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Memphis Revisited - 25 Years After
Célia Carvalho, August 2002

 Cartaz que enfeitou Memphis durante a Semana de Elvis

For someone who has been lucky enough to be in Tupelo, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee in 1997, for the 20th Anniversary (whose memories are very precious and unforgettable), I thought I would have practically nothing to say on this second trip of mine to the lands of our idol. For someone who thought beyond any doubt that this would be my last visit, that certainty was pretty shaken up. There is a lot to say about this trip and, even if I won’t be able to go back again, this story will go on forever. 

I had my friend Olga Susana as my companion, we were the sole representatives of Elvis 100% - Still Rockin’! Fan Club in Portugal in the US. Olga is a special person, with mobility difficulties, since she wears prothesis in both legs. I was very happy to witness her making a dream that she thought impossible come true. And she should serve as an example to all of you who, like her, may also think that it is impossible. We’re Elvis fans after all, and if he managed to accomplish everything that he did, we should also make an effort to accomplish what we can do now: visit and walk on the lands where he was born, where he walked and where he died. It’s worth it. It’s something that stays with us forever… but watch out! Every Elvis fan wishes to go back. 

We arrived in Tupelo on the 7th August, where we joined the group that traveled through the English Fan Club that, this year, took more than 1,000 fans to the U.S. Therefore, we were able to benefit from all the guided tours and transportation that Arena Travel provides. As always, they did an excellent job. There was nothing planned for today and I thought it would be best to take Olga to the birthplace. The following days would be very busy with many crowds in order to enjoy the birthplace accordingly. Once again I was astonished to see where Elvis was born and under which circumstances. A very cold January night, a still-born baby, tears mixed with joy for another baby that was born and who, in spite of being smaller (he didn’t even weighted 2 kg) should have been stronger, since he survived… 

We had a nice surprise close by. For the 67th Elvis birthday, the unveiling of an Elvis statue with 13 years old took place near the shot gun house where Elvis was born. This was a project that came true thanks to an Irish fan, Maurice Colgan, who brought the idea to the Tupelo dignataries and the Elvis Presley Foundation. The statue is a real life one and Elvis is 13, since that was his age when he left Tupelo to Memphis. It doesn’t stand on a pedestal, the statue shows movement, as if Elvis is strolling by, with his first guitar in hand. I never thought Elvis was that tall at 13…!

Estátua de Elvis, em Tupelo - 13 Anos Me, standing beside the statue Another perspective

We had a guided tour in town and were able to visit all the Elvis sites. This time the surprise was at the Lawhon Elementary School, which Elvis attended during his first years. Two childhood Elvis friends were there, Becky Martin and James Ausborn, who shared their memories on the same auditory where Elvis sang Old Shep to his schoolmates. It was touching to listen to their memories. All the fans contributed in order to help the school buying their first computer. Lawhon still is a school that serves the poorest children of the community. At 11.00 am we had a special welcoming ceremony to all the fans in the birthplace, where several dignataries were present, including the mayor of Tupelo, Larry Otis. As usual, Elvis was entitled to military honours to the sound of the American hymn. A second unveiling of the statue was done by the sculptor who conceived it. Very touching. A lady offered her seat for Olga to sit down. She was an Elvis schoolmate, from Memphis, of his 1953 class (she sat in the same desk with him some times), called Shirley Scott. She told us she saw Elvis many times throughout the years and that he had special feelings for his foreign fans. It is a small world where Elvis fans are concerned. Some relatives of his were among the crowd (the Smiths and the Presleys had extensive families). 

The last most marking moment in Tupelo was the banquet that the town prepared and offered the 1,000 and so fans that were present, followed by an Elvis dance party. There’s no doubt they appreciate our loyalty and are very proud of Elvis. Many fans remeet during this event and even ourselves had the chance to meet some foreign members of our fan club and Internet acquaintances (hi, Shirley, Sheila, Susan, Lillian and Paul!) – we are all a big family. 

It’s always hard to leave Tupelo, those nice and warm people. But Memphis is also full of the Southern hospitality and a warmth (not just climacteric, but human too) that always charms us. To me it was like I had been there yesterday and not 5 years ago. I felt everything flooding back and, as it would be expected, I was moved. See Graceland again (with so many new artifacts since the last time I visited), all the gardens and, especially, the final resting place. I took a portrait with me to put on the Meditation Garden. The message I chose to put in the portrait really expresses my feelings. It’s a poem by an anonymous American and this is how it goes: 

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds away that blow.
I am the diamond glint in snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awake in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there. I did not die.
- I promised I’d be back and here I am. Love you forever. Celia, Portugal, 2002.

Eu, a colocar o meu quadro junto do túmulo de Elvis. Meditation Garden, August 16, 2002, 09.00 am.

I met many Elvis fans in this garden (hi, Walteir, Jose Carlos and Loretta, among others). Once again, I felt the shared communion and love. The endless floral arrangements and fans queus, the singing talents we keep on finding at Graceland Crossing… 35,000 fans paid their respects to Elvis on the candle light vigil of the 15th (more than 100,000 arrived in town during this week). 

