Sequins, Suits, and Sunglasses

  An estimated 70,000 fans made the trek -- pilgrimage, I should say -- to Memphis last week to honor Elvis. The occasion? This past Friday, August 16, was the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death. To judge from some media coverage, you'd think Presley was a saint -- a role model to emulate. ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" program last Monday pointed to the religious roots of his music -- that listening to Christian artists whose styles ranged from black gospel to the Blackwood Brothers Quartet inspired his emotional delivery. They added that his three Grammy awards were for recordings of gospel songs. ABC commended one side of Elvis's non-conformity. He defied the segregationist practices of his times by visiting ethnic churches and attending the zoo on "Black only" days. And when he appeared on Ed Sullivan's TV program, he insisted on singing "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" for his mother. ABC also mentioned that when Presley performed, he was "All Shook Up" over the full length of his body. As a result, when "Elvis the Pelvis" appeared on "Ed Sullivan," producers decided decency required them to zoom in and show only his upper body. But what ABC neglected to mention was that, even though Elvis took much of his style from gospel sources, his primary message was the antithesis of biblical standards. Top hits like "It's Now or Never" insisted "be mine tonight" and "my love won't wait." His lesser-known songs would include one in which he sings to his steady girl, "I resisted tho' my arm was twisted." This leads to the song's title: "Almost Always True." The occasional slip into "almost" fidelity was the slippery slope to the total promiscuity of many subsequent rock stars. On ABC's rival, NBC, Matt Lauer interviewed Joe Esposito, who claims he met Elvis in the Army. Esposito was co-best man at Elvis's wedding and was the first to find Presley overdosed on the bathroom floor twenty-five years ago. Esposito described Elvis as "conflicted" and said he never emotionally matured beyond boyhood. In Great Britain -- hard as it is to believe -- a re-mixed version of Elvis singing "A Little Less Conversation" has been the number one single for weeks. In it Elvis croons, "A little less conversation, a little more action please." The he elaborates: "Close your mouth, and open up your heart, and baby satisfy me." In spite of media portrayals of Presley's religious roots, his belief system was not the "true and undefiled religion" that the Apostle James wrote about. One ABC segment played Elvis singing, "To spend one night with you is what I pray for." Wow! Did he really think God answered prayers to expedite one-night stands? Lost in the hullabaloo is the reason why Elvis died so young, instead of still being alive today at age sixty-seven. As Reuters reports, "Presley died of a drug-induced heart attack . . ." He was, by all accounts, a miserable man in his last years, often sleeping in his own excrement. Is the "king of rock 'n' roll" the role model you want for your children and grandchildren? Let's be honest: Instead of an idol to emulate, Elvis is an object lesson in the wages of sin. And the best thing people can do is not make pilgrimages to Graceland, but seek the real grace that our loving God offers. For further reading: "Rock Icon: Elvis Legend Swivels on, 25 Years Later," ABC News, 12 August 2002. Jan Herman, "At Graceland, alone among many," MSNBC, 13 August 2002. Josh Grossberg, "Elvis: 25 Years Gone," E! Online, 16 August 2002. Os Guinness, Steering through Chaos: Vice and Virtue in an Age of Moral Confusion (Navpress, 2000). Ken Myers, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Crossway, 1989).


Chuck Colson



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