Wednesday, January 18, 2012

You Just Had to Be There

It was like a meeting of the Elvis fan club.

The group of people who gathered at the VMFA for the "Conversations: Elvis at 21" talk today included multiple people still plenty passionate about the King.

The speakers were photographer Jeffrey Allison and musician Terri Allard and they weren't so much lecturing as nurturing a conversation with the audience.

"Some of you are all about Elvis," Allison noted right off the bat. "I saw some blue suede shoes." And it was true.

Allison, also the Mellon Collection Educator, talked about what gave the photographs in the exhibit their definitive look.

Wertheimer was using a Leica SLR, the images were framed as he shot (so there was no cropping in the final prints) and he used only available light.

The quiet of the camera and the absence of flash meant that the photographer could be almost invisible to his subject, making for more naturalistic photos.

But it was during the audience's participation that the true fans showed themselves.

One spoke of her vivid memories of having seen Elvis at the Mosque.

"I tried to go onstage and tear his shirt off," admitted the middle-aged woman in the blue suede shoes.

"We were complete maniacs about him," another said without apology.

Yet another remembered her family being recently stationed in Japan and hearing Elvis on Armed Forces Radio and the effect it had on her.

One said that she recalled Elvis coming to her high school in a small town in Arkansas to play when he was barnstorming around the South developing his following.

In every one of their voices, you heard the passion of a true fan who had lost none of her enthusiasm for the long-dead singer.

Elvis has been recognized for having been an unusually focused man at 21, but his long-time followers are certainly no less so today and I guess I hadn't realized that.

Allison asked what other singer had achieved as lasting an effect and a response of "Michael Jackson" was all but shouted down.

To the devoted, Elvis is apparently the real thing and no one can be acknowledged in the same breath as the man.

Many of the people in the audience were following up the talk with seeing the show, but since I'd already seen it, I headed west for lunch.

I was meeting a friend in the restaurant business who's always eager to eat places he hasn't (and surprisingly, he hasn't eaten at a lot of places).

That's how I'd introduced him to Ettamae's and Stella's. Today it was Black Sheep, although I'd originally suggested Amuse.

It would have been terribly convenient for me, but he shot that down because he was coming in work clothes and wanted someplace he considered more casual.

Like everyone else, he was charmed by the place, ordering the Falldorf Salad, a creative take on a Waldorf salad with clementines in addition to the usual suspects, and a Diet Cheerwine.

Then there was me, the feminine one, whose delicate appetite demanded that I go to the opposite extreme with the Green Eggs and Lamb.

The eggs were baked with Derby Sage cheese and spinach and the two large links of lamb sausage gave me all the salty I could hope for to accompany the sweetness of my Abita Root Beer.

That would be sweet, as in sugary. Unlike several of my male friends, I disdain diet sodas.

Everyone decides which real things are important to them. Imagine hanging on to that devotion for fifty years.

I might not be in the Elvis fan club, but I'm hugely impressed by anyone who inspires long-lasting passion.

Just to be clear, though, I have no intention of wearing blue suede shoes to prove it.

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