(originally appeared at Yareah Magazine 1/12/2014)
Walking by a downtown storefront window I see a plaster bust of The King. Somebody has made him into a table lamp … but they’ve made him silver wings.
It makes me remember (again) an old friend of mine. The most talented guy I’d ever had the pleasure of knowing. His complete lack of success had been a big reason I’d lost faith not only in the music industry but in people in general. Of course, he’d been aware of his lack of success but he’d be quick to remind me that I was defining success in a very narrow context. I wanted to believe it didn’t haunt him but I could never bring myself to believe.
My lack of belief amused him.
He would defend The King.
“Maybe he was fat and maybe he was a pervert. He took pills and drank booze like tea. Maybe that’s just the kind of a cracked-up angel that they’d send for a fool like me.”
And yet… how could he? His belief concerned me. How could he believe? Here he was, talent so obvious it oozed out of him whenever he picked up a guitar and yet he sang his songs to half-filled rooms of disinterested people. Pearls before swine.
Whenever I’d get too worked up he’d tell me “If you go down to Memphis town and you hear angels sing, you may see some fat old clown in a velvet crown… but he may have silver wings.”
Again with the pearls before swine. I didn’t get it at the time and I don’t get it now but I think that he believed one day I would. He never seemed to lose faith and I hated that. That ragged certainty. I raged against it but only because I was confident I would never put a dent in his armor. It allowed me a certain license and I took full advantage.
Of course, if you didn’t know the whole story you’d think he was a choirboy and you’d be wrong. After a show we would walk empty streets drunk and full of life. We would argue with each other and boast at complete strangers. So young that remembering it now it seems like it was someone else in my shoes.
He was just seemed virtuous to me because he made me look so petty and self-absorbed by comparison. Maybe I just felt he was just a better version of myself. Sometimes I thought he was just like me, except talented, and if he couldn’t make it what chance did I have?
He would sing a phrase that said more than I could in twenty pages.
“And maybe if my time on earth is over and I leave this world of pain, remember Manion nothing happens for nothing… and I may see you again.”
That shit would haunt me. It made my inside ache because I could never imagine a world that didn’t have him in it. He had enough faith for both of us and I hated that and I would use every argument I could muster to tear down his perspective. To find a chink. I had reason and logic behind me.
He had Elvis.
“Cause maybe there’s a patron saint for the loser, for the queer-birds and the strange. For the junkies and the boozers… when it’s just too late to change.”
I can still hear him in my head. That voice that would quiver and hold a note too long. The unnecessary falsetto and that big foot clomping along in time. Muttonchops that went on for days.
So here I am down in Memphis walking along and saying a prayer for him. Listening for angels.
“Manion, I will hover there on Elvis wings… and pray God’s love… to thee.”
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