Elvis Presley, the "King" of Rock and Roll, would have been eighty-two-years-old today. Elvis, who has been gone for nearly forty years, was one of the rare performers of his generation whose talents stretched across genres and whose fame and celebrity crossed international borders with relative ease and cultivated a worldwide following of admiring fans.
Japan is one of the nations where Elvis remains particularly popular. President George W. Bush was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at the White House back in June of 2006, when Bush invited Koizumi, an ardent Elvis fan, to join him on an impromptu visit to Graceland, the King's home in Memphis. Even though Bush and Koizumi reportedly both declined the Elvis specials - fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches - that were served aboard Air Force One that day, both world leaders did enjoy a personal tour of the Graceland that was conducted by Presley's widow, Priscilla, and their daughter, Lisa Marie. Koizumi sang some Elvis lyrics and shook his hips for reporters.
Yesterday I received an email from a close Japanese friend. Minkeo Hattori was a teenager when she spent a year living with our family as an exchange student to America. That was back in the early 1980's, not too long after the death of Elvis. Today she lives near Tokyo with her husband where she works as a translator. (Mineko is fluent in Japanese, French, and English.) In her email Mineko mentioned that she was planning to attend an Elvis birthday event in Tokyo, something in which she has participated for nearly a decade. She said that the birthday celebration would include a couple of Elvis films, a singer performing a few of his songs, and a panel discussion led by a music critic.
I responded to Mineko's email and said that I would like to mention the celebration in this blog. She replied this morning with an in-depth account of her day at the Elvis event. (Japan is on the front side of the International Date Line which means Elvis's birthday there was basically on our yesterday.)
The Tokyo Elvis birthday celebration took place at Nihonbashi Public Hall. Mineko said that the hall officially seats 440 people, but that counting those who had to stand as well as assorted merchandise vendors there were probably around 500 people in attendance. The first part of the program was a 1956 documentary film about the birth of rock and roll. That was followed with speakers - an 81-year-old female music critic (Elvis's age), Yukawa Reiko, and a "famous boogie singer," Ryudo Uzaki (who is now 70-years-old).
Ryudo Uzaki now composes music with his famous lyricist/actress wife, Aki Yoko. Uzaki told the group a personal story relating to Elvis. He said that he was a younger brother to several sisters - and grew up listening to their music which often included popular songs on AFN (the American Armed Forces Network) in post war Japan. Some of what he heard on AFN was, of course, music from the very popular Elvis Presley.
Uzaki's primary school had a policy of not allowing students to sing popular songs because they might have "adult content." The boy thought the policy only referred to Japanese adult songs, and he continued to hum and sing the American songs that his older sisters listened to - song's like "Heartbreak Hotel." One day a fellow student told the headmaster that Ryudo was singing Elvis songs between classes. Uzaki's mother was called into school and the boy got into trouble for his exuberant nature.
Uzaki's teacher was a young woman in her twenties who was just out of college. She asked Ryudo if he had been scolded by the headmaster, and why. He said that he had gotten into trouble for singing "Heartbreak Hotel." The teacher asked if he had the record at home, and when the lad told her that his sister did, she asked that he bring it to class. The little boy, who was infatuated with his pretty teacher, rushed home and got the record and gave it to her. She played it on a record player owned by the school, and it turned out that record player was connected to the school's speaker system - and the whole school got to hear Elvis singing "Heartbreak Hotel!"
If you're going to break a rule, you might as well go really big!
Mineko said the last part of yesterday's event was the presentation of an Elvis television special from 1968. She also said that some of the older ladies at yesterday's Elvis celebration were crying. Mineko suggested that those sobbing fans live in a different era, and time had stopped for them when they fell in love with Elvis.
I understand that perfectly. Cher and I have the same thing going on!