'Bigger Than Elvis'...
Copyright 1985, 1986 by Gregory S. Swann. All Rights Reserved.
Direct inquiries to CIS I.D. 75115,1341.
'Bigger Than Elvis'...
"I coulda been the biggest star of all!"
The swarthy man with the approximated beard was half in his
cups. Or is the glass half full? Maybe he was half out of his cups...
Anyway, it's safe to say he'd reached the midpoint in his journey
under the table.
"I coulda been Bigger Than Elvis!" He downed half his drink in
one slurp. "Yeah... Bigger Than =Elvis=, man... Are you gettin' this
All I'd written down was his name. I'd tell it to you, but
I've mislaid it. I'm not sure if it was on the back of the business
card that I accidently dropped onto the subway tracks or on the
cocktail napkin that I inadvertently laundered. I =am= certain that I
neither haave it nor remember it. No matter; there are three sots like
Bigger Than Elvis in every watering-hole in Manhattan.
I met him in one of those exposed-brick fern-bars on Macdougal
Street. He was cadging drinks by pounding away on a beat-up Martin
guitar, wailing off-key through his nose about a 'Tambourine Man'. He
serenaded me for an extra-special long time; dancing beneath diamond
skies waving his hand, or something like that. I figured if I bought
him a drink he'd go away. I was wrong.
Instead, he sat down, moaning through his nose about the
injustice of booking agents and record buyers. I won't try to
reproduce his speech, which was =very= oddly inflected; almost as
unintelligible as his singing, though not quite as loud. His spiel was
Sob Story #37, with variations: nobody likes me, everybody hates me,
guess I'll eat some wheat germ.
"Bigger Than Elvis, man... A livin' legend." He sighed. "And,
like, it's just not fair!" He punctuated himself with a dissonant
"Isn't it...?" I admit it: I ask for these things.
"No, man. =Hell= no!" He pulled at one of the black ringlets
of his receding hairline. "Like, one minute you're bein' chased by
reporters from Frisco to University Place... You're on the cover of
=Time=... A garbagoligist is publishin' scientific studies of your
trash... Man, you're makin' four thousand dollars a =week=! ...and the
next thing you know... The next thing you know, you can't even get a
table in a greasy spoon!"
"Gosh," I said. "That's really too bad..."
He looked pained by the interruption. "You can't get booked...
Your records bomb... Your best licks get ripped-off by teeny-bopper
bands from Sidney..."
I said: "Tsk, tsk..."
"Your manager runs off with your money... Your guru runs off
with your wife..." Tears were starting to dribble down along his
expansive nose. "Your kids won't even take off their headphones long
enough to listen to their old man sing about Hattie Carroll..." He
"Gee...," I said. I've been through all this before. My job is
to act sympathetic and sign the Mastercard slip.
He banged away at the guitar. "'...=bury= the rag =deep= in
your face, for now is the time for your tears'." He wiped at the
tears. "It's just not fair!"
I asked, "What's this about Elvis?"
"Yeah, man... Bigger Than Elvis! That's what I wanted to be! I
was =hot=, man. I mean, my records =sold=! =Time= said I was gonna be
Bigger Than Elvis... Grossman said I was gonna to be Bigger Than
Elvis... =I= said I was gonna to be Bigger Than Elvis..." He swiped at
more tears. "...and look at me... They don't even know me on Macdougal
Street, man. On Mac=dou=gal Street!" He slammed away at the guitar:
"'...somebody better ex=plain=...'."
I waved at the waiter to bring two more drinks. Bigger Than
Elvis gave me a grateful wink.
He fingered daintily along the frets, picking out the first
truly tuneful melody he'd played: "'...where the sad-eyed prophet says
that no man comes...'." He sighed. "The hardest part was =why= they
dropped me... I mean, fans are fickle; that's part of the job, man.
'...and you =know= I wasn't very cute to them, was I?'"
He went on, "I mean, I did it all... Philosophy...
Mysticism... Judaism... Double-talk... They always stuck with me. I
mean, I was hip! The hippest! And my records =sold=, man..."
"...and then I was Born Again..." He strummed at a minor
"And they dropped me like I was nuclear waste or somethin',
man! I mean, not even so much as a 'Goodbye, Mr. Tambourine Man'!"
"Gee...," I mused. "That's rough..."
"You =said= it, man! I mean, =really= rough. Like, a =huge=
mortgage and =no= way to pay it... Kids in braces... Then, my wife
left me, and there was =al=imony to pay..." The tears had resumed.
"Rough," I said.
"Record contracts broken," he whimpered. "Concert dates
cancelled. I was dropped from every pop playlist and picked-up by all
the gospel stations. =Gos=pel, man! I mean, =me=, crammed in between
Mahailia Jackson and the =Sun=shine Brothers! It's just not fair!"
"...I guess not..."
There were a couple of Madonna-types over by the bar; they
were acting frenzied. One of them waved ecstatically. Bigger Than
Elvis smiled, revealing a mouth full of what buys BMW's and second
homes for dentists. He waved the girls over.
One 'oohed'; the other giggled: "Weren't you in the 'We are
the world' video?"
"Yeah," Bigger Than Elvis rasped. "That was me." He smiled
The Ooher gushed, "Gosh! Could we have your autograph, Mr.
Bigger Than Elvis growled. "Get out of here!" The girls ran.
He sighed. "See what I =mean=...? The first time in =weeks= that
=any=body recognized me, and they got it wrong..."
I don't like to encourage self-pity, but what do you do in a
situation like that?
"Well," he sighed, strumming at the catgut strings, "'...my
road it may be rocky, and the stones might cut my face, but some folks
ain't got no road at all, they got to stand in the same old place...'"
I said, "I think that's the right attitude to take..."
"You bet it is," he asserted, downing the last of his drink.
"You know... some ways, I =am= Bigger Than Elvis."
"Sure," he said. "Listen to 'The Cars', to 'Dire Straits', to
Graham Parker. Listen to 'Squeeze', man. Where do you think they're
gettin' that stuff?"
"Man, you can =tell= they listen to =my= records. I mean, I've
had a =lot= more influence than Elvis!"
"How does that feel...?"
He banged hard at the guitar: "'...how =does= it =fee=ull? To
have to be out on your own? With no di=rec=tion home? Like a complete
un=known=? Just like a =roll=in' =stone=!'"
A frumpy yuppie was waddling by. He tossed a dollar bill on
Bigger Than Elvis gave me a wry grin. He said: "=Thankyew!
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