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Birthday or Not, Bob Dylan is Timeless

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Yesterday Robert Allen Zimmerman stepped into his eighth decade of life.  Seems to me that writing anything about Dylan is almost an insult… as the man’s complexity and mystery defies any verbal description that might be adequate . Throughout his career he has played the roles of bona-fide shapeshifter, wordsmith, imp, and reluctant icon.  In spite of journalists’ attempts to pigeonhole him, categorize him, unintentionally foist labels and attributes upon him, he – like no one else graced with celebrity – has proven the master at outrunning everyone through sheer wit, and has notably avoided the same tragic demise as his peer John Lennon. His voice was no less influential than John’s (perhaps to his chagrin) and in spite of his power, learned how to slink into the shadows and become invisible. This is no accident. He’s basically a glorious version of the Road Runner. Sometimes the Wile E. Coyote he escapes is the parasitic journalist, sometimes it’s the “fans” who try to take a piece of his soul without asking.

Beyond the dexterity with which he has always dealt with the media, he is a Poet of the highest order, a consummate songwriter and lyricist, and is the owner of a singing voice which comforted many and seemed to capture, uncannily, the expansive American frontier, the peace movement, the civil rights movement and the genesis of the blues all at the same time.  Who else can do that? If he doesn’t want to fly straight onto our radar, he won’t. He’ll fly below, he’ll play mental jiu-jitsu and he’ll defy any and all attempts others make to own him; all while being seared into the consciousness of the American songbook.

Just as the most powerful moments often halt one into speechlessness, an homage to Bob Dylan in words seems almost silly. The man is beyond description and protects who he is indefatigably and with – not a shroud – but a veritable fortress of mystery.  Bob Dylan is equal parts genius, poet, rebel and sage.  Commemorate the day by stretching your personal catalogue beyond “Like a Rolling Stone” or  “Blowin’ in the Wind”. My personal favourites are “My Back Pages”, “Ballad in Plain D”, “Desolation Row”, “It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding” and “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.”  Great songwriters don’t (or can’t) just write five masterpieces, which makes it a task to whittle down to single digits. Someone once asked Bob Dylan about his songwriting process and he quickly explained, “Oh, I don’t write the songs, I just tune into them.”  Beyond the songs he believes already existed, treat yourself to some beach reading or swim into the laser-like mind of a very right-brained and esoteric artist here.

Happy Birthday Bob!!

“I didn’t come out of a cereal box. ”
Bob Dylan
“The worth of things can’t be measured by what they cost but by what they cost you to get it, that if anything costs you your faith or your family, then the price is too high, and that there are some things that will never wear out.”
Bob Dylan (Chronicles: Volume One)
“People disagreeing everywhere you look makes you wanna stop and read a book. ”
Bob Dylan
“You can never be wise and be in love at the same time.”
Bob Dylan
“He not busy being born is busy dying.”
Bob Dylan
“People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent.”
Bob Dylan
“I think women rule the world and that no man has ever done anything that a woman either hasn’t allowed him to do or encouraged him to do.”
Bob Dylan
“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”
Bob Dylan
“Play it fuckin’ loud!”
Bob Dylan
“A poem is a naked person… Some people say that I am a poet.”
Bob Dylan
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Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

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People come into our lives for different reasons.  One gift that came with an old friend was bringing with him an introduction to Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn.  He is a Punjabi singer from Pakistan who sings in the classical tradition of Khyal (a highly improvisational form, the name coming from an Arabic word meaning “imagination”). 

You probably want to know what they’re saying.  If you don’t want to miss out on the beautiful words of the songs here is a video English subtitles during the raag.  Nice to know what they’re singing yes?  Johnny Red, Neat. Do it. Click here.

Vadim Gluzman

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I once played Brahms for a new teacher – never having even had a substantial conversation with her or knowing her – and afterwards she spent 10 minutes ripping open my guts and psychoanalyzing me.  ‘You are this, this and that…sometimes you feel this way and your principle values are these.’  She didn’t know me from Adam, but it was accurate to the point of being unsettling and I am thinking, “Did I come to a violin teacher or a witch?”  Of course, some will be more gifted than others at reading and discerning such things, but that she could read these things is not all that surprising.  After all, what an artist is doing when he plays is baring his soul.  This is no small thing.

