You ain’t nothing but a hound dog

Having to write a column with the deadline the day before an election can be a challenge.  On the other hand, everyone I know is already sick of politics.  You have been bombarded with television ads, automated telephone calls, direct mailings and hundreds of emails.  Enough is enough!
So it was with my own children.  Occasionally there would be a time when something just had to be said.  It didn’t matter what the situation was, good or bad, if the tension needed to be broken or if a mood needed to be changed, I would spontaneously start singing that Elvis Presley classic, “You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog”.  
At first they had no idea what I was singing.   If I did it in public it only added to their embarrassment.  They might roll their eyes in the back of their head at first, but over time it became a strange sort of bond between us, something like a secret handshake or password.
I haven’t thought about this in many years, not until Mary Lou and I visited Tupelo, Mississippi this past weekend.  The reason for our visit was to spend the night before the Auburn-Ole Miss game.  I had no idea that this delightful small city in the northeast corner of the state was also the birthplace of Elvis Presley, the King himself.
Despite having sung one of his hits to my children for years, I must confess that I never was a fan of Elvis.  By the time I came along, he was overweight, overdressed and covered in jewelry.  However, love him or not, there is no disputing the impact he had on popular music in this country and around the world.
I have been to Graceland and to a couple of shows featuring Elvis impersonators.   I have seen a few of his movies over time.  I didn’t really understand the devotion people had for him decades after his passing.   For me, that finally changed in Tupelo.
Elvis grew up on the wrong side of the tracks when that phrase really meant something.  His family was dirt poor even for the Great Depression.  He asked for a rifle as a boy and his mother talked him into buying a guitar instead.  It cost about $7 and that decision changed the world.
Elvis started singing in church as a small boy.  He later entered a couple of contests doing reasonably well.  He developed a style and love of music rooted in his childhood, a mixture of gospel, blues and soul.  
He left town with his family after they sold all their belongings and moved to Memphis for a new start.  Elvis returned eight years later, known throughout the world.  He sang in front of 5,000 people in his hometown, donating all the profits to buy land for a park.  It is the same land where he grew up and where the museum, his church and his birthplace stand today.  A park on the wrong side of the tracks.
There was something special learning about the boy before he was a man.  I guess there is a little bit of those roots in all of us, no matter our station in life.  Elvis overcame obstacles I never knew about.  Learning about his early life made me appreciate his journey, realizing that in ways I never dreamed this was no ordinary man.
I expect that at some point in the near future, I will burst into song with one of my unsuspecting grandchildren saying “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog, crying all the time”.  I already know the puzzled look I will see on their face; the same as their mothers’ expressions years ago.  
But for me, I will understand just a little more where those words came from.  They came from the hard life of a young boy in Tupelo, Mississippi.
o0o
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]

Leave a Comment