Lusting for Elvis

By Jo-Ann Pilardi

It’s 1957. A guy holding a newspaper goes into his favorite bar.  It’s my Uncle Lando, an ex-boxer in his mid-40s, but still full of vigor and still a performer.  As reported to me later, he’s excited about what he found in the paper:  a letter by one of his favorite nieces—me. “Hey, guys, my niece is in the paper!” He then proceeds to read my letter, a solid right jab in defense of Elvis against the sucker punch that was landed the week before by Spike Wallace, the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph’s music critic.

(Click images for larger views.)

Reading my letter across 50+ years, I concede that its logic is a little shaky, but its passion for Elvis is solid:  “When did you make your first million, Spike?  How many times have thousands of people screamed and yelled with joy over you? You are condemning a boy who is probably less than half your age, yet who has made in approximately one year more money than you could ever hope to see if you lived to be a hundred.”

So what began as an outbreak of teen-aged girls’ lust and hysterics, first infecting myself and my best friend Monica as we watched Elvis on TV that famous Sunday night in 1956, now had a public life.  I was officially an Elvis Fan (though my Elvis Complimentary Fan Club Membership Card was in my wallet long before this).  My printed defense of Elvis would become my first encounter with printer’s ink, something I love now as much as I loved Elvis then.  Elvis + Publication:  a match made in heaven.

But it was only Early Elvis I loved. Not Vegas Elvis. Vegas Elvis (1969 – 1976) was a pathetic nightclub singer, sweating in black leather or squeezed into bejeweled white jumpsuits.   By the time Vegas Elvis emerged, this Elvis Fan had spent the latter half of the 1960s and all of the 1970s as, first, an anti-Vietnam-war protester, then a Women’s Liberation activist and Philosophy teacher—Area of Specialty:  Existentialism.  Among the literati, politicati, and philosophicati, Elvis was gauche.  My lust for Elvis would have been embarrassing if it hadn’t already disappeared, thanks to Vegas Elvis.  (I still love that tender, tremulous voice when I hear it, though; it embodied all that I hoped for in a man. That and his pout.)

Yet an astonishing truth has emerged.  While my own Elvis lust vanished long ago, I’ve encountered another Elvis lust, an odd lusting for my Elvis lust: the passion of my family and friends for my legendary (if now non-existent) Elvis lust.  And that has not only survived but thrived.  Though I beg them to stop, they persist in depositing gaudy Elvis gifts on my English Tudor doorstep.

Herewith an incomplete catalogue of my Elvis gifts: a resin plastic Elvis brooch; a large Elvis neon-blue-light bar clock; Graceland: An Interactive Pop-up Tour (the most remarkable in my extensive collection of Elvis gift books); Elvis birthday cards and note cards; a cartoonist friend’s self-portrait as a guitar-playing Elvis; paper and painted tin posters of Elvis (always with plans of how-to-frame & where-to-hang); The Night of 100 Elvises Live! cd; a bottle of “The King” wine; an Elvis clutch bag and an Elvis umbrella; a framed collage of Elvis-related items ingeniously bordered in red glass lozenges to resemble a theater marquee; and of course, that famous “Elvis with Nixon” photo.  Someone also gave me expensive tickets for the 100 Elvises concert in Baltimore’s Lithuanian Hall last year—unfortunately held on a night when I had “another engagement.” There’s more, but merciful age does bring a level of forgetfulness.

I deduce, then, that by some as yet unnamed law of the physical or psychological universe, my own Elvis lust has morphed into a troubling addiction to Elvis products by people whom I love and about whose mental health I care deeply (along with my own).  So once more I’m sending out a “Stop!” plea—this time with some help from The King: “Don’t be cruel—Love me tender.  If not, you ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog.  And I swear on Old Shep’s grave, if it continues I’m gonna . . . Return to sender.

Copyright © 2012 Jo-Ann Pilardi.

Jo-Ann Pilardi is retired from Towson University where she taught Philosophy and Women’s Studies for 38 years.  A working class Italian from Pittsburgh, she moved to Baltimore in 1969 and was active in women’s movement groups through the 1970s. Currently, she teaches for TU’s Osher Institute, reads and writes, gardens, travels, and studies jazz piano (with a few segues into old Elvis tunes).

