I remember the night vividly in August of 1977 when Elvis Presley passed away!!
I was a girl of the mere age of 9. We were at a place known as an old Southern Campground. For those of you not familiar, this is a place where a bunch of crazy southern people live in what is basically a shack with wood shaving floors for 10 days in the sweltering hot part of summer with no air conditioning, but- full kitchens, bedrooms and showers and church 3 times a day (yes I did say 3 times a day-it’s the bible buckle) If you have never been to one of these events you might believe that only one crazy family would venture to do this insanity every year and you might be right in the beginning- because it does have a family name, but to your surprise after 150 years of the event there are now over 100 different families who live in crazy proximity to each other in shacks in the misery of the southern summer heat with no air conditioning. I would continue, but this insanity really deserves it’s on time at a later date…………..
Back to the day Elvis died…. I had just turned the tender age of 9. I was at the crazy campground surrounded by many different people of all ages as we returned from evening service (Church for those not familiar with southern slang) and the radios announced Elvis Presley’s passing. Many of the women in their 40’s and 50’s began to cry. I remember becoming completely confused. These were women I had known for all my young life. I had seen them become the complete Rock of Gibraltars when family members passed and handle everything like a prize fighter (for those of you that don’t know many southern women – we handle what needs to be done and typically cry in private- Scarlett O’Hara wasn’t far off)
These strong women, who I had always seen as rocks, suddenly sat on the porches of their shacks together crying. These women who I had witness handle spouses and parents deaths, look at single motherhood in the 70’s without a second thought and conquer became weeping children because a celebrity whom they didn’t even know had passed away.
This was very confusing to a 9 year. I knew Elvis, my dad had a friend who loved Elvis- he even had the sideburns and looked like him and only played his music when we were at their house. I was aware he sang music, which to me, was tame and kinda dated. I knew he made movies- I had even seen a few and thought they were cheesy. Nothing I knew of Elvis helped me comprehend these women and their grief. I remember being a child baffled.
Well today was MY turn and I am no longer baffled!! Prince passed away today! Prince was the music of my formative youth. Prince was the music that had racy lyrics and themes we hid from our parents. He and Madonna (she’s still here) were our generations rebellion. I can’t be the only person that still remembers singing “Party Like It’s 1999” and thinking how far away that was and now it’s 17 years in the rear view….. He might of been the first to say masturbate on an album, but I doubt it- just the first one we heard. (Thank goodness for Darling Nikki) The Purple Rain album was the one we hid and took to camps and played after the chaperons went to bed. Prince was the soundtrack of my generation. When my brain still wants to be 15 regardless of my body and it’s aches the Prince and Madonna soundtracks still play.
What I realized today was those women, who were my age now, I saw crying in the 70’s were children of the 50’s when Elvis was racy. He was the music they hid from their parents when they were teenagers. He was the music they danced too when no one was watching and sang loudly when no one was listening and everything was ahead of you and anything was possible. Elvis was a person they did not know. They were not crying for the death of Elvis the man. They were grieving for the realization of their youth being gone. They grieved for the innocence and immaturity of youth. They grieved for the brutal realization of adulthood which had always been there, but as long as that ICON was there could somehow be recaptured. The death somehow made it permanent.
Getting old has it’s advantages (age and treachery over youth and enthusiasm an all), but damn some days the knees hurt!
Every generation has a “Day the Music Died” which actually should be translated to “The Day My Youth Died” because that is how we actually react and grieve. One generation had the day Buddy Holly and others passed in a plane crash, the next generation had Elvis passing and based on my 40 and 50 year old friends reactions today ours is Prince’s death.
To all of my friends floating with me in the same boat of middle age grieving our youth and all of those possibilities that we feel passed with Prince today just remember- “We are gathered here today to get through this thing called Life” so the next time you see a Purple Rain just dance and embarrass the kids- it’s all we got so might as well enjoy after you had your cry!!!
Oh- and don’t forget to keep on partying like it’s 1999- it’ll confuse the young folk until they’re at least 45 when it’ll be there turn too!!!! 🙂