Elvis 40 Years On

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This month marks the 40th anniversary of the passing of Elvis Presley, the iconic singer, performer and actor who blurred racial barriers by bringing together a wealth of musical styles. Marisa Cutillas celebrates some of his most defining moments.

A Mysterious Birth

There has always been a mystery surrounding the figure of Elvis, stemming from the very day he was born – January 8, 1935, in the small town of Tupelo, Mississippi.

The moment was commemorated by the great Nick Cave, in his song, Tupelo, which recalls the famous F-5 level tornado that tore its way through Elvis’ hometown when he was just a toddler, razing various homes to the ground, but leaving the home where Elvis was born, unscathed.

Cave sings about Elvis’ birth:
‘In a clap-board shack with a roof of tin / Where the rain came down and leaked within / A young mother frozen on a concrete floor / With a bottle and a box and a cradle of straw / Tupelo! O Tupelo! / Well Saturday gives what Sunday steals / And a child is born on his brothers heels / Come Sunday morn the first-born dead / In a shoebox tied with a ribbon of red’

As the song intimates, Elvis was a twin; his brother, Jesse Garon Presley was sadly stillborn, a tragedy which would haunt Elvis the rest of his life. His mother, Gladys, used to say that Elvis had the energy of two people and indeed, in a fascinating book entitled The Inner Elvis: A Psychological Biography of Elvis Aaron Presley, author, Peter O. Whitmer noted that Elvis had “the fuel to make one form of music from two seemingly disparate parts that no one but a twinless twin could provide.

Much of the origins of Elvis’s creative genius resided in Jesse [the stillborn twin]; his memories, his haunting presence, his dictation to Elvis of a musical destiny.”

Humble Beginnings

One need only view the tiny home were Elvis was born, to understand the economic struggles faced by his parents. The two-room shack had no electricity or running water and when Elvis’ mother, Gladys, became pregnant with twins, the family could not afford medical check-ups; they only called a doctor when complications arose during the birth. Elvis’ twin was buried in an unmarked grave at a local cemetery…

Words Marisa Cutillas

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