The Day Elvis Presley Lost His Mom

[This article is an excerpt from my non-fiction book MUSIC IS A METAPHOR: HOW SONGS AND SYMPHONIES REVEAL THE FOUR LOVES. This excerpt looks at a day in the life of Elvis Presley (#ElvisPresley) and compares and contrasts his activities to what C.S. Lewis (#CSLewis) was doing approximately on that same day. Everything is researched and factual, including what the weather and temperature was like on that particular day in both locations.]

C.S. Lewis steps out of a black cab in London. Raindrops bead the waxed roof of the car, and a little lick of icy wind reddens his nose and cheeks. The paper that morning says the average temperature for August has been 17 degrees Celsius (63 Fahrenheit). It is unseasonably cold and stormy for late summer. Lewis hands a generous payment to the driver. The cabbie tries to return some of it, but Lewis refuses and shuts the door. After a quick glance to the sky, the fifty-nine-year old Oxford professor walks down the glistening sidewalk towards a building that houses a recording studio. He smiles a little as he clops across the wet pavement with his scuffed shoes, and then he tips his cap and offers a jovial greeting to a passerby. The stranger does not recognize him. Although he has become a household name in England thanks to his wartime radio talks, few know what he looks like. The passerby, a young mother with a shopping bag full of baby powder and diapers, nods politely. His general countenance is giddy; and Lewis has good reason. Only a few months earlier, his wife Joy miraculously recovered from terminal cancer, and the happy couple relished a glorious vacation in Ireland. Their days are brimming with all the fullness that human love can afford. A little London rain is not a problem.

The studio engineer gets Lewis comfortably situated behind a Coles 4038 microphone. The device looks like the hoof of a large horse but with a metallic grill. Lewis will spend the next five hours, with few breaks, recording what will become his book The Four Loves, an exploration of the four Greek words for love: storge (Affection), philia (Friendship), eros (Romantic Love), and agape (Unconditional Love). After a drink of water and a quick clearing of his throat, Lewis lifts his tall oval face and glances at the two men in the mixing room. The engineer nods from behind the glass. Lewis, in his booming baritone voice, begins: “’God is love,’ says St. John.”

A few hours later, as Lewis is wrapping up his recording session, a man thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic is stepping out of a car on an afternoon so bright that everyone is squinting. A highway patrol car has picked up Elvis Presley and escorted him to a helipad in Memphis, Tennessee. But unlike Lewis, Elvis is not happy. He glumly thanks the police officer with his polite drawl, keeps his head down, and shoves his hands into his pockets. A helicopter waits nearby. The local highway patrol station has offered to give him copter rides over Memphis to cheer him up. His mother died a few days ago. The chopper blades begin to spin, but the wild gusts of air don’t provide any coolness in the humidity. Elvis’s eyes hold a tight ironclad squint. Heat waves cook the air. The forecast has predicted a high of eighty-nine degrees -- not too bad, but with full humidity, unbearable. As he climbs into the chopper, the pilot turns and yells, “Once ya get up there, it’ll take your mind off things! Cheer ya right up!” Elvis nods weakly. His eyes are tired. He spent most of the previous night on his knees in tears. At the funeral, he cried out in agony: “Oh God, everything I have is gone! Goodbye, darling, goodbye. I love you so much. You know how much I lived my whole life just for you.”[i] Nothing consoles him in the days that follow, not even the helicopter rides.

Elvis was twenty-three when his mother died. Lewis lost his mother when he was nine. According to Lewis’s autobiography, her death brought a sea change: "With my mother's death all settled happiness . . . disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”[ii]

Elvis had a southern charm as mellow as honeydew. He loved hot rods and loads of fast fun with his money, but he also gave loads of it away to friends and strangers in need. C.S. Lewis had a slow-paced English accent with a bit of earthy Norn Iron (Northern Ireland) in it, he never owned a car or learned to drive, he taught in the oldest and most prestigious university in the world, and he lived a modest, simple life in spite of his wealth from writing; but he was generous with his time with others, even at the expense of his books or studies. He was known for striking up earnest, engaged conversation with anyone, whether he or she was a professor or an illiterate country bumpkin.

And if Presley and Lewis had bumped into each other in London -- possibly while Elvis was on furlough in Europe during his time in the army -- the two might have understood each other on a fundamental level: each man loved his mother dearly, both had giving hearts, and they both loved Jesus. When, at a concert, a girl gave Elvis a golden crown and called him the King, he replied politely, "No honey. Christ is the King. I'm just a singer."[iii]

To learn more about my book MUSIC IS A METAPHOR: HOW SONGS AND SYMPHONIES REVEAL THE FOUR LOVES, click here.

[i] “Elvis Presley: August 14, 1958: The Death of Gladys Love Presley,” last modified 2012, http://www.elvispresleymusic.com.au/pictures/1958_august_14.html#sthash.SBHR2LhB.dpbs.

[ii] C. S. Lewis (1966-03-23). Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (Kindle Locations 253-255). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[iii] Curtis W. Ellison, Country Music Culture: From Hard Times to Heaven (University Press of Mississippi; Revised edition, March 1, 1995), 157.