13 Responses to Lusting for Elvis

  1. hannahkarena says:

    Love this–great post! Families love easy, themed, go-to gifts. Everyone gets me plaid things–duct tape, notebooks, clothes–and everyone gives my mother anything that is either a) purple; or b) has a heart decoration on it. Admittedly, we both enjoy and encourage these sorts of gifts. Hope your family takes the hint . . . though I’m sure they won’t let it die hard. It would be so fun to get a million little Elvis things to stuff your Christmas stocking every year!

  2. Jo-Ann Pilardi says:

    Thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed it. I see you’re in the “easy gift” category too. My sympathies. — And your poor mother: hearts have been the go-to gift for way too long. As for me: we’ll see what next Christmas will bring. Maybe “I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas without” those gifts.–Jo-Ann

  3. chebro says:

    What a lovely and funny and poignant essay, Jo-Ann. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Does this mean that I’ll have to keep or find another recipient for the “blue suede shoes” xmas ornament I bought for you a couple of years ago and have subsequently misplaced?


  4. Jo-Ann Pilardi says:

    Truthfully, I’d kinda like that xmas ornament; it sounds awesome. Please find it, ma’m.–Jo-Ann

  5. Regina says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this little piece-very clever, funny and fun. I had to giggle a couple of times, especially at:
    “Yet an astonishing truth has emerged. While my own Elvis lust vanished long ago, I’ve encountered another Elvis lust, an odd lusting for my Elvis lust: the passion of my family and friends for my legendary (if now non-existent) Elvis lust.”
    This is so true and it’s because of the plethora of oh so many tacky Elvis items out there. It’s exhilarating to be able to buy one and think “This’ll be perfect for Jo-Ann” I’ll try to stop, but sometimes the temptation is just too great.

  6. Jo-Ann Pilardi says:

    Now that the Elvis gift train may stop, I’m finding myself very sad indeed. . . . A friend just told me he visited Graceland and was surprised that Elvis didn’t have such good taste (he was surprised?!), so I guess the tacky Elvis items truly reflect Elvis.

  7. Shawn Sizemore says:

    Jo-Ann, loved the story. Hope you are good. I have been scanning all my pictures and you are in a few. I can e-mail them if you would like.

  8. Jo-Ann Pilardi says:

    I’m good — and happy to hear from you. Nice to know you liked my little piece about The King. I’d love to see the pix. Hope you, the adorable Miss AJ, and all the others are fine.

  9. rita says:

    Your article was great, although now that we all know how you presently feel about Elvis, what gift is appropriate when an occasion comes up? I can only surmise Jon Hamm has taken the Kings place. Now will it be stuff to remind you of your new love, to surround yourself with in every room of your house? I loved the old photo of you. It’s hard to remember wearing those dresses with all those petticoats, but it was a good look. Your newspaper article was pretty feisty stuff, too. I guess you were getting warmed up for the many feminist issues that were heading your way.

  10. Jo-Ann Pilardi says:

    Jon Hamm it is!
    And about the feisty newspaper article: Barb, a friend from my Catholic high school days, suggested that I was crazy to publish that letter, since The Nuns might have seen it. But “love is blind,” so I never thought about it. As Irene, another friend, said: “This is all about the radical power of love.” : )
    Thanks for the comment.

  11. Vince Sizemore says:

    Hey Jo-Ann, enjoyed the piece on Elvis.I remember the old news clips hanging in your powder room. Glad to see you are doing well.

  12. Jo-Ann Pilardi says:

    Thanks, Vince. I’m doing well, if “well” means dredging up teenage memories. But blame that on your dad–the instigator. Glad to hear you remember the news clips. Hope you’re well too.–Jo-Ann

  13. Jo-Ann Pilardi says:

    A friend of mine–we’ll call her THE KNEE–wrote me this in an email and said I could post it:

    “My father was working for the Coca-Cola Company in New York City at the time both Eddie Fisher, whose show was sponsored by Coke, and Elvis appeared on the scene. Eddie was approved by my parents but not Elvis. I did allow myself to be bribed with free tickets to the Coke-sponsored E.F. TV show. However, one day, when I was walking home from school, I tried to imitate Elvis. I dislocated my knee cap and was carted off to the nearest emergency room. Later that day, I saw ‘that look’ on my mother’s face.

    “Years later, when my sister and I visited Memphis, we had little time for sightseeing. We rejected the too distant Graceland as also too expensive. We ended up touring St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and The National Civil Rights Museum, lodged in the old Lorraine Motel where MLK had been shot. They are both true gems. And we did tour Sun Records Studio, where so many singers got their start, including Elvis: Really Early Elvis, the gospel singer.”

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