Saturday, August 16, 2008

"Elvis Has Left The Building"

Because today is the thirty-first anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, you can bet that there are folks around the globe donning white jumpsuits and jet-black wigs to attend screenings of "Clambake" and "Flaming Star." I won't be among them. That's not the Elvis that hooked me as a kid.

I've been a fan of EP's music since I was a toddler. I sat glued to the tube as a four year-old, when the 1968 comeback special aired. (I still get goosebumps watching his performance of "If I Can Dream.") And as I got older, I came to appreciate the writing of folks like Peter Guralnick, Robert Gordon, and Greil Marcus, whose books shed light on the larger cultural and musical contexts in which Elvis crafted his body of work -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Yes, I'm a fan of Elvis, but being a music geek, I guess I'm also a student of Elvis -- in the same way I'm a student of Duke Ellington, James Brown, and Hank Williams.

Back in mid-2002, it was the "music student" in me that initially got a charge out of meeting Al Dvorin. My family and I had just moved into our Rogers Park home, and Al and his wife, Bernice, lived across the street.

As I later found out, Al loved to chat, and on one of the first Saturday afternoons we were in our new house, Al stopped my wife on the sidewalk and engaged her in a long conversation. During the course of that conversation, Al mentioned Elvis. My wife took that as a cue to tell Al, "You really need to meet my husband."

A couple minutes later, I wandered out of the house to meet Al. He was almost eighty years old, but that day we began a friendship that lasted until his death in August 2004.

You see, I knew about Al from Peter Guralnick's two-volume biography of Elvis -- and Al got a big kick out of that fact. And when I told Al that I was a part-time rocker and was probably the only guy in the neighborhood who had performed "Suspicious Minds" in Japan and "Burning Love" at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, he knew he'd met a kindred spirit.

You never would have guessed it by looking at the octogenarian who walked cautiously from his Rogers Park bungalow to his old blue station wagon, but Al was the man whose voice was heard at the end of the King's concerts: "Elvis has left the building. Thank you and good night."

During the short time I knew Al, he spent most of his time caring for his sick wife. After she passed away, he used to talk to me about his desire to go back “on the road” to attend the many Elvis festivals and conventions to which he was always invited. He said, “My family will think I’m nuts, but this is what I need to do right now.” And it was what he needed to do.

Al eventually went back "on the road." Sadly, in August 2004, he was killed in a car accident near Palm Springs on the way home from an Elvis tribute show.

Shortly before Al died, he was excited when a local pinball machine company – Stern, I believe -- wanted to license his voice for use in an Elvis game it was designing. Al asked me to review the proposed contract for him. I don’t know whether the game ever hit the market.

I’m glad I got to know Al Dvorin. I miss him, and I think of him often -- and always on August 16 -- the day on which Elvis left "The Building" for good.

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