Elvis Presley: “God Is My Refuge”
“I know how it sounds when some people start talkin’ about God. But there comes a time in a man’s life when he has to say somethin’. I think now’s the time to tell the truth about me—Elvis Presley—and what I think. I want to tell about the time when I was as low as I could get, and I got down on my knees and prayed. Now, maybe a lot of people will say that what happened next was a coincidence. They got a right to think that if they want to. . . . But I don’t. I think it was a plan of God. . . .”
Presley walked over to the large mirror in his hotel room and looked at himself. He ran his hand through his long chestnut brown hair, then slowly tugged one end of the silk string tie he was wearing, sighed and dropped his head. His usually squared shoulders slumped.
The room reflected Elvis’ dejection. A sagging bed in one corner was piled high with suitcases, clothing and his guitars. On a desk branded with cigarette burns a battered fan labored helplessly against the hot humid air that settled over the room like a damp sheet.
Gene Smith, Elvis’ cousin and traveling companion, sat in the corner mopping his face with a damp handkerchief.
“Tired, El?” asked Gene.
Presley nodded his head. “But it ain’t the work. Never did mind it.” He glanced around the room. His eyes fell on two slightly crumpled newspapers lying beside the faded armchair in which he had been sitting. He turned his head slightly so he could read them. He sighed heavily.
“Stuff like that gets me weary,” Presley said pointing to the headlines.
On page one in large bold type was a story headlined “Pastor Flays Elvis. Elvis Presley is morally insane.” The story, quoting the clergyman, said in part, “The belief of unholy pleasure has sent the morals of the nation down to rock bottom and the crowning addition to this day’s corruption is Elvis Presley-ism.”
Next to that story, still on the same page was another: A prominent Los Angeles judge, commenting on a serious case of juvenile delinquency, said, “It is strange that in all these cases involving boys under age, everyone has been wearing an Elvis Presley haircut. I wish,” concluded the judge, “that Elvis Presley had never been born.”
Gene eyed Elvis critically. He had traveled a lot with his cousin and knew him as few people did. At the moment, he knew that Elvis was depressed.
Depressed and disgusted like he’d been when he read that he’d pointed a gun at a Marine. How many people had read the next day that the gun was a toy that Elvis carried in his car for laughs? That the Marine wanted to forget about the whole thing?
Suddenly Elvis turned from the papers and said to Gene, “Anybody down in the lobby?”
Gene nodded. “About fifteen or twenty folk, I guess.”
“Would you ask them to come up?’ Elvis asked.
Gene left the room silently. In a few minutes he returned. Following him through the door were several teen-age girls, a man and his wife, two youths in their early twenties, an elderly woman, a policeman, a taxi driver, a towel-and-apron delivery man and a bellhop.
The women were seated in chairs, all of them wide-eyed at being invited to talk with Elvis. The men shuffled around and either sat on the floor or on the long sofa near the window.
Elvis thanked them for coming to the room, then said, “I guess you saw the stories about me in the papers, today.”
Most of the group nodded or murmured nearly inaudible “yeses.”
“Is there anything you can do about those stories in today’s papers, Mr. Presley?” the cabbie queried.
Elvis shook his head and smiled.
“Wouldn’t do anything if I could,” Elvis said. “Can’t stop people from thinkin’ and I got no right to stop ’em from sayin’ what they think. Just wish some of those who say things about me would give me a chance to talk. Wouldn’t be easy, tryin’ to tell a preacher or a judge that they was wrong, but Id like to try.
“Nobody knows what’s inside me. I got a heart and feelings, too, and I get hurt when I hear people talk bad about me. And you know, I think some of them people would be kinda surprised at what I had to say.”
Elvis thought for a moment. He shifted his rugged six-foot-two frame in the chair and then, as though he were speaking to a great audience instead of a small group, he began to talk. It took him a long time to say what he felt, but as the moments went by the visitors knew they had been allowed to take part in a rare and intimate experience.
This is what Elvis said.
What I’m goin’ to say I haven’t said to anyone before, because I know how it sounds when some people start talkin’ about God. But there comes a time in a man’s life when he has to say somethin’.
So now I think it’s time to tell the truth about this Elvis Presley and the way he thinks.
I’m not trying to sound like a fellow who’s any more religious than anybody else but there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about God and pray hard to show my gratitude to Him.
Even when I was a kid I thought about God. My mother and my father taught me that when I did something good, God would be pleased. And when I did something bad, He would be angry.
Like other kids I didn’t understand much about Him and behaved because I feared his wrath. What I mean is that until I was older I didn’t realize that the best way to show love for my Maker was to take what He had given me and try, the best way I know how, to make something of myself.
I never expected to be anybody important. Maybe, I’m not now, but whatever I am, whatever I will become will be what God has chosen for me. It can’t be any other way for anybody. That I believe. Some people I know, can’t figure out how Elvis Presley happened. I don’t blame them for wondering that. Sometimes I wonder myself.
I think it all started the day I walked into my Daddy’s bedroom and found him sitting there, with his head in his hands. I guess he was pretty deep in thinking, because when I said, “What’s the matter, Dad?” he looked up suddenly, and I saw that his eyes were all watery.
Now you’ve got to understand. I was eighteen then, and I guess I loved my Mom and Daddy as much as any son could love his parents. There have been times in my life when Daddy was strict with me, and times I think when he was too easy. But after everything was said and done, he was my Daddy, and anything that. hurt him, hurt me.
So when I saw him look up at me like that, almost crying, I got scared. I had never seen him that way before. I guess he thought I was old enough to know a few of the more serious things in life, so he told me what was bothering him.
