Nov 1, 2005

With this great cloud
All Saints Day with Elvis

Somewhere along on Montana’s east-west highway, between the historical sign for Custer and the one for Clark, along in there there’s a reader board that reads Elvis eats ribs here.

I’ve never known someone who believes in Elvis, who believes the tabloids and the stories about faked death and UFO interventions. I suspect that if there really are people who believe The King Lives, then they only say so in secret or under the cover of irony, only on silly annual celebrations.

I don’t know if Elvis was ever in Montana, but here he is, a ghost eating dinner in a diner on the highway. Elvis is dead, buried in a castle called Graceland, but people see him everywhere. People see him praying for peace in mosques in India, buying cigarettes at an EZ mart in Arizona, riding a moose and making movie cameos. It’s a long running joke, Elvis sightings, a joke about rhinestoned jumpsuits and white trash and wedding chapels.

It’s not just them, though, that are haunted. It's not just the crazies and the trailer trash and the impersonators practicing sideburns. That's the thing. Everybody's haunted by somebody.

The History Channel plays all the reels of Hitler in an endless loop: Hitler shouting, walking, staring, sighing, plotting, dieing. People are haunted by Jesus and JFK and Che, by Marx and Freud and their fathers. Lenin lay in state for years, preserved for the long lines that always came to see. And the long lines were haunted, you know, half by Lenin alive and half by Lenin dead, they were creeped by the immortality of a corpse, leaning in to look closely for a tint of blue.

Einstein's disected brain is in a bottle of formaldehyde on a shelf in some garage, the edges going fuzzy and floating off in little pieces. People are haunted by the gaunt face of Lincoln listening to Mary Todd go insane and feeling all the pain and the death of his war. If only, we think, if only Willie Mays could come back, if Elijah came back, if Martin Luther King hadn’t gone away.

So we're haunted by Elvis, his face, his voice, his fame and sorrow. We’re haunted by the whole hanging cloud of history. Images that won’t go away. Voice that we hear can’t stop hearing. Stories that continue to play. Ask us what we see and we say all the abstract things, evil and genius and salvation and horror and fame and failure. And the whole thing's restless, all of us restless and waiting for resolution.

See also Pentecost, Ash Wednesday.