The untimely passing of Lisa Marie Presley
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Friday afternoon, as I prepared to file 95 Piccadilly for the week, the world learned of the untimely passing of Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of music and cultural icons Elvis and Priscilla Presley, and the atmosphere at Piccadilly suddenly changed, as the world (and music lovers everywhere) was left to contemplate her short life. Scanning the years, and especially the 2022 resurgence of the Elvis phenomenon with Baz Luhrmann’s film, which won a Golden Globe for its star, Austin Butler, just days earlier, I was somehow struck by the yen and yang of life. For me and so many others, the Presleys seem to have always been there, spot lit by celebrity, even if, at times, they desperately tried to avoid it. There are stories around their lives, legends, facts, and fictions. For a generation, Elvis’ death, who would have turned 88 this month, was a vital, watershed moment, like the moon landing, Kennedy’s assassination, or the death Diana, Princess of Wales. My mother has oft-told of the moment she learned that the music had stopped. She was driving and heard it via radio. She had to pull the car to the side of the road to process the gravity, hardened, one imagines, that, in my infantile days, the Gilreaths attended church with Elvis’ step-grandmother, Mrs. Vera Kinnaird Presley.
To history, the Presleys are a rags to riches story, one constructed by the fibers of the American dream. Sadly, they, like many families seem relentlessly chased by tragedy; families often equally touched by privilege and promise, with lives hopelessly lit by the glowing and obvious flame of purpose. That such blessed mortals – Elvis, Kennedy, Diana, and others – are often marred by misfortune serves as a reminder that there is a great balance in life; a yen and a yang. In the end, it all seems very destined.
At Federal Hill Plantation in Bardstown, Kentucky – where they have been known to sell an Elvis book or two – there is a portrait of Stephen Foster, renowned as the “Father of American Music” and, consequently, the composer of the plantation ballad, “My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight,” favored song of the commonwealth. In the painting, the artist, in painstaking detail, depicts the composer being touched by the sainted angel of music. Its portrayals are apropos, for Foster and his like. While the piece itself is hauntingly beautiful and possesses the artistic power of truth, characterizing Foster’s genius as a divine gift, which I believe to be true, Foster’s life was actually one of hardship and he, too, died young, aged 37.
In 2020, my friend, Brandon, gave me a t-shirt that said: Creative (adjective), and listing the definition of the word. Despite reasons behind the gifted shirt, its greater purpose serves as a reminder that we all should embrace that side of ourselves, to allow creative passions – our gifts – wherever one believes they derive, to use each creative soul as their vessel. If they are, indeed, godly endowments, as I, personally, believe, then they are meant to be expressed and shared. With that, even Elvis, who boasted his own genius, might well have agreed: you only pass through this life once, he said, you don’t come back for an encore. When reading his words, “Touché! I thought, “a grand philosophy from ‘The King,’ full of inclination to live life to its hilt, use our gifts, chase our passions and our dreams.” We aren‘t, after all, promised a second, even if, like the Presleys and Foster, we’ve been touched by the Angel of Music.
Despite a lifetime in the public eye, I don’t know much about Lisa Marie Presley. She seemed the quiet, contemplative type; an introvert, who felt the significant weight and awareness of her father’s legacy. It must have seemed, at times, that she lived in the shadows of both of her parents, larger than life figures whose lives have spawned an empire and bear significant impact on American culture. Surely, though, like her father, her music, too, will leave its impact. It will, at least, for me. Once, on a youthful, moonlit drive through Tennessee, my sister played “Lights Out” on perpetual repeat, as we barrelled through the dark southern night, racing the morning sun to the place she called home: Memphis.