Rev. Suzanne Marlatt Stewart
This summer the long-awaited movie Elvis was on the big screen. For many of us who grew up in that era, Elvis was our idol. He was considered scandalous, known for his “gyrations,” and made rock ‘n’ roll a new era in 20th century pop culture. He combined a singularly potent mix of influences across color lines during a very transformative era in race relations.
Elvis picked up music early by attending local gospel groups. Over the span of his career, he won many awards, including some Grammys for his first love of music, gospel songs.
Colonel Tom Parker was a former carny turned shrewd businessman who managed Presley’s career from 1955 to 1977. He oversaw almost every aspect of the star’s life and is often accused of exploiting Elvis, who was young and naive and totally turned his career decisions over to the colonel. Parker found venue upon venue for Elvis to perform in, be it recording studios, Hollywood films, TV specials, and even satellite broadcasts, immersing the artist into the cultural zeitgeist, while keeping him landlocked in North America. The movie, although a few scenes are fictional, depicts the colonel as mentally, emotionally, and financially abusive toward Elvis.
In December 1968, Elvis performed on a TV Christmas special, known as the “Comeback Concert.” He ended the hour program with a song that was considered very forward-looking, “If I Can Dream.” Elvis followed his own intuition of what would be the best song to end the program. Following are the words, based on Martin Luther King’s famous speech. To me, this song is still very poignant in our current times.
There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land
Where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true
There must be peace and understanding sometime
Strong winds of promise that will blow away the doubt and fear
If I can dream of a warmer sun
Where hope keeps shining on everyone
Tell me why, oh why, oh why won’t that sun appear
We’re lost in a cloud with too much rain
We’re trapped in a world that’s troubled with pain
But as long as a man has the strength to dream
He can redeem his soul and fly
Deep in my heart, there’s a trembling question
Still I am sure that the answer, answer’s gonna come somehow
Out there in the dark, there’s a beckoning candle, yeah
And while I can think, while I can talk
While I can stand, while I can walk
While I can dream, please let my dream come true, oh
Right now, let it come true right now
It’s been over 45 years since his death, when Elvis was only 42 years old, but questions about his final moments continue to circulate to this day. And even after the release of this 2022 biopic, many are still wondering. So, what was Elvis Presley’s cause of death? While he died of heart failure, it is now believed to have been brought on by the singer’s long history of prescription drug abuse.
I wonder if there would have been a happier ending for Elvis’ life, if he had not given his “power” away to Colonel Parker. Allowing another to make decisions for your life, can go against your true self, contributing to an unhappy existence. Thus, my takeaway thoughts after seeing this movie are to be true to yourself, trust yourself, and follow your heart. A lyric from one of Elvis’ gospel songs is: Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand.” Stand tall following your own dreams.
Rev. Suzanne, a resident of SaddleBrooke, is an independent writer and speaker. She was ordained non-denominational in 1988, representing all faiths. Her focus is “inclusiveness.” Email her at [email protected].