The first time I heard Vadim play was about 10 years ago – I was playing with CSO at the time – and he played Bottesini’s Duo Concertante for Violin and Double Bass.  I can still hear passages of it like it was yesterday. Some performances leave us with an indelible impression and memory.  His was one of these.  My first impression after hearing him (for lack of a better word) was “Whoa.”  There was an immediate recognition that registered  in every cell.  Utter charm and elegance – and I knew he was telling the truth.  What he was communicating musically was so authentic, so obviously coming from him in a very deep place internally.  This is not something that can be taught.  We know there is not a shortage of great musicians, great technicians, great performers; but for one to be a direct channel is not so common.  When I first heard Evgeny Kissin play, he made a similar impression.  You have a feeling and knowing that you are in the presence of something special.  This is why I have remembered his performance all of these years and love hearing him play.

In an effort to come up with some kind of formula, or perhaps learn the unteachable, an awe-struck admirer once asked Bob Dylan “What process do you take to write ‘Just Like a Woman’?  How did you possibly come up with the genius of ‘It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding’?  His response was, “I didn’t write the songs, I just tuned into them.”  He recognized himself as a vessel for transference when he could have replied in ego and arrogance.  Who knows, maybe the songs may have stopped coming had he succumbed to ego worship. In order to prepare one’s self to be such a channel, of course, a few things need to already be in place and then some.  One of the things that sets performers like Kissin and Gluzman apart is that their commitment to the music is of a higher order and they are able to communicate what they can because they bow in deep humility to the music and not their egos.  Egoless playing is what opens the channel to provide for that VIP access and direct line to the Divine.

I have always felt writing about music makes no sense, though music critics may disagree with me.  Music often succeeds where language fails.  If everything that needed to be communicated could be said in words, we would have no need for music.  Music reaches previously untouched depths of the more visceral and transcendent.  So to write about it seems not only inadequate but wholly unnecessary.  He already said it, so why write about what couldn’t be written in the first place?  So the disclaimer is: anything subsequently written about his playing pales in comparison to what comes from him on stage.  He is still in the Bay Area and playing Brahms one more night.  Go hear him.   Or check him out somewhere else along the way.  As his career has taken off in the past several years my reaction has been, “Good, I’m glad everyone is catching up.”

People comment about Gluzman’s playing harkening back to the days of old bringing us the sensibilities of Milstein and Heifetz.  I think what they really mean to say is that such authentic communication has been missing from the world stage.  Many violinists dominating our stage are not necessarily reminiscent of this time.  The dearly loved, late Yfrah Neaman speculated in an article that the preponderance of Jewish musicians during the golden age of violinists, of which his critics speak, seems to have been a bid to be treated as full citizens, because in the arts one was at least treated as a human being.  Neaman spoke about a masterclass in particular he gave several years ago in Japan which consisted of 4 boys and 49 girls. He suggests that a similar striving for respect and independence may help to explain the predominance of female violinists in Japan. “Now there are far fewer young Jewish players and vast numbers of players from the Far East, all with great techniques and a completely different outlook – the production of a saleable product from the start.”

In a vain attempt to describe what people mean when they talk about Vadim’s sound from the past, it might be said in three words: He Means It.  He is 300% all in when he performs, completely merged, not even slightly detached, out of his ego and in the service of something higher – and buoyant with joy, humility and a fiery temperament.  The term, “volcanic communication” comes to mind. As he stands in the sea of musicians he is so present and in joy that he barely contains himself, and this is the way it should be when one is traversing the higher realms.  There does not seem to be a cell in him that is faking it or factory-produced.  I don’t think I would be mistaken to say that Vadim is not a performer you will ever see “dialling it in.” His sound is luminescent, ebullient and dynamic – an extraordinarily sensitive musician and keenly attuned to musical nuances.  And while there is indeed something regal about his playing, you get the impression that it’s coming from a very magnanimous king who cares for and loves all of the people in the village and is driven not by the glory of his own rule, but by the higher attributes of wisdom, beauty and truth.  This is not something that can be concealed when the soul-spilling is happening on stage – no matter how humble the performer. Though people may not be able to pinpoint why they resonate so strongly with his playing, it is likely that these are some of the reasons why. Go hear him and join him in flight.  You will come out thanking him for existing.

