Saturday, January 08, 2011

Elvis' 76th Birthday

Today would have been Elvis Presley's 76th birthday.

If Elvis was alive today, that would be a considerable achievement — perhaps not quite as noteworthy, in the milestone sense, as his 75th birthday a year ago today — but, of course, he has been dead for more than 33 years.

Today is the anniversary of his birth. That much is beyond dispute. But it seems to me that "birthday" is really a term that is reserved more for the living, perhaps mostly for children. It implies candles and cake and ice cream and gifts. It suggests games and the ritualistic singing of "Happy Birthday to You" — to someone who can hear it and appreciate it, not someone who is buried in the ground or whose ashes have been scattered somewhere.

Conspiracy theorists and Elvis sighters notwithstanding, the man is dead. The anniversary of his birth is interesting for most of us to mark — it is always intriguing to think of what a person who died young might be like at an advanced age — but he isn't 76 years old, any more than Ronald Reagan will be 100 years old next month — or Abraham Lincoln was 200 a couple of years ago.

Nevertheless, January 8 remains special to Elvis' fans and those who appreciate the role he played in the evolution of popular music. I suspect it will always be so.

But it seems there is less and less to say about the man with each passing year.

Well, less that is new, I suppose. The old observations continue to be recycled.

Power Line, for example, reran a piece it first posted eight years ago about the day that Elvis met President Nixon.

And, when old observations can't be made, other spins are offered.

In Chicago, the ABC affiliate encourages people to mark the occasion by attending a tribute performance.

And the Huffington Post urges folks in New York to "chow down on some of his favorite foods, NYC–style."

While it isn't exactly a new spin on this old theme, I give Melissa Bell of the Washington Post credit for getting her readers involved and asking them to nominate their favorite Elvis songs.

There are so many to choose from, so many genres to consider. There are the smash hits, the well–known titles that redefined popular music, and there are the lesser–known but equally influential (in their own way) songs, all of which have their defenders.

I guess it depends on your point of view — a thought that prompted me, in a hyperlink kind of way, to remember a movie I saw many years ago.

The movie, "Touched By Love," was supposedly based on a true story of a morose young girl who was afflicted with cerebral palsy. Her nurse, in an attempt to connect with her, encouraged her to start a pen pal relationship with Elvis, her favorite singer, which she did. Elvis replied to her letter, and the two reportedly exchanged letters until she died.

In truth, it was a tearjerker of a movie, a little too obvious at times. That may not have been the fault of the performers — or even the girl upon whom the tale was based. It may have been the fault of the writers.

For example, I recall a scene in which the nurse asked the girl why she admired Elvis, and the girl replied, in rather incredulous tones, something to the effect of "He can move!" or "He can dance!" (Forgive me for not being more precise. It's been many years since I've seen the movie.)

I guess there's no denying that. Elvis definitely could move/dance — at least, when he was young and trim. The Las Vegas, jumpsuited version was another matter. Too many fried–peanut–butter–banana–bacon–and–honey sandwiches, I suppose.

But, anyway ...

It's the sort of story that sounds like it certainly could be true. There have been all kinds of stories over the years of Elvis' remarkable generosity, how he gave Cadillacs and houses to people — sometimes to people he barely knew, if at all.

Thus, a movie about Elvis having a pen–pal relationship with a sick girl on whom he lavished gifts and cards as well as letters doesn't sound farfetched at all.

Is it farfetched today? I don't know. Perhaps it is for most celebrities. But not for all.

Take New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, for example. Last month, he met an 11–year–old boy who was dying of a rare cancer. Meeting Sanchez was one of the boy's two wishes, and Rich Cimini of ESPN reports that the boy lit up like a Christmas tree when he was introduced to Sanchez.

They became close friends. When the Jets defeated Pittsburgh a few days later, Sanchez sent the game ball to the boy.

A few days before the Jets' season finale, the boy died. The Jets remembered him with a moment of silence before their game with Buffalo, and this week, as Cimini writes, Sanchez began preparing for today's playoff game in Indianapolis with a heavy heart.

The boy was buried this week.

I don't know if, like the girl in the movie, he was drawn to his idol because that person could move — or, maybe, because he could do something of a physical nature that illness prevented the boy from doing.

But I will be interested in seeing if Sanchez has a career day in honor of his friend.

There may be no better time for him to do that than Elvis' birthday.