Saturday, August 18, 2007

Heartbreak Hotel
Wednesday was the 30th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, a date of not much note in Thailand though a Bangkok hotel hosted a "30th Elvis Presley Memory Lives on 2007" blowout with a slew of Asian Elvis impersonators, including a 12-year-old named Papontee Veerapravati who performs under the moniker "Elvis Pro."

I wish I'd have been able to make it, but lacking the time off I did the second best thing and hosted my own remembrance. I donned a treasured short-sleeved, (one of a kind, homemade by a former copy editor friend of mine at the Rocky Mountain News who'd originally sewn it for her Elvis lovin' ex before his stomach expanded and their marriage went south) shirt featuring florescent Warhol-like images of the King in three of his crucial eras: Rockabilly Elvis, GI Elvis and Bloated Vegas Elvis. It only lacks Comeback Special Elvis. But three outta four ain't bad.

I grabbed a 14 oz Coke and half pint of Thai Mekong whiskey, a compilation disc of Elvis hits sent to me a couple years ago by Chris, my equally Elvis-happy pal in Colorado, and headed across the dirt road, dodging two brahma cattle, slogging from Faulty Towers II to Faulty I where I found the Johnnie Walker wisdom was already running high among three Brits and one Aussie. Or more specifically, two Brit ex-felons (embezzler, murderer), one hard core sex tourist (Aussie) and a frighteningly normal 69-year-old retired Brit who almost began crying in combined joy and memory when I announced:

"Gentlemen! Your attention please. Thirty years ago Elvis Aaron Presley left the building for good after dying on a toilet in Graceland." (Drunken, heavily accented Brit murmurs followed:"He did? Wha', blood'y hell! Thir'y ye'z, wahz it? A toilet? A loo dih'e say?")

I continued. "But his memory lives on. Elvis is everywhere, including Hua Hin, Thailand where we will celebrate him tonight."

With that I ceremoniously hit the eject button on the bar CD player, slid out the Thai pop pap (a half Thai-half American singer with the unfortunate name of Tata Young), inserted the King, and Scotty Moore's distinctive opening chords to Heartbreak Hotel rang like a ringin' a bell through the sweaty, mosquito clogged tropical murk.

"' 'eart Break 'otel, perfect," sighed the sobbing normal Brit. "Jus' like whea' we're drinkin' tonigh' " Indeed. Aw, man it was sweet. Even their Thai women at another table got into it after a couple songs and the gin-soaked Aussie sex tourist began some pretty decent lip-synching and Elvis-like moves, including the Vegas-era kung-fu chops. In China the King is known as the "King Cat." I don't know if he has a nickname here, the women seemed only vaguely aware of him, damn their souls, but the Elvis trivia began flowing - mine mostly accurate, theirs dug from the Internet and tabloids like the Daily Mirror, I imagine.

"Thi'is abou' his mum, Priscilla" the embezzler sighed as Are You Lonesome Tonight began. "No," I said trying to bite my tongue. "Priscilla was his wife. His mother was Gladys. He called her feet 'sooties'. Elvis had a thing about his mom's feet."

"He di'nt!" cried the murderer. "Bloo'dy hell. He truly loved his mum, not a nutter 'bout her feet!" I shut up and just let the music wash over the comments that ranged from Elvis's "half-Indian" blood to how an obscure '60s British pop star named Billy Fury, (virtually unknown outside of the UK, but roughly the equivalent of Fabian or maybe Frankie Avalon in the US) was second only in the world to Elvis.
Twenty two songs later we'd repeated In the Ghetto ("This song is my life!" sighed the murderer) and Suspicious Minds twice, Jailhouse Rock three times ("This is my life, too!" said the murderer again) and closed the night with Elvis's post-mortem remix, A Little More Conversation.

Briefly we were all, Brits, Aussie, Yank and Thais, felons and low-level miscreants alike, united as one by The King.

As I left I noticed that a color printout of the Thai royal couple and Elvis on the set of GI Blues that I'd managed to make at work before the printer died and had presented to the embezzler/owner of Faulty Towers had been framed and was hanging over Faulty I's alcove next to a more traditional portrait of the Thai royal pair. I very gently nudged one of the Thai wives as I left and pointed at the picture. "See, even your King loved the King."

"Oh, that is him?" she said, peering at Elvis. "No, he is not king. Only one king in Thailand."

"Not tonight," I said. "But thank you. Thankyouverymuch." And with that I left the building.


Chuck said...


Awesome post! I remember the day well, driving down Cornhusker Hwy when I heard it on the radio. Elvis has left the building many, many times since . . . but always finds his way back somehow. Hope all is well with you in Thailand. I miss C. I'm sure you do, too!

Justin said...

Thank you much, Chuck. I was an intern at the Denver Post the day Elvis died. I was dispatched with a photog to interview the president of the Denver Elvis fan club that night in her laundry room in Aurora.
She was crying so hard the interview took about an hourlonger than it should have then was cut to about 8 inches...but the pic was pretty damn fine, a sobbing peroxide blonde with a black velvet Elvis painting hanging behind her washer-dryer. Perfect Americana. I had a copy but lost it about 27 moves ago...

And, yes, I miss C a lot, too. More than I want to admit here, actually. Her voice is sorely missed in these posts also but she and I talk via instant messenger, phone, txt msg, email etc daily. I'm hoping she'll be able to come for an extended visit within the next couple months, or sooner.

Latisha said...

Great work.