Larry Donn's Rockabilly Days - Elvis Food

Rockabilly Days

LARRY DONN writes for Now Dig This

I recently caught most of a television show about the food Elvis ate, and I thought you might like a summary. For one reason or another, I neglected to include in my notes the producers of the programme or the channel it was on, but I guess if any of them read this, they'll know who they are. I learned nothing that shakes the earth, but there were several photographs I hadn't seen before. Much of the programme featured interviews with neighbours and friends of Elvis in and around Tupelo, Mississippi, and revealed that as a child, Elvis ate squirrels, (o') possums, pig's feet, pig's ears, sweet potatoes, turnip greens and cornbread, and that's just the high spots. (I'm sure the omission of pig brains and scrambled eggs was just an oversight.) These are basically the same foods I grew up on, except I never ate a possum and I don't care much for turnip greens, sweet potatoes or conbread. (What kind of a southerner are you anyway, Gillihan, if you don't like southern food??) Fortunately, beans and potatoes are also southern food, not to mention sausage and milk gravy, but I don't like grits or chit-lins (grits come from corn, and chit'lins, or chitterlings, are the boiled intestines of animals.)

Much of what I heard on the programme was familiar, as the Presley family lived much like we did, as well as almost everyone else in the rural south who wasn't rich. One Tupelo lady spoke about how people used to take food to church on Sunday and have a picnic outside after services, then go back inside and sing all afternoon. She said Vernon, Gladys and Elvis were almost always there, joining in the singing. Another said Elvis carried his guitar everywhere he went, but no word on whether he took it to church. A cook at Humes High School said Elvis liked "sloppy joes", which is a ground beef mixed with barbecue-like sauce. I've eaten many of them, but it doesn't take long to get enough for awhile.

One fellow said Elvis should have had someone to teach him to eat "good food", but he probably eats snails and other garden creatures and clearly has no conception of what good food actually is. It was mentioned that Elvis had a tremendous appetite and felt that he had to keep up his energy for the shows, and that he didn't like to go out to restaurants. A lady at the Gridiron Restaurant in Memphis (I've been there a few times but I can't remember the exact location... somewhere down town, near Union Avenue, I think) said Elvis came in a lot, wearing work clothes (like a mechanic might wear) and ate hamburgers, and almost nobody ever recognised him. A man who went to school with Elvis said he did not get kicked off the football team for wearing sideburns, as has been reported. He said he quit because he had to work to get money for food. He said Elvis told him he was hungry. Mary Jenkins, who cooked for Elvis at Graceland for many years, said somebody told her she was a fast cook. She replied, "When you cook for Elvis Presley, you have to be fast!" She also said Elvis ate with his fingers a lot (but not pudding, I presume).

Dr. Nichopolous said his job was to help controll Elvis' weight, but that Elvis didn't like diets and he didn't like exercise. He also mentioned that for a week before his death, Elvis had been on a diet of nothing but Jello (a brand of gelatin pudding). Billy Stanley said Elvis liked country living and wanted Graceland to be like a plantation. He told of a pig they had around the estate for a while that suddenly disappeared. One day at breakfast, he asked Vernon what happened to the pig, "We're eating him", Vernon replied.

Someone told a story of how Elvis heard about a restaurant in Denver that made great peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so he flew to Denver and had twnety-two of them delivered to the runway, then flew back to Memphis. Another said he once dieted on nothing but papaya juice, then discovered it had so many calories, he actually gained weight. A nurse at a hospital said he ate a lot of vegetables and she never saw him eat much "junk food".

Mary Jenkins said he liked banana pudding, and the recipe given was exactly as my mother always made it. He also liked hot dogs with sauerkraut, and barbecue pizza (regular pizza with barbecued pork and barbecue sauce on top), and had times when he ate the same thing at every meal for several days.

A woman who owned a night-club and restaurant in Memphis told how she used to have a talent contest one night each week, and members of the audience would come on-stage and perform in competition for a prize. She said Elvis came in occasionally in disguise and watched the contest. She said she persuaded him to get up and sing a song, and nobody recognised him. She said he got "a little applause" when he finished "and that was it".

