The Funeral Of Elvis
PG was going to write about some depressing subject. People that are not kind to each other. People in Israel and people in Gaza just don’t seem to get along. Somebody driving a “faded red F-150 pickup truck” in Livonia MI was mean to a little girl. (HT to Neo Prodigy.) This is a repost.
There is a saying, “if a story seems too bad to be true, it probably isn’t”. PG tried to google that phrase, and got confused. Then he seemed to remember reading it in a column by Molly Ivins. Another google adventure, and there was this film. Miss Ivins, who met her maker January 31, 2007, was promoting a book. She sat down with a bald headed man to talk about it. PG could only listen to 24:30 of this video before being seized with the urge to write a story. There is a transcript, which makes “borrowing” so much easier. This film has 34 minutes to go, which just might yield another story or two.
Molly Ivins was a Texas woman. These days there is a lot of talk about Texas, with Governor Big Hair aiming to be the next POTUS. Mr. Perry claims that his record as Texas Governor qualifies him to have his finger on the nuclear trigger. Miss Ivins repeats something that PG has heard before… “in our state we have the weak governor system, so that really not a great deal is required of the governor, not necessarily to know much or do much. And we’ve had a lot of governors who did neither. “ It makes you wonder how much of that “economic miracle” is because of hair spray.
Texas politics makes about as much sense as Georgia politics. For a lady, with a way with words, it is a gold mine. “the need you have for descriptive terms for stupid when you write about Texas politics is practically infinite. Now I’m not claiming that our state Legislature is dumber than the average state Legislature, but it tends to be dumb in such an outstanding way. It’s, again, that Texas quality of exaggeration and being slightly larger than life. And there are a fair number of people in the Texas Legislature of whom it could fairly be said, `If dumb was dirt, they would cover about an acre.’ And I’m not necessarily opposed to that. I’m–agree with an old state senator who always said that, `If you took all the fools out of the Legislature, it would not be a representative body anymore.’”
We could go through this conversation for a long time, but you probably want to skip ahead and look at pictures. ( Which are from The Library of Congress ) There is one story in this transcript that is too good not to borrow. For some reason, Molly Ivins went to work for The New York Times, aka the gray lady. In August of 1977, she was in the right place at the right time.
Mr. LAMB: And how long did you spend with The New York Times as a reporter?
Ms. IVINS: Six years with The New York Times. Some of it in New York as a political reporter at City Hall in Albany and then later as bureau chief out in the Rocky Mountains.
Mr. LAMB: Would you take a little time and tell us about reporting on the funeral of Elvis Presley?
Ms. IVINS: Oh, now there is something that when I’ve been standing in the checkout line at the grocery store and if I really need to impress people, I just let fall that I covered Elvis’ funeral. And, boy, people just practically draw back with awe. It may yet turn out to be my greatest claim to fame.
I was sitting in The New York City Times one day when I noticed a whole no–knot of editors up around the desk having a–a great scrum of concern, you could tell. It looked sort of like an anthill that had just been stepped on. And it turns out–The New York Times has a large obituary desk, and they prepare obituaries for anybody of prominence who might croak. But it turns out–you may recall that Elvis Presley died untimely and they were completely unprepared.
Now this is an enormous news organization. They have rock music critics and classical music critics and opera critics, but they didn’t have anybody who knew about Elvis Presley’s kind of music. So they’re lookin’ across a whole acre of reporters, and you could see them decide, `Ah-ha, Ivins. She talks funny. She’ll know about Mr. Presley.’
So I wound up writing Elvis’ obituary for The New York Times. I had to refer to him throughout as Mr. Presley. It was agonizing. That’s the style at The New York Times–Mr. Presley. Give me a break. And the next day they sold more newspapers than they did after John Kennedy was assassinated, so that even the editors of The New York Times, who had not quite, you know, been culturally aton–tuned to Elvis, decided that we should send someone to report on the funeral. And I drew that assignment. What a scene it was.
Mr. LAMB: You–you say in the book that you got in the cab and you said, `Take me to Graceland.’ The cabbie peels out of the airport doing 80 and then turns full around to the backseat and drawls, `Ain’t it a shame Elvis had to die while the Shriners are in town?’
Ms. IVINS: That’s exactly what he said. `Shame Elvis had to die while the Shriners are in town.’ And I kind of raised by eyebrows. And sure enough, I realized what he–what he meant after I had been there for awhile because, you know, Shriners in convention–I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a whole lot of Shriners in convention, but they were having a huge national convention that very week in Memphis. And they tend to wear their little red fezzes, and sometimes they drink too much and they march around the hotel hallways tooting on New Year’s Eve horns and riding those funny little tricycles and generally cutting up and having a good time. That’s your Shriners in convention, always something very edifying and enjoyable to watch. But they–every–every hotel room in Memphis was occupied with celebrating Shriners, and then Elvis dies and all these tens of thousands of grieving, hysterical Elvis Presley fans descend on the town.
So you got a whole bunch of sobbing, hysterical Elvis fans, you got a whole bunch of cavorting Shriners. And on top of that they were holding a cheerleading camp. And the cheerleading camp–I don’t know if your memory–with the ethos of the cheerleading camp, but the deal is that every school sends its team–team of cheerleaders to cheerleading camp.
And your effort there at the camp is to win the spirit stick, which looks, to the uninitiated eye, a whole lot like a broom handle painted red, white and blue. But it is the spirit stick. And should your team win it for three days running, you get to keep it. But that has never happened. And the way you earn the spirit stick is you show most spirit. You cheer for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You cheer when the pizza man brings the pizza. You do handsprings end over end down the hallway to the bathroom. I tell you, those young people will throw–show an amount of spirit that would just astonish you in an effort to win that stick.
So here I was for an entire week, dealing with these three groups of people: the young cheerleaders trying to win the spirit stick, the cavorting Shriners and the grieving, hysterical Elvis fans. And I want to assure you that The New York Times is not the kind of newspaper that will let you write about that kind of rich human comedy.
Mr. LAMB: Why?
Ms. IVINS: Because The New York Times, at least in my day, was a very stuffy, pompous newspaper.
Mr. LAMB: What about today?
Ms. IVINS: A little bit better, little bit better than it was.
Mr. LAMB: And…
Ms. IVINS: Has–has–it has a tendency, recidivist tendencies, though. You–you will notice if you read The Times, it–it collapses into pomposity and stuffiness with some regularity.
Mr. LAMB: Why did you leave it?
Ms. IVINS: Well, I–I actually got into trouble at The New York City Times for describing a community chu–chicken killing out West as a gang pluck. Abe Rosenthal was then the editor of the Times and he was not amused.
Mr. LAMB: Did–but did they let it go? Did they let it…
Ms. IVINS: Oh, no. It never made it in the paper. Good heavens, no. Such a thing would never get in The Times in my day.
POSTSCRIPT PG found some pictures, marked up the text, and was ready to post the story. He decided to listen to a bit more of the discussion between Molly Ivins and the bald headed man. When he got to this point, it became apparent that he could listen to Molly Ivins talk, or he could post his story, but he could not do both at the same time.
Ms. IVINS: Oh, well, of course, I’m gonna make fun of it. I mean, Berkeley, California, if you are from Texas, is just hilarious.
Mr. LAMB: Why?
Ms. IVINS: Well, of course, it is just the absolute center of liberalism and political correctness. And it is a veritable hotbed of people, of–bless their hearts, who all think alike, in a liberal way. And, of course, I’m sometimes called a liberal myself, and you would think I would have felt right at home there. But I just am so used to–I’m so used to Texas that I found the culture at Berkeley hysterical.