Rose Marie (aka Indian Love Call)

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Back by popular demand, more Jeanette and Nelson.  Indian Love Call was the signature song from the 1936 movie, Rose Marie.  Rose Marie was filmed in Lake Tahoe.  And yes, that’s Jimmy Stewart at 1:02 playing Jeannette’s little brother in the film.   Ahem.  In the words of Borat: “Wa wa wee wa”  (Or in the words of my grandmother): “What a nice man that Jimmy Stewart is.”

Meh.  Nelson Eddy was ok, but I prefer the Big F’s…Frank (Sinatra) and Fred (Astaire.)  Nelson and Jeannette were yet another opiate for Americans during the depression; although they didn’t have to deal with rabid fans and paparazzi back then, they were still victims of excessive attention and public fascination (and dogged with rumors — Louis Mayer, the studio-head of MGM was apparently obsessed with Jeannette.)  I wonder how we ever got to the point where the masses feel they own entertainer’s souls along with every crumb of their private lives?  It’s a parasitic condition which hundreds of words could be spun on if I were interested at the moment, but I’m not. 

From “Top Hat”, 1935.  <<sigh>>  Golden.  

La Valse

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That was interesting.  I went to the symphony tonight to hear MTT conducting Tchaik 2, Sibelius Oceanides (which was beautiful) and one of my favourites, La Valse by Yann Tierson. Okay, no I’m kidding…. not this one…this one:

I daresay it is  more fun to play it than to sit in the audience but it was a delight nonetheless.  It was brutal passing by the vino rosso as I sat in my discomfort and wondered why I was so uncomfortable in the current state and reality.  Probably the same reason I chose to marinate myself in music as soon as was humanly possible: to be transported and escape this ghastly place.  Imagine if you will a rope ladder that drops down from the sky to lift you up out of everything that is petty, small, unjust, rogue and ruthless in the world.  “Oh yes, Mr. Rope, pleeeeeease take me out of here, if only for 90 minutes. I’m not so sure about it here, it doesn’t compute with my system.”  That’s how I feel about wine and music.  They are saviors or the holy rope ladders that allow us to transcend and escape from a harsh world that doesn’t always seem sane or make sense, to a reality that is full of promise and beauty and harmony. 

My father felt it proper (bless him) to recount to me his memory of my birth when I turned 30.  “I remember your birth like it was yesterday. Your personality asserted itself from Day One.  It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.  With only your head popping out of your mother you were screaming at the top of your lungs, completely outspoken. You weren’t having it.”  Gee, Dad thanks for the visual.  “Seth, on the other hand, gave us all a good scare because he wasn’t making a peep.  Even the young doctor was getting nervous and had to repeatedly give him several slaps on the behind before he started crying.” 

That story, as amusing as it is, is an apt reflection of how I view this whole game:

Day One, Bootcamp:  What the #$%^*&@# am I doing here? 

Day Two, The Front Lines:  Ok, now how the *$(*&# do I get out of here?

Well, for me those vehicles have been wine and music.  Unfortunately, the wine brings with it a shadow side and giant illusion.  It is as if the captain of the ship says, “Hop on the ride, but Captain Vino is signing a waiver releasing responsibility.  He can’t guarantee you where the ride will end up.”  Great, more fine print, awesome.  “Sometimes you will end up at the destination you were aiming for (Elevation or Escape Island) and other times you’ll be sorely disappointed, but I can guarantee you will be transported to somewhere. ” ‘Thanks Vino, I’ll take that under advisement.  Let me have my people call Capitano Musica and see what he has to say.’  

