Elvis and The Beatles

Elvis and The Beatles

Elvis Presley was emotionally never far from the two-room shotgun house in East Tupelo where he was born and raised.  Artistically, it served as the very cradle, crucible and inspiration for the most successful singer and most beloved star in history.  But it was the rich, vibrant gospel music he heard in church and the Black R&B he absorbed on historic Beale Street as a Memphis teenager which were the primary and diverse influences that shaped Elvis, who ushered in a whole new era of American music and popular culture.

After starring in a string of highly successful films as the highest paid actor in Hollywood, Elvis became increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated.  “I’ve got to do something more meaningful; there’s something else I’m cut out to do.  I owe it to my fans, I owe it to myself.  I’ve had it making teenybopper movies.  They’re all just the same damn ol’ flick; all they do is change my character’s name and throw in a few new sets.”

Ironically it was with the arrival of The Beatles that a seed was planted in the fertile soil of his frustration, later to germinate into another of Elvis’ accomplishments – one of the greatest in his music career.

It was the summer of 1965 when The Beatles arrived in Los Angeles to perform their historic Hollywood Bowl concerts.  After repeated requests, Colonel Parker finally agreed to speak with their manager Brian Epstein.  Together they arranged an historic meeting to take place on the evening of August 27, at Elvis’ Bel Air house on Perugia Way. We were all very excited.  Everyone in town wanted to meet The Beatles, but the only American they wanted to meet was Elvis.

That Friday night I drove up to Elvis’ house in my steel-gray Mercedes.  The word of the Fab Four’s visit had leaked out, spreading through Los Angeles like brushfire.  Elvis and The Beatles were stars to the stars, so I wasn’t surprised at all to find Elvis’ house under siege. Perugia Way was teeming with hundreds of people, carefully scrutinizing each car as it slowly passed, and craning their necks to get a glimpse of one of The Beatles.  There were policemen everywhere, and it was obvious that the security had taken a great deal of planning.  The cops apparently had a list containing the make, model, license-plate number and other information about who would be driving what and who should be admitted.  I was waved right through and went inside the house.

I found Elvis sitting in the den; he jumped up when he saw me and motioned me to follow him into his bathroom.  We had developed a comfortable routine of endless talks when I took care of his hair, but this night was different.  Elvis was stone quiet; his eyes took on a faraway look.  He seemed fidgety – his fingers snapping on the marble top, his right leg bouncing nervously.  Suddenly his demeanor changed and he turned to me.  “Man, I know exactly what those four guys are going through; I’ve been there and done it. That’s where it’s at, getting up there in front of live people, feeling the energy.  Maybe that’s what I need to do again. To tell you the truth, Larry, I’m embarrassed.  I mean, they’re out there doing what I used to do, and I’m here making these dumb-ass movies that don’t mean a thing, same as the music they make me sing.”

Several weeks later Elvis was at the wheel driving his Dodge motor home as we headed back to Memphis.  He turned to me and said with quiet certainty,”Something came to me Lawrence, an’ now I know what I’m going to do.  I’m going to record a gospel album.  I want everyone to know who I am, and where I came from.”

The gospel album he recorded was “How Great Thou Art,” for which he received his first Grammy Award.  Globally, Elvis has sold over one billion records, more than any other single artist or group who ever recorded.  Yet the King of Rock ‘n Roll never won a Grammy for rock, pop, country or any other genre for which he was famous – only for the music of his soul.

To this day The Beatles have no idea of the very special influence they had upon Elvis.

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Elvis Presley’s Spiritual Quest

Millions of words have been written about the tumultuous and legendary life and career of Elvis Presley: from his humble birth and extremely poor years as a child in a little wooden shotgun two-room dwelling in Tupelo, Mississippi; to his musical beginnings as a teenager discovered at Sun Records by Sam Phillips; to his explosive surge to worldwide celebrity set in motion and handled by the colorful Colonel Tom Parker. Despite this array of facts, the truth is that the most dedicated and hardcore enthusiast who can discuss the tiniest bit of facts and trivia about his personal life and his career has no idea of what is most important and revealing : the essential core of the man born Elvis Aaron Presley, his lifelong quest for meaning and purpose.

