‘I’m afraid I’ll go out like a light, just like I came on’

On the death anniversary, friend Matt dug up one of his favorite Elvis stories tonight. That find sent me looking for one of my own favorites. I ran across this interview a few years back in Peter Guralnick’s fantastic Last Train to Memphis. Even if you’re not an Elvis fan, it’s worth a read.

Before a 1956 show, Elvis sits in a darkened Cadillac with Bea Ramirez, a seemingly young reporter with the Waco News Tribune. Ramirez puts the interview in a far more raw format than you read in entertainment reporting at the time. (You can read the full version here.) The result:

“What do you want to know about me, honey?”

“Elvis, have you any idea at all about just what it was that started the girls going crazy over you?”

“No, I don’t. I guess it’s just some thing God gave me. I believe that, you know. Know what I mean, honey? And I am grateful. Only I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’ll go out like a light, just like I came on. Know what l mean, honey?”

Presley has a way with that “honey” business. When he talks, he looks straight ahead, or sort of dreamy like in no direction at all. Then he turns with that “know what I mean, honey?” His face is close, real close. Right in your face — almost.

“Elvis, I hear you walk in your sleep.”

“Well, I have nightmares.”

“What kind?”

“I dream I’m about to fight somebody or about to be in a car wreck or that I’m breaking things. Know what I mean, honey?” (I don’t have any idea what he means).

“Where are you from?”

“From Memphis, Tenn.”

“Oh, yes, that’s where all the hillbilly singers come from, isn’t it?”

“Maybe so, but I’m no hillbilly singer.”

“Well, have you typed yourself. . . I mean your type of singing?”

“No, I don’t dare.”

“Cause I’m scared, know what I mean, honey? Real scared.”

“What of?”

“I don’t know. . . I don’t know. Know what I mean, honey?”

At this point I thanked him for his time and started to make a beeline for the door. He grabbed my hand, sat there looking sleepy-eyed into my face and fanned his long lashes while he said:

“Write me up good, will you, honey?”

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