The Night Bruce Springsteen Jumped the Fence at Graceland
September 1, 2003 - 2:10:00 PM
Elvis Presley's third and final appearance took place on January 6, 1957. On that Sunday night in 1957, Elvis smiled, smirked and played with the audience. Breaking from his usual attire, Presley came out wearing a bloused shirt and vest, with makeup painted around his eyes. That night Elvis sang hits like Don't Be Cruel, Love Me Tender, and Hound Dog, shaking his hips and standing on his toes while girls screamed in the audience. And that guitar: it was a weapon and it was armor. This was the dream.
Watching the show, Springsteen felt mesmerized: 'I couldnâ€™t imagine anyone not wanting to be Elvis Presley', he recalled. His mother eventually bought him a guitar and even set up lessons, but Springsteenâ€™s hands were too small. He didnâ€™t like structured instruction, and he put the instrument aside for sports.
Throughout the years that Elvis lived at Graceland the front gate area was a place fans enjoyed being. There was the chance that he might drive through in one of his cars or on a motorcycle, or ride down on a golf cart or on horseback and have an impromptu autograph session. They could also watch him and his friends ride their horses and golf carts around the grounds. Even when Elvis out of town, it was fun to be at the gates, getting to know the guards (some of whom were Elvis' relatives) and meeting other fans from around the nation and the world. When Elvis was away, sometimes the guards would let fans onto the grounds for photos, sometimes even driving them up to the front of the house. There was a sense of warmth, welcome and camaraderie. Actually, some lifelong friendships between Elvis fans began at the Graceland gates.
While, in general, things tended to be calm enough around here, it wasn't all that uncommon for fans and curiosity-seekers to climb over the stone wall or wood fence on a dare or, more often, with the heartfelt hope of seeing Elvis. The security staff had more than one occasion to politely escort uninvited guests off the grounds, sometimes having to summon them down from the trees. On one occasion Elvis happened upon a couple of mischievous young guys who had jumped the fence and were taking a swim. Elvis is said to have nonchalantly suggested that they be careful, then went on about his business. Once, an enterprising fellow actually made his way into the house and was found sitting in the den waiting for Elvis, hoping to interest him in some songs he had written, but he didn't get to have that meeting.
The most famous incident of wall jumping occurred one night in 1976. Bruce Springsteen, who was enjoying the first rush of great fame and had just played Memphis on his Born to Run tour, decided to catch a cab to Graceland. Noticing a light on up at the house, he climbed the wall and ran to the front door. As he was about to knock, Security interceded. He recalls asking, 'Is Elvis home?'. Answer: 'No, Elvis isn't home, he's in Lake Tahoe'. (It was true.) Springsteen attempted to impress the guards by telling all about his being a recording star and his having recently made the covers of Time and Newsweek, as he was politely escorted to the street.
(Perhaps they didn't believe him or hadn't heard of him yet.)
Years later in a concert, he told the story and commented: 'Later on, I used to wonder what I would have said if I had knocked on the door and if Elvis had come to the door. Because it really wasn't Elvis I was goin' to see, but it was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody's ear and somehow we all dreamed it. And maybe that's why we're here tonight, I don't know. I remember later when a friend of mine called to tell me that he'd died. It was so hard to understand how somebody whose music came in and took away so many people's loneliness and gave so many people a reason and a sense of all the possibilities of living could have in the end died so tragically. And I guess when you're alone, you ain't nothin' but alone. So anyway, I'd like to do this song for yous tonight, wishing you all the longest life with best of absolutely everything'.
In Bruce's opinion Elvis' real comeback occurred in 1972 with the release of 'Burning Love'. 'That's when the jockeys woke up and found out that Elvis could still rock with the best of them'.
Bruce Springsteen : Follow That Dream [Unreleased Studio version from 1983]
Behind the Button: Elvis Presley's 'Cameo' on Born to Run
Kings Court Fan Club Members meeting Elvis & Colonel Parker 1973
Didn't Have To Die : Speculative fiction article : What if Bruce did meet Elvis?
For those who don't know, the legend goes that Bruce and pal Steve Van Zandt caught Elvis' May 28, 1977 performance in Philadelphia. As Bruce later discretely recalled, 'It was not a good night'.
He apparently went home and wrote Fire as a salve for his sadness. It is unconfirmed if a demo was ever sent from manager Jon Landau to Presley management, producer Felton Jarvis, or Graceland, but the song is clearly a superb homage to the great early sixties recordings Presley made, in particular Suspicion and His Latest Flame. In other words, it was an instant classic. After Elvis died Bruce gave the demo to rockabilly singer Robert Gordon, who cut it in New York in December 1977 with Link Wray on lead guitar and Bruce himself playing (uncredited-at-the-time) piano. Somehow, the Pointer Sisters got a hold of the track and recorded a more R&B styled version which made #2 on the pop charts in 1979. Elvis, of course, had loved their recording of Fairytale, cutting it in Hollywood in 1975. There's a little music circle for you!
Here are the lyrics. With that sinuous, sexy bass line running underneath, Elvis could have kicked ass with this tune. Maybe even hit #1 on the charts. Oh, if wishes were moonbeams.
Fire (Bruce Springsteen, 1977)
I'm driving in my car
I turn on the radio
I'm pulling you close
You just say no
You say you don't like it
But girl I know you're a liar
'Cause when we kiss ... Fire!
Late at night
I'm taking you home
I say I wanna stay
You say you wanna be alone
You say you don't love me
But you can't hide your desire
And when we kiss ... Fire!
You had a hold on me right from the start
A grip so tight I couldn't tear it apart
My nerves all jumping, acting like a fool
Your kisses they burn but your heart ... stays ... cool
Romeo and Juliet
Samson and Delilah
Baby, you can bet
Their love they didn't deny
Your words say split
But your words they lie
'Cause when we kiss ... Fire!
Burning in my soul
It's out of control
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