It’s a warm, steamy Monday night here in New Jersey and the Elvis channel on Sirius/XM satellite radio is doing battle with the chirruping cicadas in the trees.
This is Elvis Week and Tuesday is the 34th anniversary of his death on August 16, 1977. He was just 42.
As I listen I’m also watching a web stream showing a procession of people taking part in the annual candlelight vigil for Elvis, at his home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee in the south of the US.
Later an ambulance will pull through the gates of Graceland at precisely the time medics tried to resuscitate Elvis in his bathroom back in 1977.
This year the fans have something else to commemorate because it’s the 55th anniversary of Elvis’ first two albums, “Elvis Presley”, and the follow-up, “Elvis”, in 1956.
Until recently, I’d never cared much for Elvis – thought he was a bit of a joke frankly – but then one day this year, while reporting on the serious flooding in Memphis for our channel, news presenter Sami Zeidan asked me about Elvis’ home and whether it was under threat from the high water.
It wasn’t, but later that week I paid a visit to Graceland out of curiosity, and I was hooked.
The Graceland attraction is split down the middle by a major road, Elvis Presley Boulevard, with the visitor’s centre on one side and the mansion on the other, so you have to get a minibus from one side to the other.
Sixteen million people have done this since Graceland opened in the early ’80s.
Every month, people from more than 100 countries turn up to do the tour.
Many say it’s a bit like intruding on Elvis’ private life … as if he’s still there … and likely to walk down the stairs at any moment and say, “who the hell are you?”
I certainly felt that way as I joined the long lines of fans … especially when Elvis bashed me on the head.
Pardon!? Let me explain. The girl behind the ticket booth in the visitor’s centre said that if I could show my AAA membership card (it’s a vehicle breakdown organisation), then I’d get a hefty discount on the steep entry fee of almost 40 bucks.
“Discount!” I love discounts. So imagine my disappointment when I realised my AAA card was out of date and no amount of pleading, grovelling and promises of marriage would persuade her to give me the cut price entry.
I’m an active AAA member, it’s just that my new membership card was in my other wallet.
“I’m sure Elvis would be disappointed if he knew,” I said under my breath barely audible, but just enough for her to hear. She stared at me with the kind of look that said, “what do you want me to do, jerk?”
I felt guilty … but later Elvis got his own back. At least I think it was him. They say the King of Rock and Roll’s spirit inhabits the big house, and as I made my way through a low door in the mansion I banged my head so hard that I almost passed out.
It was as if Elvis had reached down from the heavens and clobbered me on my noggin for back-chatting one of his staff.
Ouch! I thought, if that WAS you Elvis, leave me alone. I was only joking, OK! Go and bother someone else. Of course, it probably wasn’t a supernatural ear-boxing but it’s a fun thought right?
And people still report Elvis sightings all over the world, including Graceland itself, where they claim they saw the King of Rock and Roll starring at them from an upstairs window.
Tourists aren’t allowed upstairs you see. On further inspection, I noticed a sign above the door warning tourists to mind their heads. So it was my fault for being dozy after all.
But why does Elvis have as many fans today as he did at the height of his fame in the 50s, 60s and 70s?
Tough to say, but music journalists reckon it’s something to do with his voice, unique good looks and a combination of rebellious rocker and boy-next-door charm.
I’ve just borrowed from our local library “Last Train to Memphis” and “Careless Love”, the Elvis biographies by writer Peter Guralnick, because I want to find out more about the life of a singer who may have died 34 years ago but who, through his music and Hollywood movies, can still touch millions of people in all four corners of the world even today.
Including, by the way, former Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who toured Graceland in 2006 with President George Bush and who turned out to be a lifelong fan and a pretty good Elvis impersonator.