Scholars discuss Elvis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Elvis and the Dysfunctional Family. Rock band? No, it’s the title of a scholarly conference highlighting a week of events marking the 21st anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death.
“The dark side of Elvis’ life is the most repressed side of the Elvis myth, and it has, unfortunately, been confined to tabloid jokes and dismissals of his importance in American culture,” said Vernon Chadwick, organizer of the conference “Are You Lonesome Tonight? Elvis and the Dysfunctional Family.”
“Elvis can be a master key for the study of Southern culture,” said Chadwick, a former University of Mississippi literature professor and founder of the Institute for the Living South.
Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977. He was 42.
As they do every year, Elvis fans make their pilgrimage to Memphis this week.
While devotees remember The King, Chadwick and others will explore why a shy country boy who changed American music and pop culture died so suddenly, a victim of drug abuse and other excesses.
Studying the “Elvisian model,” as Chadwick describes it, offers clues on how the cultural changes of the late 20th century undercut the family and small-town supports many Southerners once enjoyed.
“For many, he’s representative of poor, white Southerners who are regarded as America’s first dysfunctional family. He was a hillbilly regardless of how much money he made or how successful he was. He had to experience the sting of ridicule his entire life. If that doesn’t make you dysfunctional, I don’t know what would,” Chadwick said.
One conference speaker, psychological counselor John Baucom, will discuss his theory of “the Elvis syndrome” — the inability to handle success.
Such discussions are one way of marking the Elvis anniversary, but most Graceland visitors will be busy with less lofty pursuits.
More than 700,000 people visit Graceland annually, and more than 35,000 will tour the two-story, white-columned house during the anniversary week. Many also will attend one or more of the various parties, concerts and souvenir fairs scheduled around town.