“Musica here, welcome to the land of angels.”   Better.  So the other option is hanging out in Angel Land.  Everything seems copisthetic here.  I mean what could possibly go wrong?  It’s just another means of flying totally unencumbered and free, transcending all of the bullshit down below.  Of course, it’s likely that when we come back we may hit the earth with a huge thud and a shock (like that whole womb trauma thing.)  But after being on that ride, it imbues one with a greater hunger to keep transcending and bringing that heightened state down into the world around us. With wine or without it (But didn’t that Jesus guy drink wine?)  With music or without it (Perish the thought.)  Of course, if this were a perfect world, I would never have to choose between or give up either or both.  Last time I checked we hadn’t quite gotten there yet. So I reserve the right to keep climbing rope ladders to get out of this crazy world, any way I can, even if for an hour or two at a time.  Freedom, elevation, bliss.  I mean, really.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Do you?

Passages of Great Men: John Lennon

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I was only 4 years old on December 8th, 1980 – the day John Lennon died – so I don’t have one of the “I remember where I was when I heard he died” stories.  But I grew up with the Beatles blasting through the speakers of our home.  My brother and I have countless memories of playing Beatles records from our dad’s  collection and skipping around the house.  Penny Lane was probably the very first Beatles song I remember hearing – one of the first indications to my 5-year-old mind that my dad was way cool.  Soonafter I fell in love another notch when I heard the song “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” on an episode of “Joanie Loves Chachi.” My adolescent infatuations began with The White Album (I had a special place in my heart for Rocky Raccoon, Piggies, Martha My Dear), Rubber Soul, Revolver, not to discount the brilliance of Sgt. Peppers or Abbey Road.

Well, you can’t just pick one – they were pure genius translated  into sound.  Although among their influences were Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers – they took everything they knew, stirred it into their alchemical pot of unparalleled songwriting, joy and a small dose of rebellion infusing their own generation with a soundtrack to be extremely proud of.  Their music erased lines of generations and they have clearly insinuated themselves into the hearts of every generation today.

It was not until college though that I became easily impartial to John.  I always felt sympatico to him on some level (maybe because we are both Libra/Dragons, lol.) Behind his consummate songwriting was cynicism, vulnerability and pain; he repeatedly birthed to us a dose of the hauntingly beautiful laced with irreverence and shrewd wit.  There was so much to be admired about him.  As Paul preferred to stay more on the conventional side of protocol (both in his crafting of music and in press conferences) John thumbed his nose at the establishment, never apologizing for saying what he felt, even when it rankled the powers that be.

His long drawn out battle around the U.S. government’s attempt to deport him was clearly a not-so-disguised attempt to silence him – his message resonating with so many – and a modern-day witch hunt.  As many before him who disrupted the status quo by fearlessly speaking out about injustice (and who are often ahead of their time) he was snuffed out early.  One of the main reasons I believe Dylan is still around and in one piece physically and psychologically is because of his lack of vulnerability and refusal to be pigeon-holed, projected upon or owned and crushed by the media.  Although Bob Dylan is also somewhat of a modern-day prophet and a man ahead of his time, the relationship he has to the media can only be described as a clever, impish and invincible Road Runner running from Wile E. Coyote.  I believe Bob has come out relatively unscathed because he always stays 5 steps ahead of them by questions aimed to cage him.

Which way is the more admirable path?  There isn’t one.  It is simply tragic and unjust that John was cheated out of the prime of his life.  When John’s message stepped beyond the bounds of his cozy little music label/box, the powers that be became uncomfortable.  Whatever you might believe about conspiracy theories, John always had a subconscious belief about being shot by a nutjob.  In spite of the paranoia that his phone was being tapped during the “felonious” marijuana witch hunt, he never shrunk into his shadows or stifled what he thought in order to play it safe.  Some may call him a martyr for this – he often made himself extremely open and vulnerable to fans, one time spending almost an hour talking with a mentally disturbed fan who crossed the precipice of his estate as it was clear watching the clip he was trying to re-wire his brain through a gesture of compassionate reason and love.   It is not surprising that it was his very message of love, openness, one-ness and vulnerability that doomed him.  Quod me nutrit me destruit (What nourishes me also destroys me.)   Even if John’s assassinator acted alone and was not at the frontlines of a conspiracy, his message only grew in power when he departed from the earth plane.