I knew Elvis privately as a smart, sensitive man who set out on a lifelong search for wisdom and spiritual growth. Our mutual quest was our deepest bond. Elvis and I steeped ourselves in the wisdom of the world’s great spiritual teachings. Elvis and I poured over every book I could get my hands on. We researched and considered, explored and dug into, always looking for answers to the unanswerable, helping each other on the journey as we each searched for our own fulfillment. Together we analyzed the wisdom and philosophy of the ages, spiritual teachings of both East and West, exoteric and esoteric. There were no limits to the subjects we explored. We experienced meditation and spiritual healing. We enjoyed playing with numbers and words, developing brand new ways of discovering mystical meaning in the ordinary. Metaphysics communicated directly to Elvis’ basic desire to understand the mystery of life, and thus it came forth naturally from the core of his heart and soul.

Most of Elvis’ conservative thinking entourage and management couldn’t accept or deal with Elvis’ inner voyage. The very word spiritual invoked bizarre, foreign and weird thoughts and pictures to many of them. As a result, there were many years of misunderstanding and dissension.

The word “spiritual,” just like “God,” has many emotional and philosophical interpretations,  isolating individuals from each other and leading to a great deal of misunderstanding and conflict. People who have never raised their eyes above the material world, who have never even caught sight of the realms of the divine, talk about the concept as if they know what they are talking about or they dismiss the whole idea as if they know what they are denying. Just as with the word “love,” the full concept of spirituality has been thrown about so casually that its meaning has become buried. We love our family, we love God; but we also love tv shows or pizza. Love is more than an emotional feeling; it’s a rich, powerful spiritual frequency, a unifying power that links us all.

Understanding our true selves is the heart of spirituality, to learn the nature of our connection to God. This search has been the basis of all the world’s great religious and spiritual teachings, and the aim of all the great spiritual masters. True spirituality is an attitude, a way of being, an expansion of our awareness and our experience with life; it is the art of meaningful living.

The fundamental theme of Elvis’ quest for meaning and purpose in his life was to comprehend what was asked of him, what he was called upon to give to the world. He understood his God-given talent and the music he created were a great gift he presented to his fans, and most people would have been satisfied with that as the purpose of their life. But it didn’t satisfy Elvis; he sincerely felt he was chosen at birth and he suffered in his passion to do more, to give more.

His fans sense that Elvis is more than the performer on stage or on records, that there was a vulnerability and innocence that shone through the flash and glamour.

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Elvis Remembers His Mother’s Death

One afternoon upstairs in Elvis’ bedroom at Graceland, he and I were talking about his mother’s passing in 1958. It was the most turbulent, disoriented and confusing time in his life: drafted into the Army, leaving the career that had exploded two years earlier, uncertain what the future would bring.

“Man, you can’t believe what I was goin’ through back then. I mean everything was just crashing in on me at once, every dream I ever had. Just when everything was going my way, the Army calls me.  My career came to a screeching halt; all the movies I was starring in, my records, everything. To tell you the truth I actually thought that nobody would remember me after I served my time, that I’d be some kind of flash–in–the pan. You know, people would say, “hey, remember that guy, the one that used to shake his body, what’s his name?”

Then the first thing they do when I’m inducted is buzz my hair off!” Elvis shook his head incredulously. “Can you imagine that, Larry, my hair? Then, when I’m struggling to deal with everything, my mom suddenly died! My mom was the light of my life, my best friend; I mean, she’s the one I could always go to…man, no matter what. That’s a blow you can never really get over.”

“But no matter what happened and all that, I’m glad I served my country, Larry. I love America; where else can you dream the impossible dream? Believe me, no one knows better than I do. I’ve lived that dream. My mom kept tellin’ me, even when we had nothing, that I could be anything I wanted to be, if I tried hard enough.”

“And I’ll tell you this Larry; I didn’t have to go into the army like the way all the other guys did.  They told me that if I wanted to I could be in a special service unit; you know, represent the army and tour the other bases around the world, talk to the guys, maybe entertain and sing.  I didn’t even have to think about it.  I flat turned their offer down.  I didn’t want to be treated special or anything like that; I just wanted to let everyone know that I was just like every other guy.”

