I have reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland -Paul Simon
Don Rodgers is all shook up.
The Spokane sculptor’s knees are weak knowing the bust of Elvis he helped create will go on permanent display today in the trophy room at Graceland.
But his temperature’s rising because he says a hard-headed woman from the Presley estate won’t let him sing “Letter to Elvis,” the song he wrote for The King’s 60th birthday wing-ding in Memphis.
So Rodgers dreamed up a subtle way to express his burning love for everyone’s favorite dead rock and roller. He glued a cassette tape of his musical tribute deep inside the hollow bronze statue.
“They’d have to get a chisel to get it out,” says Rodgers, 49, who takes great comfort in the knowledge that his song will “always be in Elvis’ head.”
Rodgers took a jet to Memphis on Friday, cradling the 75-pound bust in protective layers of crushed velvet. He plans to join Felix de Weldon - who co-sculpted the Elvis head - and attend a ceremony this afternoon when Graceland officials accept the artwork.
The King’s brooding countenance will gaze from atop a pedestal near the entrance of the trophy room, a museum where the awestruck public can gawk at gold records, guitars and glitzy jumpsuits galore.
Lord have mercy!
Tough-minded guardians of Graceland rarely take gifts from outside artists, but an exception was made in this case. “Obviously because it’s a de Weldon,” says Beth Perkins, a Presley public relations worker. “That makes it a very prestigious piece for the estate to accept.”
Unfortunately, Rodgers won’t get much credit even though it is he who scoured through 350 photographs of Elvis before settling on “the look” he wanted to memorialize.
Rodgers did much of the sculpting. He made the pedestal, saw to the bronzing and lugged the artwork from Spokane to Memphis.
Nobody will throw open the Graceland gates for a Spokane artist best known for restoring buffalo skulls on the Monroe Street Bridge.
His partner de Weldon, however, is to American sculpture what Elvis was to American pop music. The 87-yearold Californian is a living legend responsible for some 2,000 public monuments scattered on every continent, including Antarctica.
His most famous work is the tribute to the World War II flag-raising at Iwo Jima. De Weldon says no other Washington, D.C., monument attracts more tourists. He also created the statue of Mother Joseph on display at the Capitol building in Olympia.
Collaborating on an Elvis head seems a weird departure from de Weldon’s war heroes and classical figures. “I’ve done other musicians: Beethoven, Mozart, Bach….” says de Weldon, a San Clemente resident who still speaks with an Austrian accent. “Elvis really was the greatest star of modernistic dance music.”
De Weldon wouldn’t have considered old Elvis the Pelvis were it not for Rodgers. The Spokane man met the famed sculptor in the mid-1980s. They have been friends ever since.
Rodgers is a bona fide Elvis fan. He even speaks with a drawl. A black-and-white photograph in his living room shows him in a snappy sport coat at age 14, striking an Elvis pose with a toy guitar.
Can anyone explain the world’s allconsuming, nearly cultish adoration of a singer who keeled over in 1977 from too much greasy food, drugs and fast living?
Whatever the attraction, Elvis is the Buddha for the Bubbas - larger in death than he ever was in life. There are 450 Elvis fan clubs worldwide. More than 700,000 people make the pilgrimage to Graceland every year.
“It never stops growing,” says Perkins. “Everyone has an Elvis memory or an Elvis story…. What piece of him is there not to like?”
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