By Joe Rector

I’ve always been an Elvis fan. Even at the young age of 3, I loved his songs and performed them in front of an audience consisting of extended family members. Although I couldn’t understand many words because he growled and the audience made too much noise to hear the lyrics, I was always awed by his booming voice. He’d curl up one corner of his upper lip, and girls would go nuts.

A boy next door loved Elvis so much that he sang Elvis’ songs for the neighborhood. He’d pretend to strum a guitar, since he couldn’t play a single chord on the instrument, and sing “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Love Me Tender” in an offkey voice. It was a brutalizing of the King’s music library that chased everyone inside.

The other night I saw an ad for a coming documentary on Elvis. The man sang “My Way,” and it shook me. The rendition is better than Sinatra’s, but more than that, the song mirrored the singer’s life perfectly. Those of us who are old enough remember how Elvis was the butt of many jokes. He was made fun of by folks, and parents despised how the man moved in such suggestive ways as to fear for their daughters’ safety. He remained true to his music and his way of performing it. Before long, the man became popular. Women screamed along with their daughters when Elvis walked on the stage in a flashy outfit complete with a large belt, cape and sunglasses.

Above all else, Elvis kept a connection with his God through music. Gospel music is the foundation upon which he built his songs. Stories recount how he and others of his entourage sang hymns and other gospel music until the early hours of the morning. His random acts of kindness preceded those of Oprah and Ellen.

Yes, the man had his quirks. Some say he was mentally ill for years, but no facts to that have exploded on the news front. In fact, I doubt that any such stories would harm his legacy one bit. Most fans would turn a blind eye to such news.

Elvis did things his way. He brought popularity to a new form of music, and before he died unexpectedly, Elvis was the most popular entertainer in the world. He sold more than 146.5 million records in the U.S., and his sales in the U.K. equaled 10 million. He could sing the blues one minute, praise God in another, and shake listeners about injustice in the next.

Some say that we lost Elvis too early. I disagree. Nothing could be more painful than watching an icon of music still performing long after his talent had waned. I’d rather keep his memory in my mind at the time he was at his peak.

I hope that we have people who are willing to do things their way in the years to come. That means in other walks of life than music. We need free thinkers in medicine, environment, engineering and education. They need to step forward and show us new approaches to those areas. Oh, you can bet that plenty of complaining will come from others who don’t want to lose the way we’ve always done things.

However, we need brave folks like Elvis who refuse to follow like sheep. They take the road less followed and show others how doing so can lead to better things. Then we can say to them, “Thank you very much.”