“We Can’t Go On Together…”

Heartbreak…(Image courtesy of The Unique Guitar Blog)

Here’s a moment of pop music history told by Amanada Petrusich in her “search for the next American music,” It Still Moves:

Apparently, Elvis Presley was sold his first guitar by a man named Forrest L. Bobo, an employee at Tupelo Hardware, who was somehow prescient enough to write about the transaction:

“Elvis wanted a 22 cal. rifle and his mother wanted him to buy a guitar. I showed him the rifle first and then I got the guitar for him to look at. I put a wood box behind the showcase and let him play with the guitar for some time. Then he said that he did not have that much money, which was only $7.75 plus 2 percent sales tax. His mother told him that if he would buy the guitar instead of the rifle, she would pay the difference for him” (Faber & Faber, 2008, 90).

I would say that the rest is history, and it’s too bad that Elvis’s mother couldn’t sway him from prescription drugs, excessive formication, and the vast number of guns he proceeded to accumulate. Not that the guns killed him or that he killed anything with a gun, except for that TV set we’ve all heard about.

Sure, other music legends have combined a love for guitars and guns, but I keep thinking about this story, about a mother who knew better and tried to instill this desire for music over weapons in her son. The price and consequences of fame are legion and sad, and our legendary stars are beset and besotted by indignities and infamy.

They are, of course, aided and abetted by others, the Col. Tom Parkers, the Charlton Hestons.

The Will Ainsworths.

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You might not have heard of Mr. Ainsworth who is an Alabama legislator from Guntersville, Alabama, and is running for Lt. Governor. To aid his cause, he is now sponsoring legislation that proposes to arm Alabama’s schoolteachers, or at least give them the option to carry concealed weapons. Teachers who want to pack would have to complete 40 hours of training and “submit to a mental health screening” (Tuscaloosa News, 2/21/18).

Now I’m all for screening the mental health of gun buyers, the stricter the screening, the better, for my money. But I’m wondering about this screening: what if we discover that not only shouldn’t the teacher be carrying a weapon, but, frankly, that the person shouldn’t be teaching our kids at all? Should all potential teachers go through mental health screenings anyway? How many of them already possess suspicious minds? Or guns?

Without seeming flippant, or more flippant than I might already seem, can you visualize second period algebra? Mr. Jones or Ms. Carson whips out his or her gun at the notice that a former student with an assault rifle is prowling the halls? Maybe the teacher wins in this shootout; maybe the student does. Maybe they both die, or maybe an innocent student emerging from the washroom gets caught in the crossfire. There are too many other variables to consider here, and since I sucked in any equation that carried more than one, I won’t go on. Still, I was told back in my algebra days that the answer mattered less than the process or formula used to get to it.

So I believe that Ainsworth’s formula stinks.

Even Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, said “…there could be more effective ways to address school shooting threats” (Tuscaloosa News, 2/21/18).

I wonder what Mr. Ainsworth’s momma bought him when he was Elvis’s guitar-buying age.

Plenty of people support this idea, and it might become law, just as there might be enacted a new law allowing anyone to carry a concealed weapon to any other state.

From Tupelo to Memphis is only a short stop.

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So today, the president is backing making Bump stocks illegal, a move that even the NRA supports, which tells me that not much in our lives will change if this measure is enacted. Of course, I hope it is, but I’m not holding my breath for it, or even for stricter background checks for all gun buyers, a move also not opposed by the NRA.

Small steps, but are these the ones we’ll build our dreams of a safer society on?

In any case, it’s now time for me to walk my dog in our relatively safe neighborhood, though Neighborhood Watch spotted a suspicious white SUV prowling our streets yesterday. A surveillance van? A drive-by wannabe?

Before I go, I wanted to share one more strange fact from Amanda Petrusich’s book. Elvis died on August 16, 1977. I was sitting in my former high school’s parking lot when I heard the news. My brother, who like me owns no guns, was practicing in the school’s marching band. He played trombone and back then was also learning the guitar. But that’s not the fact I want to couple with Elvis’ death. This is:

On August 16, 1938, legendary Delta blues guitarist Robert Johnson was, some say, poisoned to death “after playing a house party in Greenwood, Mississippi” (68). Like Elvis, he had left his mother behind years before. Like Elvis, he indulged his growing appetites for sex and alcohol. Like Elvis, he died too young, and under a very suspicious cloud.

I am not naive enough to believe that had Elvis would agree with me on necessary gun control measures. I’m supposing that, unlike me, he would have been fine not only with Bump Stocks, but semi-automatic and automatic rifles, too. He was a small-town, southern country boy, and really, Alabama (where I’m from) and Mississippi are pretty much the same in attitude and landscape.

Still, the truth and reality aren’t monolithic.

I think it’s safe to say that Elvis’s mental health wasn’t so good in the last one or two years of his life, and the tragedy of his downward arc truly grieves me. It always has.

But the trap I’m so often caught in these days is how to separate the music from the life, or in my own life, the old friends I love from their political manifestations on Facebook and, I suppose, actual life. With Elvis, we had it all: Music, Faith, Glory, and, yes, guns. Then, we had his ignoble end.

Elvis couldn’t reconcile his demons and his angels.

And when it comes down to it, I really don’t think we’re doing much better these days in reconciling ours.

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