ELVIS IS ALIVE!
That headline sold a lot of copies of my all-time favorite supermarket tabloid Weekly World News back in the day—no matter how many times they ran it on the cover. I should know. I bought just about all of them.
And that’s saying something, because Weekly World News turned to “Elvis Is Alive” almost as often as Men’s Health magazine recycled “Six-Pack Abs.”
What I loved most about the paper was that it took Ralph Waldo Emerson’s philosophy that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” to an illogical extreme, embracing fully and with absolute conviction a foolish inconsistency. So over the years, Elvis would be alive, and then dead, then alive, and then dead again … and in 2005, the tabloid took it to a whole new level, screaming: ELVIS IS ALIVE—AND RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT!
Only Kenny on South Park died and came back more often than the King. “Oh my God, they killed Elvis!”
When Weekly World News ceased publication in 2007, the headlines disappeared, and the little fun that once could be derived from trips to the grocery store disappeared with it.
But just as Weekly World News found some semblance of an afterlife online, Elvis sightings continued unabated. In fact, I contributed to them with an article I wrote for Runner’s World magazine, of all publications, on the annual Elvis 5K race held at Graceland in conjunction with Elvis Week back in 1996.
What’s Bubba Ho-Tep Got to Do With It?
Which brings me, on this solemn night when thousands will descend on Graceland for the Candlelight Vigil commemorating the King’s death 42 years ago, to a Song I Love by Texas singer Phil Pritchett and the Full Band.
In fact, there is nothing I don’t love about God Save the King, from the pounding-drums-and-wailing-harmonica opening to the gratuitously funny trolling of the Volunteer State in the chorus. And I loved it from the very first moment I heard it played on Boot Liquor Radio not long after it was released on Pritchett’s outstanding Tougher Than the Rest album in 2002.
That first listen compelled me to immediately search out Phil Pritchett and order the CD online. Ever since, when Elvis’ birthday and death week roll around in January and August each year, God Save the King has become what Blue Christmas is to Christmas for me. A holiday tradition.
Forget the sparkling jumpsuits and capes of the Vegas years. The song posits that Elvis faked his own death so he could play smoky honky tonks, “wearing a Stubb’s BBQ T-shirt and a faded pair of jeans.” Oh, and he’s an opening act. Even though he’s easily recognizable as Elvis Presley.
Yes, it’s as believable as Bubba Ho-Tep. And just as great.
If you haven’t seen the brilliant horror-comedy-drama, check it out now. It stars Bruce Campbell as Elvis and Ossie Davis as President John F. Kennedy, who just happen to reside in an East Texas nursing home. The duo join forces to thwart an evil Egyptian mummy who’s sucking the souls out of their fellow residents there. It’s worth noting that Bubba Ho-Tep also came out in 2002, so there was clearly some kind of cosmic creative connection linking Elvis and the Longhorn State that year.
Back to God Save the King. One of the reasons it strikes a chord with me is because, as silly as the premise may be, it creates an alternative Elvis—one who rebels against the increasingly ridiculous movies and embarrassing songs he was contractually obligated to pump out by his carny huckster manager Colonel Tom Parker and chose instead to change his identity and sing roots music in dive bars.
In this alternate universe, the singer who now calls himself Jackson tells Pritchett:
The smell of a bar at midnight, man, this is what it’s all about
I tried to get back here for years, but the Colonel sold me out
If only …
And even though I love Memphis and Nashville, and have had more fun than should be legal in the state of Tennessee, I can’t help myself—I laugh every time Pritchett sings the chorus:
God save the King
He said it’s not as easy as it looks, to live as royalty
God save the King
He said I never died, I was just tired of livin’ in Tennessee
So spend three glorious minutes in the alternate universe where Elvis Aaron Presley didn’t die slumped in his bathroom at Graceland on Aug. 16, 1977—“with a whole lotta trouble running through his veins,” as Bruce Springsteen sang in Johnny Bye Bye—but instead turned his back on fame and fortune and the Colonel and Doctor Nick and the drugs and the sycophants and went back to playing the music that stirred his soul in the first place.
Let Phil Pritchett take you there with God Save the King.
It’s proof positive that there’s still good rockin’ tonight …
Phil Pritchett performs God Save the King live at Bostocks Billiards & Bar in Stephenville, Texas in 2012.
Note: A Song I Love will be an occasional feature on From a Pawned Smith Corona.