Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Elvis Story

By 1976, the days of sex, drugs, and rock and roll were well behind me. Well, almost. Can’t seem to shake that rock and roll part, even now. I had been preparing to go into bakery business, move my family from Seattle to Portland, to start up a full-line retail bakery inside a grocery store. I had made a deal with a Thriftway Grocery Store owner, and had begun purchasing used bakery equipment wherever I could find it, mostly at auctions in Oregon and Washington.

One evening, I found my buddy Craig Chastain, who was and is one of the funniest AND coolest dudes on the planet, and who had been working for Concerts West as an advance man, on the other end of the phone. Craig was rhythm guitarist and official leader of our old band, “The Morning Reign”. “Ric, yo, wha’s shakin’ man”? “Cac!” (his nickname) I replied, “oh man, all kinds a’shit, what’s up with you?” Cac went on to explain that his latest assignment had been as an advance man on the Elvis tour, and that he was back in Seattle after many months on the road, to prepare for the upcoming Elvis concert at the Seatlle Coliseum. “Ya wanna work it?” he said, and I responded, “what, you need someone to sing “Please Stop” to warm up the crowd?” Craig replied, “I need a few more bouncers, this is a huge gig, and the guys we use just don’t have quite enough manpower for this one”. “Definitely”, I said, “When is it?”

We discussed the rest of the details, and made a plan to meet the night of the gig. I was pumped. And I was even going to get paid!

Elvis concerts, in those days, the last year before he died, were somewhat subdued. Even though he was still packing the house, many people were not so sure about Elvis anymore. There had been the rumors of his drug usage, and he had gained an enormous amount of weight. Paparazzi were having a field day, snappin’ his girth, the black circles under his eyes, and double chin. And though I myself was interested in seeing his show, and getting paid for it no less, I was more interested in the spectacle. Who comes to these shows? What songs is he performing these days? Will that drug addict actually sing “My Way?”

The night of the concert, I met Cac at the back door, and breezed through into the backstage area. Cac gave me a pass, to hang around my neck, and took me into the main arena, to show me what my duties would be.

For the Elvis show, the main floor was divided into 4 seating sections, which created three aisles. Each aisle led directly to the stage. My job was to sit in a small chair, at the head of the right aisle, facing the audience. My instructions were....to maintain order, to keep people from approaching the stage, blocking the view of others, etc. “Cool, no sweat”, I assured Cac. We retired to the backstage area, to hang for awhile, while the audience began to enter. Cac introduced me to some of the folks he had been working with.

Right before the show, I took my seat. I was fascinated by the audience mix, mostly women, but of all ages. I figured, most of these older girls are true Elvis fans, and the younger ones are daughters, perhaps also fans, but more likely the lucky recipients of one free Elvis ticket. I see a 40ish male face here and there.

Showtime. Elvis and crew snapped into action with that “hotta hotta burnin’ love” number. Without delay, several women rushed to the front, right in front of me, and began snapping photos. I am calm, but I tell them they must go back to their seats, that they are blocking the view of others, that they are required to sit in their assigned seat. They retreat. And that is how it went for the next hour. Someone would sit down, someone would approach. I would tell them to go back to their seat, they would go, and no sooner had I sent someone back to their seat, when someone else would approach. Some were perfectly willing to leave, after getting their photo, and some would growl at me. One woman hollered, above the music, with a pained expression, “I’m not gonna rape him, honey”. Craig had taken his seat under the stage, with some of the other promoters, and I had a good view of them. We would occasionally exchange knowing glances.

In the first half of the show, if memory serves, The King cranked out a bunch of hits, “Now or Never”, “Goodluck Charm”, “Viva Las Vegas”, “In the Ghetto”, and finished with a medley of earlier hits, including “Jailhouse Rock”. Being up so close, I could see he was sweatin’ like a hog. And that gold lame thing he was wearing, all sequinned and with that stiff high collar, that thing was hideous.

I rested through the intermission, and Cac brought me a Coke. I was workin’ hard, but enjoying it thoroughly. And even though I could feel a sort of negative vibe from the audience toward me, the “enforcer”, I was sure I could finish the job I had started.