I knew that a few months before, while on his job as a truck driver, he had hurt his back. At first, he had laughed it off and told Mom and me not to worry. Now, he said, I ought to know the truth. The injury to his back was more serious than he thought, and it looked like there’d be long periods of time when he wouldn’t be able to work at all. This meant we were having trouble getting enough money to live.
Dad said what was bothering him now was the bills that were piling up. He couldn’t find any way to pay them. He said that he never wanted to be the greatest man in the world, but that he wanted to be a good husband to my mother and a good father to me. And now it looked like we were going to have real hard times.
When Daddy got all through explaining this to me, I went to my room and sat on my bed, with my head in my hands. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that because I was only eighteen years old, there wasn’t going to be very much I could do to help. So I did the first thing that came to my mind. I got down on my knees and prayed. I asked God to show me some way I could help my parents.
A week later, things began to happen. Up till then I hadn’t been doing much, although I had been working with Sam Phillips. I met Sam the year before. I was itchin’ to make a record so I went downtown to see him. I’d heard he had a company called Sun Records. Well, Sam wasn’t in but his secretary told me it would cost me four dollars to hear myself sing. I made a record, took it home and listened to it. It wasn’t very good. But it made me realize that if I ever wanted to become a singer I was going to have to do a lot of learnin’.
I kept on singin’ and started to save my money up and when I got enough money together I went down to see Sam again and make another record. This time he heard me and told me he’d teach me what he knew. We worked together for a long time. And although Sam helped get a couple of my records played on the air, they didn’t cause much of a commotion. I’m tellin’ you, I was pretty discouraged.
Now maybe a lot of people will say that what happened next was a coincidence. They got a right to think that if they want to. But I don’t. I think what happened was the plan of God. And I’ll always think so.
It was a week after my Daddy told me about his trouble that things started to happen. I was sittin’ in a movie tryin’ to cheer myself up a little when the usher, who was a friend of mine, came racin’ down the aisle and said, “Elvis, your mom’s outside. She’s been lookin’ for you everywhere.” I thought to myself, somethin’ happened to Dad. When I got out on the sidewalk, Mom grabbed me and said, “Quick, El, they want you down at the radio station. They just played your latest record and the people that heard it want you on the air. You’d better scoot right on down.”
Well, that’s just how it all started. And it hasn’t stopped since. I didn’t plan any of it. It just came the way I told you.
But along with all my records and my singin’ came all those words in the papers claimin’ I was gettin’ all the kids stirred up and in trouble. If I thought for one minute that I contributed to juvenile delinquency I’d go back to driving a truck.
I wish that those who criticize me could understand what happens to my heart when I see those words in print. Those people know, they just must know, if they will look into their own hearts, that a twenty-two-year-old fellow from Tupelo, Mississippi doesn’t really contribute to juvenile delinquency.
For instance, I’ve cut my hair in a way that I like and feels comfortable with me. A lot of youths my age now have their hair cut the same way. Some of them get into trouble. And because their hair is cut like mine, it’s Elvis Presley’s fault that some confused young guy has done something that makes him look wrong.
Some performers have trouble finding something to do with their hands. Others don’t know which way to walk, or turn, or even how to look.
Now, when I’m on the stage, or even rehearsin’ or in front of movie cameras and just my face shows, I have to move. I have to move my legs, my body, my head, my hands, my knees, everything. Once I start to sing, I don’t know what it is, something happens to me. Maybe it’s the crowd, maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s the song. After that I’m just a young fellow named Elvis Presley, up there on the stage, trying to entertain a lot of people.
If there are people who feel that there is some secret meaning, some evil implication in the way I perform, I can only tell them, right from my heart, that they are wrong.
I wish the people who criticize me, would try to remember how they felt when they were young. Maybe a lot of them didn’t think Sinatra was the greatest or that Rudy Vallee was the Vagabond Lover. But at least they could understand why their friends felt that Sinatra was the best or why the girl of yesteryear experienced a funny kind of feeling over a Rudy Vallee record. Why can’t they understand that some people like to hear me sing?
Those who like my records buy them. Those who don’t like the way I perform on stage go to see someone else. That’s the way it should be. I wish there was some way I could get everybody to understand that. People have a right to their opinion. Of me, of others, of anything.
’Course some of the things they say about me are true.
I like cars. All kinds. I have my Cads and my Lincolns and my Messerschmitt and now I have another. A little red racer. Seats one. I’m going to drive back to Memphis in it this week.
And when they say I like to ball it up and have a big time on a date with a girl, why that’s true, too. I have as much fun as I can. In that respect, I don’t think I’m any different than any other young fellow.
On a date we go to the movies, the ones with lots of action. I don’t like those “conversation” pictures where everybody just kinda stands around.
And by living it up, I mean getting with a group and doing the same things they do. Driving up and down main street, laughing, telling jokes, goin’ to the driveins for Cokes and milk shakes. And like any other guy my age, when I take my girl home I stand on the porch for awhile and try to keep from waking her folks up. I’ve fell over more than one set of milk bottles and stepped on more than one cat’s tail just because I wouldn’t let my date put the porch light on.
I think that most people, if they think about it, can remember doing the same things when they were young.
But no matter what I do, I don’t forget about God. I feel he’s watching every move I make. And in a way it’s good for me. I’ll never feel comfortable taking a strong drink and I’ll never feel easy smoking a cigarette. I just don’t think those things are right for me.
I guess maybe I talked too much, now. A guy like me can get to yammerin’ like this and never shut up. But sometimes when I read things like in those newspapers over there, I want to tell somebody that the stories aren’t true. I just want to let a few people know that the way I live is by doin’ what I think God wants me to. I want someone to understand.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JULY 1957