When you take a candle into a dark room, the darkness can’t swallow the light.  The light always wins.  The same is true for his life –  he very well may have decided he was done with this dimension.  The last two songs that John wrote,  Watching the Wheels and Woman seem eerily prophetic.

If you listen to the lyrics of the two songs respectively, it almost seems that he unconsciously knew he was going to die and was saying his goodbyes:

“Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind,
I tell them there’s no hurry…
I’m just sitting here doing time,

I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
I really love to watch them roll,
No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
I just had to let it go.”

And what seems like a haunting goodbye to Yoko:

“After all I’m forever in your debt,
And woman I will try express,
My inner feelings and thankfulness,
For showing me the meaning of success,
oooh well, well,
oooh well, well,

Woman I know you understand
The little child inside the man,
Please remember my life is in your hands,
And woman hold me close to your heart,
However, distant don’t keep us apart,
After all it is written in the stars”

Well, for all intents and purposes his life (or at least estate) is most definitely in her hands now for better or for worse; and maybe his untimely death was written in the stars.  Either way, he was a bright light and the joy and message he brought to the world, although greatly missed, could never be diminished by a lone gunmen who is hopefully rotting away in prison being raped up the a** by a large tattooed cellmate.  Although this sentiment may not echo his message of peace and love I have to draw the line when dark forces make cowardly attempts to quiet the light of brilliantly creative and giving forces.  Why are some of the brightest lights taken from us so early?  Maybe they reflect back to some people the things that are difficult to look at in themselves, or embarrass, like disconnection from the light in themselves.  While these losses may be sad and confusing for the rest of us, we must remember that he like so many others were just exceptionally bright lights who were on loan to us for a while.  The important thing – as with all those who lifted humanity in some way – is how we will keep each spirit alive by continuing to live their particular message.  That’s our job here and now; and as tragic as John’s shortened life was to so many, he has just started over somewhere else.

Guilt for being rich, and guilt thinking that perhaps love and peace isn’t enough and you have to go and get shot or something.
John Lennon

I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?
John Lennon

If being an egomaniac means I believe in what I do and in my art or music, then in that respect you can call me that… I believe in what I do, and I’ll say it.
John Lennon

If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.
John Lennon

Music is everybody’s possession. It’s only publishers who think that people own it.
John Lennon

Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.
John Lennon

Rituals are important. Nowadays it’s hip not to be married. I’m not interested in being hip.
John Lennon

The basic thing nobody asks is why do people take drugs of any sort? Why do we have these accessories to normal living to live? I mean, is there something wrong with society that’s making us so pressurized, that we cannot live without guarding ourselves against it?
John Lennon

Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.
John Lennon

We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.
John Lennon

Word.

Passages of Great Men: Elvis Presley

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My cousin commented earlier this week about me being psychic.  Well I’m beginning to think she’s right; as I sat down at the computer in the wee hours of the morning I decided Elvis must be the next in the series.  Imagine my surprise when, as I was looking for articles online, I discovered today, January 8th, is his birthday – what would have been his 75th birthday.  As Freud said, “There are no coincidences.” So the homage is fitting.  Let this confirm his presence on the list if for no other reason.  And let’s not even start comparing Bernstein, to Lincoln, to Presley.  Can’t be done, nor should it. 

The music of Elvis illustrated what may have likely been the worst fear of those in the South during Lincoln’s time, and that fear was that blacks and whites were coming together.  As Elvis shot on the scene like a comet he brought huge controversy with him.  And with that controversy he broke barriers.  I once read somewhere that controversy was G-d’s way of making others pay attention to someone or hear a message.  Elvis took one handful blues, one handful of country “hillbilly”, some black and white gospel music, added a dash of hip swivelling (which during that time was seen as blatant and overt sexuality which must be Feared) and then let the masses stir and stew while the young people danced and grabbed their ticket to freedom and independence: Rock ‘n roll. 

