Over the past couple of months, it’s been a bit different living with Handsome. He got all excited about this pair of books, and hardly talked about anything else. Not only that, but they led him to constantly play music by this one guy, and while it’s all good, and often great, I developed a craving for Bach, Beethoven, Billie Eilish – anything but… Okay, it’s not true – this has really been fun!
I mean, you have heard of Elvis Presley, right?!
The basics of Presley’s life story ought to be familiar to you – born into poverty in the Southern U.S., a shy, awkward boy, he paid a local studio so he could record a song for his mother, and later went back there with a guitarist and bass player to jam, recording music that changed history: his talent, sexy charm, and mixture of multiple styles he loved creating something unique and original, exploding him into the most popular performer of this new thing called Rock and Roll. Breaking the world’s teenage hearts when he signed up to join the Army for two years, he returned an even bigger star, though becoming more bland and ‘safe,’ till his music and movies got so boring it seemed he was through. Then, shocking the world, he “came back” and became the top live act in Las Vegas, till that destructive lifestyle pushed him into depression and drugs, killing him at 42.
A glorious and tragic story, one we’ve seen variations on too many times – Judy Garland, Carmen Miranda, Michael Jackson… always leaving the same sad question: What Could Have Saved Them?
So these giant biographies that Handsome dived into, Last Train to Memphis (about the exciting early years) and Careless Love (about the more complex later ones), both by Peter Guralnick, told him pretty much everything anyone could want to know about the man often referred to now as The King. The obsessive work it took to create his singing style, the conflict between his deep religious faith and the irresistible fun that stardom offered, the girls girls girls, the drugs (which started, not in Hollywood or Vegas, but in the army, where soldiers were given all the amphetamines they wanted, to keep them alert and active), and the miserable loneliness he battled always – but did they answer that big question? Not really.
However, I wonder if a key was hinted at, one I want to share with you because I think it’s important, not just to this grandiose life, but maybe for you as well.
Shortly before he died, Elvis told a friend about a nightmare he had suffered over and over, since he’d first hit it big: “All his money was gone, the fans had abandoned him… he was alone.”
Think about that. For twenty years, close to every night, this most popular and successful of performers would dream of his life being the opposite. His greatest fear.
But dreams are funny things. When I dream of fighting off mountain lions, is that a bad or good dream? It’s scary, but also way more exciting than anything I experience shut in Handsome’s yard. And maybe that dream is telling me that I’d be living my truest and happiest life in the wild – or that I could even save lots of lives by reducing the fierce mountain lion population!
And here’s what I’m wondering – if Elvis had lost all his popularity and riches, if he’d been alone with his thoughts and memories, if no one wanted to hear him sing or see his show… might he have lived?
Sure, he’d have been miserable. He’d feel like a failure. He’d be lonelier than ever. But he’d know that anyone who came around was a true friend, and not after him for his fame or money. He’d be able to live a healthier lifestyle than one gets touring or performing. And maybe he’d even be unable to afford those drugs!
And then, over time, maybe he’d have pulled himself together. Become clean and sober, been more of a father to his daughter, maybe even gotten a hound dog like he’d sung about! And then, of course, anything would have been possible.
The reason I’m bringing all this up isn’t to depress you about a death some 45 years ago. But to point out that so often, what people are most afraid of losing is just what they need to experience, to move forward into a new stage of life. I get so many beautiful heartbreaking letters from you guys, so afraid about losing a boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn’t want you anymore. And every time, once I see you let go of them – you’re happier. You realize that that person was keeping you down, keeping you feeling bad about yourself, keeping you from moving into where your life could go.
A few years back, I watched Handsome hold on with terror to a career that wasn’t helping him; once he moved on to another life, he was so much cheerier (and I can’t tell you how much better company he was; Whew!).
And for me, when I first moved in with Handsome, I was always trying to get away. I liked him, but was annoyed by being locked up, so I’d try to dig under the fence, or climb over it. Till I realized that this was exactly where I wanted to be most, to the point that if he accidentally leaves the gate unlocked, I don’t walk out. I’d rather wait for him to come home and take me on a walk.
I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t have dreams or ambitions. Sure, pursue that romantic ideal, and if it works out, I’ll be your biggest cheerleader. After all, heaven knows the world is a better, happier place because Elvis worked so hard to be a success.
But when things go wrong, I also urge you to take the chance that perhaps the Universe is telling you something. That the fear that’s propelled you this far has done its job, and it’s time to let it go. That you can be happier and more productive if you give up on that girl, or quit that job, or… leave Vegas, move back home to Memphis, and spend your days in the meditation garden you built at Graceland while letting some other singers enjoy the successes you once knew.
It’s funny how you humans constantly think that if you fail at something, no matter how well you’ve done with it before, that makes your life and you worthless. But you’d never say that to one of us pups when we don’t catch a squirrel or get a trick right. Maybe because we don’t see them that way; we’re really good at letting those failures go, and trying to learn from them so we can do better later on.
I urge you to do the same. Maybe it’ll make a few months better for you, or maybe it’ll give you decades more of life.
Either way, you’re all kings and queens to me. And your lives, whether you’re succeeding or falling short of your goals, are my happiest dream.