Growing up I absolutely idolized Elvis Presley. His rock and roll greeted me after Friday Little League games as I walked into the bar where my mom worked. His movies kept me company on Saturday afternoons. His gospel music was my church on Sunday.
Why I was so drawn to him is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps it was his devotion to his mother – which I shared to my own. Or maybe I aspired to replicate some semblance of his rags to riches story. Or maybe as an awkward kid who wasn’t especially popular, I just reveled in his coolness.
All of which might explain why as a nine year old, I entered a Halloween contest dressed as Elvis (I finished second behind a tricked out R2D2 from Star Wars.)
Recently my appreciation for Elvis was rekindled when I watched the HBO documentary about his life, which was aptly named, The Searcher.
It detailed his never ending sense of insecurity, the memories of poverty he could not shake and his quest to connect with and through music. His openness and integration of different musical genres from gospel to soul to rhythm and blues helped usher in rock and roll and popular music as we know it.
Among the many things that stood out in the film were the stories about how authentically he was able to communicate through song.
Elvis had a twin brother who died at birth, a fact that reportedly haunted him throughout his life. As a child, Elvis was encouraged by his mother to go outside and sing, telling him, “When you sing to the moon, your brother can hear you.”
Later in the film, someone described the secret to authentic musicians by saying, “When they sing, you can hear them negotiating loss.”
Today, many do not remember Elvis very charitably. Instead of thinking about his pioneering talent, vulnerability, meteoric rise, service to his country, or generosity, they remember him in final years – the leather costumes, gained weight, drug usage and ignominy of his death (which I was shocked to realize happened at the young age of 42.)
Watching the Searcher was a reminder of how crucial the soundtracks of our lives can be when it comes to finding and following our own paths. They don’t just play in the background but inspire us to move forward.