There’s something I have to tell you. It rained during the day and, in a meeting we had with the person responsible for the Marketing & Communication departments in EPE (matters regarding our fan club), Patsy Anderson, she informed us that it never rained on this night. We were apprehensive that it might spoil the ceremony at the gates. But no. We were all there, we didn’t go anywhere, not even the rain stopped us from paying our respects. As a special attention from Patsy towards Olga, who is disabled, we were able to go inside the grounds in front of the thousands of people who were there, shortly after some Elvis friends and relatives also paid their respects. We were soaked wet, but we showed the whole world that was watching (all the main TV chains were there) the love we feel for Elvis. At the window of Elvis’ bedroom, in Graceland, Lisa Marie watched part of the vigil (which began at 9.00 pm on the 15th and ended at 8.00 am the following day) with her husband, Nicolas Cage (they got married on the 11th, in Hawaii). It’s something that Lisa usually does every year. Let me tell you: Graceland is a beautiful place, whether it rains or shines. And Elvis fans are beautiful people who don’t give up, who are determined to remind everyone that, 25 years after, Elvis still remains very much alive in our hearts. It is also interesting to note that 80% of the Elvis fans are under 45 years old  (according to EPE’s statistics), which means that this love will never end. Elvis would have been (and I believe he’s able to see) very astonished. It was he who said so many times, “I’m just a singer”. But he wasn’t just like any singer. And he was – and still is – much more than a singer. There is no other explanation for this love affair we still have with him, a quarter of a century after he left us physically.

Vigília das Velas - 16 de Agosto de 2002.

August, 16th is always a very special day in Memphis. The atmosphere is slightly different, we don’t witness the same joy or festivities. Gospels are sang, memories on him are shared, one more flower is put on his gravesite. This year I had the privilege of being present in one more Elvis live concert, which took place at the Pyramid, in Memphis. I was fortunate for having attended the very first concert of all, in 1997, at the Mid-South Coliseum, where Lisa Marie surprised us all with the duet with her father, Don’t Cry Daddy. Everyone knew she would be present in this concert, together with Priscilla. The concert was quite different from the one I’ve seen 5 years ago and also much better. The first part was a retrospective on Elvis career, from the 50’s till the 70’s. They have done an excellent job, mixing images and sounds. The audience roared many times, reacting towards Elvis as if he was really there. As all the 12,000 people there tonight must have experienced, some times I sang and some times I cried. A constant feeling never left me though: the proud I felt and still do for Elvis.

Concerto na Pirâmide de Memphis - 16 de Agosto de 2002 Lisa, a apresentar a canção dedicada ao seu pai.

The pride and love that Lisa Marie must feel is, undoubtely, greater. Once again she wanted to offer the present fans on that night a special message. Lisa isn’t one for speeches. The acknowledgements, speeches, etc., are usually left to her mother, Priscilla. On the beginning of the second part of the show, Lisa got up on stage and, before a thundering reception from the audience, she said: “I made a song for my father. I’m not gonna sing it though, but I want you to listen to the recording. I hope you like it.” I’ve already said this and I’ll do it again: Lisa has an excellent voice. And her talents don’t end there – she also writes lyrics. This song will always be imprinted in the memory of everyone who was there. On the big screen where Elvis footage was seen, Lisa showed us the lyrics – and just the lyrics – of the song she titled “You Made Me, I Love You”. The impact was very strongly felt. She sang very well and touched everybody’s hearts. I’d like to include some lines of the song, even though this isn’t a faithful reproduction, since it’s just a few lines I can remember and not in the correct order, for sure. Every time Lisa sang I LOVE YOU, the letters appeared much bigger in size. The chorus is repeated quite a few times:

Rain drops on my ceiling,
Maybe it was your tears falling…?
You’re still lovely
Like you were lovely then
What you had to endure
I guess people will never know
They tried to make you broken
But they’ll never make it while I’m alive
People are starting to notice now
People notice now
They don’t know what you told me
Last night when it was raining
You made me
You’re still lovely
Like you were lovely then
What you had to endure
I guess people will never know
People are starting to notice now
They notice now

The sole and final image that appears on screen is one of the fans in one candle light vigil, with the words in forefront: “They notice now”. I can’t describe the emotions and the applause that followed when Lisa came on stage again to thank us for brief moments. The show went on, with some of the best performances by Elvis, including some unreleased footage to go with it. It was the last and the best memory I brought home with me. It comforts me to know Elvis is so much loved. However, while I was going to the airport to return to Portugal, I couldn’t help a few tears. And the words someone told me at the farewell that kept ringing on my ears: “You have to come back, because every Elvis fan is here in a mission.”

And our mission is: keeping the name alive and show the world that Elvis is the best entertainer this world has ever seen. We’ll never have another like him.

Final notes: For a question of space, I haven’t written about everything I saw and experienced (including the Elvis people I met and talked with and events I’ve attended). I will write a few more articles with relevance, which will be added here in due time.

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