Essential Magazine August 2017

Page 68

p THE FOCUS elvis

Elvis as a child in Tupelo, Mississippi

Elvis with his parents, Gladys and Vernon

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. When Elvis was three years old, his father, Vernon, served nine months in jail for a Les Miserables-level crime: that of forging a $4 cheque for a chicken he had previously sold. Elvis built a strong bond with his mother, said to be his greatest love. As a child, he would help her with her harrowing job (cotton picking), separating bolls from stems. While Vernon was in jail, the family struggled to pay the rent and they were evicted, after moving from house to house. Elvis was forced to be the ‘man of the house’ from a young age and he was determined to escape a life of poverty. The family may have been penniless, but they were closely bonded. Elvis slept in the same bed as his parents and vowed that one day, he would buy them a beautiful home and a Cadillac… Faith was important to the Presley home… Gladys used to read stories from the Bible to young Elvis, fascinating him with the tales of Jonah and the Whale and Joshua. Elvis loved music as much as he loved going to church; his mother recalled that at the age of two, Elvis would run along the church aisle and attempt to join the choir. Gospel was his thing, though as he grew older he would become more interested in rock ‘n roll.

68 / AUGUST 2017 ESSENTIALMAGAZINE.COM

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