Thursday, August 16, 2012

Remembering Elvis, again

I remember clearly what I was doing 35 years ago today when my brother came racing up the driveway to tell me and Daryl Delrayo that Elvis Presley had died.

Eric delivered the news with the somber urgency befitting the earthshaking news.

I don’t remember my reaction as much as I remember Daryl’s. He said. “Who cares? He lived a long time and had a good life.”

Our old neighbor was only half right. Elvis was just 42.

I love Elvis and wish he’d lived the full measure. I’m sure he’d still fascinate. I still thrill to his music and what he meant to rock ‘n’ roll.

We got a kick out of hearing him mentioned during the moving “Freedom Rising” performance at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia where he’s hailed as “the only King America will ever revere!”

So I thought this morning I’d re-run -- now for a record third time -- an Easter 2009 story about the week I ate like Elvis.

And I hope at some point today “Jailhouse Rock,” “The Devil in Disguise,” “U.S. Male” or one of your favorite Elvis songs gets stuck in your head.

You’ll be sure to have a great day.

What to make of his legacy? I'll leave that to others to discern.

But this much I know: Elvis Presley was one of our greatest Americans.

And Daryl Delrayo was one of the worst.

Ever since the week I ate like Elvis, I’ve always tried to promote Eats Like Elvis as the name for a punk band. I just don’t see how it could miss.

I’ve spent a good bit of time this week thinking of my culinary apocalypse after an unbeckoned e-mail from the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans sailed into my computer. It read:

Southern Fried Elvis, an exhibition of eight cookbooks that focus on the food eaten by the late King of Rock and Roll, opens to the public on Friday, April 24, 2009.

“Collection manager Chris Smith said: ‘Elvis was a classic Southern boy who liked all the hard-core foods – meat loaf, mashed potatoes, pork chops, fried chicken, white bread with gravy, cheeseburgers, the whole nine yards,” says Smith. “And then there were his legendary favorites, which included banana pudding and the infamous fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.’

I hope if this kind of thing ever happens again, someone will have the insight to invite me to serve on a panel. I could detail my experiences from when I ate like Elvis.

Ah, yes, I remember it well. It was 1997 and I was watching an anniversary special commemorating the 20th anniversary of Presley’s death. I remember one woman saying she used to bring huge trays of food to the King’s Graceland bedroom where the big boy was chowing down.

“I remember melted butter dripping down his arms and just puddling up on the sheets,” said one woman, “and him saying, ‘Boy this pork chop is delicious. Bring me five more of these!’”

I remember thinking, “What would that kind of diet do to an otherwise healthy American male?” So I did what I was apt to do in those days. I dashed off a lead to National Enquirer proposing I spend one week eating like Elvis.

Being Enquirer editors confronted with anything involving tastelessness and Elvis, they did what Enquirer editors reflexively do: They offered me $1,000 and told to run to the grocery store.

And don’t mistake that as disparagement. The editors and reporters at National Enquirer are the finest storytellers and journalists I’ve ever had the pleasure with whom to work. They knew what readers wanted. Read or watch any publication or TV news show today and you’ll see their influence from the past 30 years.

The same goes for Elvis. Thanks to the all-Elvis channel on XM satellite radio, to this day I still enjoy Presley as much as the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty or any other top band on my playlists. I remember when John Lennon was asked about the influence of Frank Sinatra, he said, “Before Elvis there was nothing.” And how Bob Dylan said the first time he heard Elvis’s voice he knew he’d never have a boss. “Hearing Elvis for the first time was like busting out of jail,” says Dylan.

But none of that was on my mind when Val and I loaded $432.33 worth of high-caloric groceries into the trunk that hot summer day. We spent the next three hours preparing a feast fit for The King . My bible was Brenda A. Butler’s -- be sure to sing it -- “Are You Hungry Tonight?” cookbook of Elvis’s favorite meals.

There were cheeseburgers, bacon and eggs, pork chops, nanner pudding, and the classic fried peanut butter and nanner sandwiches. There was so much scrap food for that initial photo session the slobbering dog got truly fed up and went downstairs to hide behind the furnace. And with every meal, I always had a big glass of frosty milk, just like Elvis, because as Presley liked to say, “Milk makes ya sexy!”

I called my editor two days into the experiment and proudly reported I’d gained four pounds. He became apoplectic, which was a fairly constant condition for Enquirer editors. Guaranteed, he’d been apoplectic four minutes previous to my call and would re-enter an apoplectic state three minutes after setting down the phone from talking to me.

“Four lousy pounds! That’s not enough! You gotta eat more! You need to look huge! You gotta pack on 15 pounds so the pictures will show you looking like Elvis when he fell off the can! Eat! Eat! Eat!”

That 35 second call left me all shook up and turned my week into a dietary death march. I would wake up feeling bloated. I’d munch on donuts while I cooked the bacon and eggs. Then I’d consume the food, wash the dishes and repeat.

It was five days of that. Consume, wash, cook, eat, repeat.

In the end I’d gained 20 pounds, rented an Elvis jump suit from a local costume store and posed next to a pink Cadillac for the story about the week I ate like Elvis.

It took about two weeks to recover. The Enquirer ran the story over Thanksgiving (I tell you, they’re geniuses). The story was a minor sensation. I heard from morning radio giggle shows all over the country.

Much of my ambition to do anything great has since that week come from my understanding that if I die, the first line in my obituary will read something like, “Chris Rodell, who died Tuesday of (choose your mayhem), was a feature writer who once gained 20 pounds after he ate like Elvis for National Enquirer.”

It’s an ignoble legacy I hope to one day erase.

So that’s what I thought this week when I was inspired to write a story about one King on a weekend when many of us will be celebrating the resurrection of another one.

If you’ve taken a small portion of your weekend to read this far I want to wish you a Happy Easter and offer you a most heartfelt . . .

Thank you. Thank you very much.

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