Elvis had a strong sense of history and was proud of his Southerner’s traditional love of country. He drew his energy and strength from the American soil and its people. “Sure, America’s not perfect, but it’s the best hope we have for this world. I mean, who else is as free as we are? People will do anything to get here; some even die. America represents hope for this world. I’m proud to be an American and I’m proud that I served my country.”

Elvis lived the American dream. He rose from the most desperate poverty to unprecedented fame and fortune. He also embodied the American spirit; he was optimistic, brash, daring and certainly a pioneer. Just like America, Elvis embraced everyone; whether it was a President, an office worker or a janitor, everyone was treated equally by him.

After all these years Elvis still inspires and touches millions of lives around the world. Many who weren’t even born when he left us. Elvis’ image, his music and the force of his personality continue as a vibrant, living presence.

Elvis goes beyond being a legend; he’s an historic icon. Yet one of the great ironies of his extraordinary life can be revealed in a comment he once made, “I wonder,” he said quietly…”I wonder if I’ll ever be remembered?”

I think it’s safe to say that we all remember him, and love him for the great human being he was – uniquely American, yet belonging to the world.

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Elvis Presley’s Health, His Struggles, His Dreams

As we grow older it’s only human to look back and evaluate one’s life.  In retrospect, is the world a better place for my being here?  Over the years I have repeatedly asked myself: did I contribute enough?  What more could I have done?

For fourteen years, I was Elvis Presley’s close friend, personal hairstylist and spiritual mentor.  When I set aside my emotions and allow my intellect to take over, I accept the reality that years of neglect, a diet of junk foods, an exhausting and devitalizing lifestyle and toxic damage, caused Elvis to lose his life so tragically young.

I know that in many ways I helped Elvis – but I always wondered if there was anything more I could have done to save him.  I’ll never know.  The truth is, no one really saves anyone, but we can help others to save themselves. It’s too late for Elvis…but it’s not too late for you or me to learn a lesson from him and save our own lives.  Knowing Elvis as I did, he truly would want it that way.

Towards the end, Elvis’ body increasingly suffered from a host of debilitating health conditions, yet his youthful mind and the beauty of his spirit were still attuned to the idea that life is sacred. Ultimately his state of health became a source of concern and continual conversation between us. He woke up to the painful realization that without dramatic changes in his life, both personal and professional, he would not survive.

During Elvis’ lifetime and continuing since his death, the rumor mill has been rife with speculation of his drug use. The paradox of this aspect of Elvis’ life is that he was adamant about his friends not using recreational drugs around him.  Ironically, his blind spot was not acknowledging that his own dependency on prescription drugs, while legal, was no different and perhaps even more dangerous.

“The spirit is willing, Lawrence, but the flesh is weak.”

Approaching the breaking point, Elvis was determined to fight for and transform his life.

Many times during the closing days of his life we explored ways for him to take on this monumental task.  A plan soon emerged: we would go to one of his favorite places, Hawaii. Elvis was burnt out after years of touring the country and was excited by the prospect of taking off a year or so, if that was what it might take to turn everything around.

The idea of kicking back and relaxing, finally cutting out junk foods and getting off “all those damn pills they give me” really inspired him.  Eating loads of fresh fruits and vegetables, drinking fresh juices, daily exercise, running and playing football on the beach and meditation were on the top of our to-do list.  We were like little kids eagerly looking forward to the end of the school year and the long, happy days of summer vacation. It’s a beautiful fantasy I carry with me to this day.

And there were other changes afoot. For years Elvis had talked to me about making significant changes in his business and career, from management to his personal staff to re-entering Hollywood in films of substance as a serious actor.

I truly believe that he would have followed through with his dream.  Elvis was ready. I had never seen him so focused.

Sadly, forces against him proved to be too much, and Elvis lost his battle. There were many times in 1977, the year he died, that he could have acted on his new-found hope and determination. The tragedy and the great mistake of his life was that, despite the best of intentions, he fell into the trap of procrastination that often keeps us from acting upon what we know is best. The lesson for all of us is: when clarity comes and you know what to do to enhance your life and the lives of others around you, don’t hesitate. Life is too precious and too precarious.

Each of us comes into this life pure and whole, with the full potential of our innate powers.

Our body is the temple of life, and we can all influence our health and our destiny through the choices we make.

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