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Elvis until death

By BARBARA GONZALEZ- VENTURA, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 03, 2022 5:00 am

I can still see us.

Five 13-year-olds going to the balcony of Ideal Theater on a Saturday morning for the first screening of Jailhouse Rock. We were gangmates — Ting-ting de los Reyes, Josine Loinaz, Chingbee Kalaw, Buki Richardson (my bestest friend in a gang of best friends), and I. We were in freshman high. We got to the movies at around nine in the morning, paid P1.80 each for our balcony seats. We left the movie house at around five in the afternoon. We were thrilled to death — or at least I was, the first time I saw Elvis Presley. I thought then I couldn’t get enough of him.

Did I find him handsome? He looked quite a bit like my uncle who was a Jesuit priest, so his looks didn’t exactly turn me on. It was the way he moved that made me dizzy enough to be glued to my seat. His long legs, his gyrations that I had never seen before. I melted.

I don’t remember the story of Jailhouse Rock. I remember the song began with:

The warden threw a party in the county jail/The prison band was there, and they began to wail/The band was jumpin’, and the joint began to swing/You should’ve heard them knocked-out jailbirds sing

Let’s rock/Everybody, let’s rock/Everybody in the whole cellblock/Was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock…

What? You think a great-grandmother can’t remember the songs of her youth? You think I was a square then? You are wrong. You don’t know me. You don’t know our generation. We grooved to Elvis from the tips of our toes to the split ends in our hair. As time passed we even grooved to Woodstock, the rock concert that changed the world. Our generation turned what we called “the Establishment” (the way things used to be) upside-down so that life became much easier for you, the succeeding generations.

Before the rock concert, Woodstock had a different meaning for me. It was where my uncle, the Jesuit, studied before he was ordained. I had been to the seminary Woodstock when I was turning 11. But the rock concert with nudity in it gave it a different twist, put it on a much bigger map, and dwarfed my original concept of Woodstock.

Elvis pressed different buttons in me. I did not realize it then, but now I do. Elvis to me was the sexiest man alive.

We were just 13 years old when Elvis crashed into the picture. We had never realized there were movements like his.

But let’s go back to Elvis because I think he might have been responsible for the start of what we then called the Anti-Establishment era. We are the tail end of the Baby Boomers, born after World War II. We were just 13 years old when Elvis crashed into the picture. We had never realized there were movements like his. Or music like his. Then, I was swooning to Frank Sinatra and later Johnny Mathis. But Elvis pressed different buttons in me. I did not realize it then, but now I do. Elvis to me was the sexiest man alive. When I remember his Jailhouse Rock movements, he still is the sexiest man, bar none.

He sang the theme song to the first time I went steady. I had a boyfriend when I turned 14. Our theme song ended with, Put a chain around my neck and lead me anywhere, oh, let me be, your teddy bear.

The memory now makes me giggle. We found being teddy bears so romantic then. How totally dumb of us! When we broke up, we followed Elvis’ orders: But don’t you step on my blue suede shoes.

There’s another song. 

You ain’t nothing but a hound dog/ Cryin’ all the time/Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit/And you ain’t no friend of mine.

Isn’t that so intellectual? To agree to a friendship only with someone who had caught rabbits? Do you know how hard it is to catch a rabbit? Those cute little red-eyed creatures — or critters, in Elvis-talk — run so fast.

Then Elvis began to get more mellow. He sang Wooden Heart. Didn’t much like that. Love Me Tender, passable. But I loved it when he sang Are You Lonesome Tonight? Often I wondered why I didn’t like his sad songs. Now I know. Because he stopped gyrating as marvelously as he did in Jailhouse Rock! That’s the Elvis Presley memory that I will carry to my deathbed.

Now there’s an Elvis movie, which my friend Levi, who has adored Elvis all his life, suggests I see. But I have no one to go to the movies with. I don’t go out anymore except to go to the drugstore and the supermarket to buy the things we need to live. Life is that exciting when you get as old as I.

But even now I remember Elvis has a song for old people like me:

You don’t like crazy music,/You don’t like rockin’ bands,/You just want to go to a show/And sit there holding hands./You’re so square/Baby, I don’t care.