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Joe Murray
 You're here » Christian Columns Index » Guest Writer

Elvis Has Left the Building
by Joe Murray - (AgapePress)
August 17, 2006
Category: Entertainment
ELVIS WAS THE King of Rock and Roll," opined 30-year rock critic Dave Marsh, "because he was the embodiment of its sins and virtues, grand and vulgar, rude and elegant, powerful and frustrated, absurdly simple and awesomely complex." Marsh's words are, without a doubt, one of the best summaries of the life of one of the world's greatest influences.

At a time when Orval Faubus was grandstanding in front of Little Rock Central High School, Elvis Presley did the unthinkable -- he built a bridge over America's racial divide. "Elvis was an integrator," stated Little Richard. Richard further explained, "Elvis was a blessing. They wouldn't let black music through. He opened the door for black music." It is not a stretch to argue, therefore, that Elvis was a vehicle, an extremely successful one at that, for the Civil Rights movement. Elvis had become a catalyst for positive change and also the negative attacks that so often accompanying such change.

But pushing all of this aside, America has long known about Elvis the musician and she also knows about Elvis the movie maker. But what about Elvis the man? Who was Elvis Presley? How did he view his unprecedented fame? His role in history? When the troubles of life came barreling down, who did Elvis turn to?

While rock and roll may have been Elvis' namesake, gospel music is what flowed through his blood. "He loved to sing spirituals because they told a story," said Ray Walker, a back-up singer with the legendary Jordanaires. Walker continues, gospel music "was his roots. He was a deeply spiritual man, more spiritual than anyone around him."

Elvis's spirituality was never fully explored while he walked the Earth. There was no doubt that Elvis was a man touched deeply by the Christian faith. His religious roots can be traced back to a small Assembly of God church in Tupelo, Mississippi.

It was in this petite, quintessential small-town church that the rhythm that would define a generation was first unearthed. Elvis loved to tell the story -- "[My parents] tell me that when I was about 3 or 4 years old I got away from them in church and walked up in front of the choir and started beating time." A star had been born in this small evangelical church.

And while the world may forever link Elvis to "Hound Dog" and "Heartbreak Hotel," few would know that it was gospel music that sustained a man burdened with many responsibilities. After the lights would dim, the fans would leave, and silence would befall Elvis, he would turn to the music of our Savior.

"It was the gospel music that he turned to for inspiration and consolation," explained Gospel Music Association president Frank Breeden. Breeden adds that Elvis "was a person who appeared to be in conflict; he was not doing what he loved for a living ... he had a career that had just taken him captive." And even more surprising, "Jailhouse Rock" or "All Shook Up" may have gotten Elvis a platinum record, but it was "He Touched Me," a gospel song, that won Elvis his only Grammy.

Elvis needed his faith, for much of his life was spent, metaphorically speaking, alone. Elvis was a trailblazer, a man who marched to the beat of his own drum. When he exploded onto the scene in 1954, he was a white man singing black. He did not wear the right clothes, sing the right songs, nor did he wiggle the right hips. He was unfairly linked to "devil music" and became a favorite target of community leaders that appeared to have a bigger beef with integration, rather than any potential damnation that might be caused by rock and roll.

By the end of the 1950s Elvis was drafted and the rebel without a cause soon became an agent of the establishment. After returning to the States from his military tour of duty, Elvis faced a musical landscape that had changed. New artists were coming onto the scenes and new beats were being discovered. All the while Colonel Parker had Elvis in Hollywood singing ballads to puppets.

Even as the turmoil of the Sixties peaked and Elvis broke from his Hollywood chains, he still was at odds with the culture of the day. A Woodstock warrior he was not. He did the wrong drugs, sang the wrong songs, and eek, even served in the Army. Once again, Elvis seemed to be alone in a world that demanded so much of him.

Adding to all that pressure was the title of being the "King of Rock and Roll," a title Elvis always struggled with. It was said that at the close of a concert in the 1970s, a group of ladies displayed a banner as Elvis was departing the stage. The banner read, "Elvis is the King." Elvis politely turned to the ladies and told them that there was only one King, Jesus Christ. The banner was quickly lowered.

This is the Elvis Presley we never hear about. The Elvis that was kind and gentle. The Elvis that was generous and sincere. The Elvis that had a deep faith for Jesus Christ. The Elvis that had human faults just like the rest of us.

Did Elvis have an addiction to prescription drugs? Probably so. Did Elvis embody, as Dave Marsh stated, the sins of rock and roll? Possibly. But was Elvis a man with a deep faith and a constant yearning that is found among all Christians? You can bet the house on it.

To remember and judge Elvis by his faults is a standard no man, from Jerry Falwell to Pope Benedict XVI, can satisfy. A man should be remembered for what he did, and forgiven for what he failed to do. All Elvis wanted in life was to make others happy -- a burden that can lay heavy on any shoulders.

And when the burden would become too much, Elvis may have made some mistakes. But nonetheless, Elvis always found solace in singing praise to Jesus Christ. How is that any different from our lives? Minus that fact that Elvis had billions of people watching his every move.

While Elvis may not have praised Jesus in a manner that is common to most Christians, Elvis was not a common man. He was a man who was given an unmistakable talent by God, and by using his talent Elvis was isolated from the world that asked so much of him.

In the end Elvis recognized his own short comings, but also recognized the potential he had to impact the world. Just listen to the words of Elvis -- "I ain't no saint, but I've tried never to do anything that would hurt my family or offend God ... I figure all any kid needs is hope and the feeling he or she belongs. If I could do or say anything that would give some kid that feeling, I would believe I had contributed something to the world." Isn't that what it is all about?
Joe Murray (jrm1835@gmail.com) is a civil rights attorney residing in New Jersey. Murray is a former staff attorney for the American Family Association and has also served as national director of correspondence for Patrick J. Buchanan's 2000 presidential bid. Murray has been a guest on numerous radio and television talk shows, including the O'Reilly Factor.

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