Growing up, Newsday was a staple at our breakfast table. At some point during middle school, I started reading the paper, mostly looking at the sports pages and the comics. My routine was to peruse the box scores, then read Calvin and Hobbs, followed by The Far Side, a quick peek at Doonesbury to see if I could understand the joke (too highbrow for this 13-year-old) and finally -if nobody was looking- Brenda Starr (please, lets keep this our secret).
One day, while flipping the pages, I noticed an article about a stamp to be commissioned in honor of Elvis Presley. The United States Postal Service narrowed it down to two stamps based on two distinct periods of his life: young Elvis and old Elvis. For some reason, I totally cared about how Elvis was going to be remembered.
Yesterday, August 16th marked 40 years since Elvis Presley’s death (and my older brother’s birthday. I remembered both a day late… Happy Birthday Evan!). The whole stamp thing popped up in my mind this morning.
These were the two final choices for the stamp back in the 90’s.
For those of you who need a more accurate visual, here ya go:
You might also call it “beefy Elvis” vs “thin Elvis”.
I realize now, they put him on a stamp to make money and make money they did, but In canonizing someone as popular as Elvis Presley, they needed to be accurate. If they failed to authentically capture him there would be a lot of angry people, you also do not want to have a monstrosity like this when memorializing an icon:
If you are going to be inaccurate:
you need to have a very good reason like I explained in this post (yes, they have a good reason).
By the way, a stamp is not nearly as original or (as gross) as the way philosopher Jeremy Benthem chose to immortalize himself. Bentham requested to have his body mummified and placed in a display case.
Back to Elvis, who was the real Elvis?
Yes I have been to Graceland, and no I am not really an Elvis fan, but here is the limited amount about him that I know-
At age 40, you would hope Elvis would be experienced, wiser and stable. He served in the army was married, had a child, divorced. His music was more developed, textured, soulful. You can’t discount the jumpsuit, it was an iconic look. On the whole, he was a total mess; drinking, doing drugs among other things (like those fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches). His hard living likely drove him to his early death ( If he died). It is pretty hard to separate that for me.
Perhaps all the luxury, stardom, and drinking dragged Elvis far away from that truck drivin’ country boy from Tupelo Tennessee he used to be. The stardom and success altered who he was. So the younger Elvis, being more connected to his roots and upbringing could be a truer representation of who he was, but I have a hard time with the idea of idealizing a kid. Don’t peek at 20.
If they made a stamp of me (That is a great idea USPS, people should put their own selfies on a stamp. If that’s not a thing already it should be. You know… for narcissists.) it wouldn’t have the same sentimental value but it would have the same utility. Actually, my stamp would be worth 49 cents, Elvis’ was just 29 cents…not even enough to mail a letter today. Actually, I would want to be a forever stamp, I’d be used in any generation.
Life is like a train-ride and you don’t know when you’ll reach the end of your line. Elvis reached the end of his line before he could turn things around and you can’t just ignore his flaws of being a womanizing drug addict who never got the help he needed. I think you also can’t ignore he was a wholesome, good-hearted country boy who couldn’t shake off those husks that came along with his fame. I think choosing to remember him forever young the way they did, just whitewashes the complex person he was.
Who we are today is who we are for now. Put away yesterday live today right so we can have better tomorrows.
The Bottom Line:
Most likely nobody hemmed and hawed over each stamp the way like I just did, weighing the pros and cons the way sports fans do about what cap a player should wear when they go into the Baseball Hall of Fame (Mike Piazza is a good example. I thought he should have gone in as a Dodger, not a Met, and Wade Boggs went in as a Devil Ray? What were you thinking?). It came down to subjective reasons, personal and emotional leanings, what he meant to different people at certain points of their lives. It turns out that Elvis is subject to the same superficial conclusions and snap-judgments we all deal with.
He sounds kind of sad to me. Are you sure you want to celebrate him? I like my brother better, put him on a stamp…Happy birthday Evan! I’ll try to call you today.
I think this a cautionary tale of making sure you know who you so you won’t ask yourself “what have I become?” – I talked about this in my Mr. Rodger post here.