Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bits and Pieces of Memory from an Era Long Gone: Elvis and Me

It must have been early 3rd year high school when Elvis broke into our local scene. First, it was the song, I Want You, I Need You, I Love You, that blared out of an early morning show of a popular local DJ. That was our first vocal introduction to the world of Elvis. We had then caught glimpses of blurred images of him performing emblazoned in some foreign news items included in our local papers. Then an elder brother brought home a “songhits” booklet that featured a black and white close-up image of the mysterious upcoming singer with the brassy singing style. It was not a pretty picture. He had on almost like a scowl, or exaggerated pout with mouth twisted like one. This led my elder brother to remark: why, he looks like Jack Palance! Yes, that Jack Palance, the quintessential villain of Western movies (think Shane) with the battered nose and boxer-like features. Learned that indeed he did some boxing before getting to the movies.

Anyway, bad comment notwithstanding, we were on our way to getting hooked on the Pelvis. We couldn’t help breaking out into song with wild gyrations upon hearing him sing on any phonograph – at home, on a dance, or in one of the local stores selling records. The addiction was catching and would all collectively conflate into a sort of epidemic. We all wanted to sing and move like him, and look like him. The latter being a very unlikely stretch given our Asian features. But we could articulate some imitation with regard to our voice, our hips, and yes, our hair. And those we did. Thus, those who could all cultivated our pompadours, and took great pains to keep them in place. But many of us could not complete the transformation try as hard as we did, not even with just the hair. Many of us could not grow sideburns, so “fake” ones had to do - done by applying heavy pomade on the portion of hair on the temple and combing it downward where sideburns ought to be.

The crazy world of Elvis took hold of our young lives like no one could. We held contests to find out who could sing and move like him. Local filmdom crowned an Elvis Presley of the Philippines. His songs dominated the airwaves and the hot afternoon jam sessions very common in that milieu. So soaked up and engrossed in our adulation and imitation that it was easy to start believing we were Elvis. Thus any social approbation in this regard was not only welcomed but was considered great honor.

To this day, it is not surprising that I can easily recall events related to this need for social acceptance. And I can narrate two that stand out prominently in my memory

The first one involved a friend and classmate named Nazar. After just getting out of a local barbershop and joining friends in the local plaza, without any prodding Nazar immediately noticed the new haircut and coolly remarked that it was good, Elvis-like and he liked it very much. Now coming from Nazar that was truly something for he was noted not only as quite mischievous but quite stingy in giving praise to anybody. So that remark stayed with me to this day, to be reminisced and valued.

And the other one from a most unlikely source. From one so guarded, circumspect in her statements and comments. It was both difficult to elicit any negative remark from her and just as equally difficult to hear her crow about her own children. Hearing me endlessly singing Elvis-like in front of the radio or phonograph, and inside the bathroom, and watching interminably how I had combed my hair and had dressed in whatever way we could like the King, the better judgment of my mother may have been impaired or temporarily blinded. Because I had overhead her remarked to another relative that indeed I looked like Elvis. The remark boggles the mind because I myself would be the first to admit that the resemblance is almost nil. Except maybe we both belonged to the human race?

We all just liked to be like Elvis.

And that’s the way it was.

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