Dead Elvis

Behold the faded, tattered glory that is the Dead Elvis t-shirt!

I have owned this shirt for fifteen years. It is indeed torn and stained, but has held up remarkably well, all things considered. The shirt is an artifact from my days at Left Bank Books, a promotional item from Doubleday Books. There's precious little money to be made in bookselling (despite what you may have heard), so people in the trade set great store by the pitiable perks that come their way: readers' copies of new titles, the odd poster or hat, or t-shirts. This particular garment is a advertisement for the hardcover edition (now available only as a used book) of Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession by Greil Marcus. (The title has since been picked up by Harvard University Press.) Wearing it is the closest I've come to actually reading a Marcus book. No knock on music journos or cultural critics, mind you; that's just how it is.

But enough about the book; we're talking about the shirt. I've attracted much attention and praise with this shirt over the years. I've had people offer me money for this shirt. If I had the mindset of a collector, I'd have boxed it up and removed it from light, heat, or humidity, then sold it on eBay. But there was no such thing as eBay when I first acquired this shirt, and selling it never came to mind anyway.

My favorite memory regarding the shirt comes from a night many years ago when a friend dragged me across the Mississippi to Fairmount Park, there to watch the ponies run. I'll confess that spending time at the track wasn't high on my list of fave things to do (though I had a pretty good time the second time I went), but I endeavored to make the best of it. I found that I was attracting a fair amount of attention for no reason I could discern. Eventually, I figured out that it was the shirt that piqued the interest of others, but I still couldn't account for the high level of interest. It wasn't until I saw a promotional stunt taking place - an Elvis impersonator being lowered by helicopter onto the track - that it finally came home to me.

It was Elvis Night at Fairmount Park! Now what were the odds of that, eh?

I recall clearly just one exchange with a track habitué over the shirt. He was a large and bleary-eyed specimen with a plastic cup of some Anheuser-Busch product in his hand. He studied the front of the shirt, then puzzled over the words on the back: "A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession."

"What's that mean?" he eventually asked.

I thought for just a moment, then said: "It means Elvis will always be with us." Then I smiled. So did he.

I have no idea who that guy was, for I never got his name. But as the song says, I have reason to believe we both will be received in Graceland.

(Cross-post my heart and hope to die, well I wouldn't tell you no lie...)

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