Much like the “John Wilkes Booth’s” of Lincoln’s story, there were  those around Elvis – vociferous ne’er-do-wells – who dug their heels into the ground when changes were occurring across the landscape and went on a full-frontal attack.  The culture wars prior to the birthing of the civil rights movement in the 60’s were boiling strong.  It is sometimes shocking and scary to remember that it was really only yesterday that segregation and sublimation of other races was widely deemed a legitimate practice by the powers that be.

“Everything is tied together with the Brown decision, public school, desegregation, rock and roll music, Elvis Presley. I think that illustrates the fear in the South that blacks and whites are going to come together,” —Michael Bertrand, Ph.D., Professor, Tennessee State University.

“Without meaning to, and really without understanding it, he’s a point of conflict because it’s not just the mingling of blues and rock, it’s also his reliance on a music that is in the minds of some really sinful,” — John Seigenthaler, the retired founding editorial director of USA Today, who covered Elvis as a young reporter for The Tennessean.

In essence, Elvis and his music represented an evolution, most of which was a natural progression to a long pent-up and repressed society.  This evolution had to happen.  Why should this change not come through music?  When something is repressed it always comes out eventually, but in perverted form.  The fear of the elders was that the youth was going to become cocky, slick, leather-clad, free and sexually permissive, like they felt the King was selling.  Maybe this evolution was necessary.  Regardless of the unflinching efforts of elders and Ed Sullivan himself, they were forgetting one fact: if one is vehemently told not to do something as a youth, the natural inclination is to do it.  If parents could get a stronger grasp on reverse psychology, their efforts to control and direct might be more effective.  That said, shouldn’t the youth be leading the direction and not the parents?  The progression of a generation is just that, progress… and that evolution should be honored.  For every time the older generation complains of the youth showing disrespect, having no manners or being condemned as interminable sinners and blemishes on society, it begs the question:  To what extent have adults shown their children disrespect as human beings and independent souls – and does not this disrespect, by universal law, always come back in some way, shape or form?

Adults may stick tight to traditions and attempt to infantilize youth, but social and cultural change, often ushered in by youth is not only inevitable but necessary.  To the youth, Elvis was being painted as the Devil Incarnate which of course only encouraged teenagers as they clandestinely listened to Elvis in basements on their little AM radios, surely condemned to hell.  Not!

Here is something frightening to watch.  If we pay attention, this kind of thing still happens today, even if in different forms.  In the video below, Elvis basically stood and sang, tapping his feet repressing his urge to unleash the dynamite that he typically brought to the stage.  At this performance he was forbidden to engage in “illegal” hip movements. It appears that some people, somewhere get upset when other people somewhere else are having fun.

Speechless is all I can say.

Without turning this into a biopic, the turning point in his life and what began his own demise and self-destruction was the death of his mother who he adored and depended on for moral support and advice.  Adding to the pressure of his divorce from Priscilla, he was never really the same after this period a part of him dying and checking out. 

“This is the end of rock ‘n’ roll.”  — Bob Moore Merlis, Warner Bros.exec

“The void he will leave is impossible to gauge.” — Pat Boone, an early rival of Presley’s

“The King is dead, but rock ‘n’ roll will never die. Long live the King.” — John Lennon, former Beatle

“His music was the only thing exclusively ours. His wasn’t my and mom and dad’s music. His voice was a total miracle in the music business.” — Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys

The youth of the 50’s and 60’s have deified Elvis since he came on the scene as a revolutionary; his passing seeming only to further elevate him as a rock and roll deity.  Graceland gets over half a million visitors every year and as reflected in the urban legend and myth that the King is still walking among us, there are still some who are unwilling to accept his passage.  For many, the possibility that he might come back to life, was their only solace. The preponderance of Elvis sightings and unwillingness to let go of such mirages is evidence alone of how much so many loved him.  Regardless of what people see or don’t see in order to sell papers, his spirit, at least, is still very much here – alive and well.