmother was an operatic soprano, and my mother has a gorgeous alto. She is also the one who turned me onto Elvis.

Apparently my mother (who was quite a hottie in her day) could have put any of her American counterparts to shame as an Elvis fan. She was a member of his fan club in India (I don’t know how they did it back in the day, but somehow they managed to establish a fan club for him), and I think she still has a couple of her old Elvis “annual” magazines. I remember leafing through those as a kid and being transported to the world of “Blue Hawaii” and “Roustabout” through the black-and-white photographs I’d see.

When we got a VCR, musicals were some of our favorites to watch – and Elvis rated high on our list. I know, most of them are very cheesy, but who could resist those eyes, that hair, those songs? Indian television was pretty boring when I was a kid, so trips to the video rental place were eagerly awaited.

And beware the store owner if the tape was defective in any way; an Elvis fan thwarted is an Elvis fan to be wary of.

Fast forward several (never mind how many) years, and here I am, in the land that gave the world the King of Rock’n’Roll. Not only do I live here, I even got to drive through and visit Elvis’ “homeland” last year. It was our 10th wedding anniversary “country music/Elvis homage road trip” through Tennessee (my husband’s a fan too, but I like to think he became a bigger fan since we got married – don’t let him tell you otherwise).

Visiting Graceland (carefully planned so that the tour actually happened on our anniversary) was surreal – in a really good way. We’d been to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame the previous year, so seen a lot of the Elvis-a-bilia there, but it’s a completely different experience to walk his line. And I got goosebumps at Sun Studios, though that didn’t prevent me from hamming it up (I used to be an actress, after all).

And if you’re into music but haven’t read Peter Guralnick’s masterful books on the life and death of the King, you should; they’re not just beautifully written, they’re a fascinating look at not just Elvis, but of the world he lived in and the music that inspired him; music that is intrinsically American.

What Kind of Fan?

We’re not the crazy, “I think Elvis is still alive” kind of fans. I’ll admit that I currently have an Elvis screen saver, and revel in my Christmas gift of an Elvis bathrobe. And an Elvis house key. But that’s not crazy, just cute, right? I mean, I don’t expect to wake up at 5 am and find him sitting in my kitchen, wanting me to whip up a peanut butter and banana sandwich for him.

That would be spooky.

The Big Question: Why?

I could say: why not? I love the music – it makes me happy. His voice and mastery of his craft – impeccable. Every time I watch a concert, I’m agape at how he could – even when he was on the way down – mesmerize audiences with his sheer force of personality.

More than that, though, he touched lives in a way he certainly didn’t know he’d do. He touched the lives of people he never knew – like my mother – in countries he probably never even dreamed of visiting. He touched – and continues to touch – generations.

Even for a performer, whose job it is to communicate using their medium, he was a master communicator; one shake of the head, one look of the eye, one curl of the lip and you knew what was going on inside his head.

Is it just the music? That’s a large part of it, obviously. And performers have a “shortcut” to their audiences. But I think there’s something extraordinarily powerful about Elvis’ rags-to-riches story, his well-documented adoration of his mother and, at the end of it, the sheer simplicity and humanity of him.

As a communicator, Elvis has absolutely nothing to do with how I earn a living. But my unabashed, possibly uncool, adoration has led to some incredible connections with others in my field, which have benefited me personally and professionally.

Just as an example, a relationship with a client – whom I’ve known for years, and which has always been good – went to a whole other level when I found out he actually saw Elvis perform live. Now we connect not just as client and consultant, but as people with a common interest too.

So when I say he’s “always on my mind,” it’s not just me being dippy about a music icon; he really does continue to touch my life and enrich it.

We’re All People

Because at the end of the day, we’re all people. And when an Elvis comes along, we’re reminded of just how great, yet how fallible, people can be – we can be. But somehow, he kept going. And that keeps us going.

Happy birthday, King.

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke