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Elvis Presley: June 21, 1977

by Greg Watson


He knows, I think, that he is dying; suspects that we too know. We do, we do, all of us somehow believing that we are the only ones. All of us not wanting to know. His words stumble over themselves, rushing out, irrespective of order. His breathing is labored, uneven, sweat dangling like stars from eyes grown distant as blue sky. But he smiles all the while, as if amazed to be here at all. He finds his way to the piano, fumbles for just the right tempo, starting fast, then pulling back. He finds the keys; or more correctly, the keys find him. And in the pause before he begins, all else fades away. In this hush and this light, he is again that boy at the upright piano, singing gospel in the family room late into the night; singing whether others listened or not. Light years from this blue-lit stage, from this man so famous that we all believe we know him, so famous that the man himself has all but dis­appeared. He is hitting notes now that surprise even him, pulling them from some secret place he had nearly forgotten. He turns and smiles at the band, hovering between disbelief and absolute assuredness. He saves the best for last, sends it to the rafters, knowing something greater than himself has lifted it there. He stands and walks calmly, confidently toward a spotlight at the center of the stage. But the last note lingers. And we want it to stay there, filling the spaces between us. We don’t want him ever to arrive.