The beginning of the second half of the show brought much of the same action my way, and I continued my efforts to keep order. But all of a sudden, my fortunes changed. As I sat or stood at my post, I could see coming toward me, to the rear of the Coliseum, a little girl, followed by a woman. It looked vaguely like the little girl was holding, in front of her, a pillow of some kind. And as they came closer, all sparkly and smiles, I could see that they were catching the attention of the audience, on my aisle. I turned to Cac and the Concerts West staff, still hunkered down about 10 feet away. Cac had already picked up on what was happening, and had brought the situation to the attention of his boss.

When the little girl, and her Mom, I assumed, reached me, it was intense. There she was, this sweet angel, maybe 6 years old, holding a beautifully appointed plum colored velvet pillow, which must’ve taken days to fashion, all busy with gold buttons and frills, and atop the pillow, one amazing hand-made gold crown, full of faux jewels, shining like the sun, blinding in it’s intricacy and flash.

Imagine me, now, in slow-mo, amid the enthusiasm and glow of that darling little girl and her constituents, as I turned to find someone behind me for a sign. My eyes caught the face of Cac’s boss, the owner of the company, and my eyes locked in on his mouth, and to the din of a rockin’ Elvis tune, I saw him slowly mouth the word.......”NO”, as in, NO, do not let them approach any further, and send them away! I gave him my most wounded look, and he shouted again, this time so I could actually hear it, “NO!”.

So I did it. They were wildly disappointed. And of course, so were those in my aisle who had been keeping an eye on the little girl and her crown. “Ah let her go”, one man cried out. The little girl, and her saddened Mom, marched back down the aisle.

About five minutes later, here they come again. This time, they had two ushers in tow, the actual Seattle Coliseum uniformed ushers, all suited and official like. They arrived at my post, and insisted that I allow the little girl past, to approach The King. I turned to see if there had been any change in the plan from Concerts West. It is, after all, their gig. They are running the gig. They booked Elvis. They pay the bills. They make the decisions. Craig’s boss looks me directly in the eye and says....once again, loudly enough for me to hear......”ABSOLUTELY NOT!” Of course he knows what he is doing. He knows what his contract with Elvis says..... no brown M and Ms...... no manzanilla olives will lack pimento...... no approaching the stage.

I sucked it up, and refused admission. I must say, it was amusing to see the usher’s reaction, who somehow had figured out, in their importance, that they were going to report for work, after a big day in the “drills” department at Boeing, and overrule Concerts West.

This time, the audience on my side was less than polite. They were downright pissed. One lady from the second row or so came up and chest-bumped me. I kept explaining, yelling, that I was just doing my job, that I have no say in the matter, etc, etc. Finally, they were gone, and the confrontation was over.

I felt like hell, then, sitting there in my little chair, but I was just keeping my part of the bargain.....doing what I said I would do.....following my employer’s instructions.

So maybe you can imagine my shock, moments later, when I saw to my left, this time, coming down the larger and grander middle aisle, the “Little Girl and Crown Entourage”, the girl, the Mom, more ushers, and a cop. They got to the stage, and the cop picked up the little girl, and held her, her pillow, and the crown, up to Elvis. Elvis accepted the pillow and crown, set it down on the stage, picked up the little girl, and gave her a big kiss. The audience went wild. The people on my aisle were looking down their noses at me, and cheering as though the Supersonics had just won the NBA championship. Gig over.

I collected my check, and drove home, exausted. Everyone was asleep. I didn’t want to wake anyone, or hear the question...”how was it?” This one is gonna take some time to process.

In the morning, I woke and got my coffee, reached for the Sunday paper on the front porch. And there, before me, and I promise you this is the truth, was the front page picture, in the Seattle Post- Intelligencer, of Elvis kissing the little girl.

I have often imagined, over the years, another concert attendee, or more, picking up that Sunday paper, as I had, and seeing that front page picture. “Hey honey”, he says. “Check this out. It’s a picture of that little girl at the concert last night, getting her kiss from Elvis. That was so cute. Remember that guy on our aisle, that bouncer dude, who wouldn't let her go by? That guy, what a prick”.

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