I leanred that Elvis was a "borderline" diabetic and had high blood pressure, that he had a pet chimpanzee (I can see it now... Billy Stanley asking Vernon what happened to the monkey...) and that he didn't like fish.

Mary Jenkins said that at 1:55 am on August 16th, she asked him if he wanted anything to eat. He replied that he didn't, that he was very tired and just wanted to rest. She said that was the last time she saw him alive. However, Elvis came to her home one night, she said, and asked her if he could stay there. She said she told him he was always welcome to stay at her house, "then he vanished away". This apparently was the second time Mary saw Elvis after his untimely departure. I reported a couple of years ago that she said she saw him once at Graceland.

A woman who was interviewed (for some good reason, I'm sure, however indecipherable it might be) said she thinks that Elvis faked his death. She said she saw him in '89 in Hawaii (I told you so!!) and he was very slim and had grey hair. Two other women also said they had seen him in Hawaii (pumping gas, no doubt, dressed in one of his jewelled suits). Well they're wrong. He's there, but his hair is not grey because he's been doing an Elvis impersonator act at Pete's Pub on Sunday nights.

I think it would be a great idea if all Elvis fans ate pig's ears and possum every year on Elvis Day as a sort of memorial rite. Possum might be a little hard to find for some people, so maybe we could make the second dish turnip greens or sweet potatoes. Pig's ears you can get at your local meatery, which is much easier and considerably less messy than collecting them directly from the pig.

Considering the food Elvis ate, his reported dislike for diets and exercise, and the fat-storage capability of his body, apparently inherited from his mother, I can easily understand why he had health problems. It was all working agaist him, and as strong as his body was, it finally had all it could take. That's when he moved to Hawaii, and WOW!... if you could see him now!

ELVIS QUESTIONS Why do fans want to know every little detail about Elvis? Well, here are some things I want to know: Did he have any warts he didn't want? Was he ever afflicted with toenail fungus? Did he ever have a problem with flatulence on stage? Dis he ever hit his thumb with a hammer while trying to drive a nail? Did he kill the pig at Graceland, or did Vernon do it? Did he ever pick cotton, and how much could he pick in a day? Did he really dislike Robert Goulet? Did he ever have a flat tyre on the way home from a show and find that his spare was also devoid of air, requiring him to spend the night on the shoulder of the highway with Scotty and Bill? Where did his tears go? Are there Elvis tears still in the carpet of Graceland, or have they all been washed out by carpet cleaners?

If you're an Elvis fan, or if you aren't, think about this. There is a very good possibility that you have in your body at this very moment actual atoms that were once in Elvis. We expell atoms with every breath, with perspiration and with the microscopic flakes of skin that leave our bodies constantly and drift about the air to be inhailed and assimilated by someone else. If you ever attended an Elvis show, it's very likely that you still retain some of the atoms you inhaled. Atoms are never destroyed except in a nuclear explosion, so you may also have some Frank Sinatra or Bill Clinton atoms in you, and no telling who else Hitler, Napolean, Alexander the So-So... even Marilyn Monroe. I could dig that.

If you've ever been to one of my shows, you probably absorbed some of my atoms, and I guess, I have some of yours. I remember a beutiful girl with long black hair who asked me for an autograph at The Life Club in Munderkingen, Germany. And a beutiful blonde at, I think it was called the Worthington Social Club, who kissed me on the cheek before the show, and I did the whole show not knowing her lip prints were on my fae. It's for sure that I absorbed some of their atoms. Wow, this is getting romantic!

The point of all this is to show you a new way to enjoy your heroes. When you are around someone you really admire, take losts of deep breaths and you'll suck in tiny actual pieces of that person which will eventually get into your bloodstream and be carried to the most private areas of your self. At the same time you'll also be collecting pieces of people you can't stand the sight of, but all you can do is stay as far away from them as possible. Sometime when you're in a thoughtful mood, make a list of all those people whose atoms you almost certainly have absorbed. I just had a ghastly thought... I have been in the company of the Editor several times, and there's no telling how many of his cooties are crawling around in my constitution. That's probably why I write tyre instead of tire, programme instead of program and humour instead of humor. So rest in peace, Elvis... you'll be a part of us forever.

Larry Donn's Delta Musicians Page

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