JAMES HATTORI, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION.
Elvis never really left the building. His music never left either.
(Soundbite of song, "Heartbreak Hotel")
Mr. ELVIS PRESLEY (Singer): (Singing) Well, since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell. Its down at the end of lonely street at heartbreak hotel.
HATTORI: Elvis Presley's fans are all over the map. They come in all colors, shapes and sizes. And yet a couple of groups may still need a nudge. They don't yet subscribe to what Emmylou Harris called on this show last month, the dowel of Elvis. One group that never exactly caught into the King is the jazz audience. In a few minutes, pianist Cyrus Chestnut sets the jazz crowd straight.
But first, we meet author Geoff Edgers. He's just written an illustrated biography of Elvis for another group that underappreciates the King - the 8-to-12-year-old set.
Geoff, welcome to WEEKEND EDITION.
Mr. GEOFF EDGERS (Author, "Who Was Elvis Presley?"): Oh, thanks for having me.
HATTORI: The book is called "Who Was Elvis Presley?" What would your answer to that question have been when you were eight or nine years old?
Mr. EDGERS: Well, I mean, when I was a kid, I didn't really know who Elvis was. I'm a child of the '70s. I was six years old when he died. You think of the cheesy Vegas suits and, you know, his sort of overstuffed body in those suits. And he was kind of a joke, I guess. You don't really think of the music. And you don't really think of his story.
HATTORI: Well, we asked a few children here in the D.C. area at random. The question, who was Elvis Presley? And here's what they had to say.
Mr. Joey Shapiro(ph): First, I thought he was a president until just now.
HATTORI: Your brother told you.
Ms. Alexander Gibbs(ph): I think one of his songs were "Ain't Nothing But A Hound Dog."
Ms. Gibbs: And he died in the bathroom.
Mr. Jesse Shapiro(ph): That he was famous and they don't know if that he's died yet or something.
HATTORI: That's Joey Shapiro, Jesse Shapiro and Alexandra Gibbs.
So, Geoff, when you talk to kids, what do they tell you about who Elvis Presley was?
Mr. EDGERS: Well, it seems like, today, parents really want to drum The Beatles into their kids. They're sort of proud of The Beatles. And I don't think kids really understand who Elvis is. When I talk to kids about Elvis, they basically know him for, you know, the costumes and dressing up like Elvis on Halloween. They have sort of no sense of this poor kid from the south and, you know, how music sort of saved him. They, you know, I think they see him as this kind of crazy-looking guy that all the old people like.
HATTORI: Well, this begs the question and why do children need to know who Elvis was?
Mr. EDGERS: For me, it's self-interest. I have a little kid. And I was very concerned when she was born that she would torture me with bad music. I was trying to figure out how to actually get her to like music that I like. I love Elvis. And for me, the way to explain to the kids - you can't just tell them they should like the music. I mean, that's like my grandparents telling me to like Benny Goodman when I was growing up. You need to actually have them connect with the guy - with this character. And then when you say, hey, you want to hear Elvis sing, it's like a friend wanting to sing to him.
HATTORI: Okay. Aside from the music, what about his life? Is there anything about his life that's instructive for kids?
Mr. EDGERS: Well, there's a whole piece of American history that kids can understand through Elvis, I'd say. I mean, the discrimination that took place in those days, where you could have a song like "Hound Dog" sung by Big Momma Thornton, an incredible version. And it just wouldn't get on the radio and then Elvis could do it and it'd be a number one hit.
And then, you know, I think the thing about his life is he can be a great lesson to kids. I mean, first, they can hook in to that just how poor he was. I mean, they didn't even have, like, running water when he was growing up. And then, you know, this cautionary tale of this incredibly talented guy getting overrun by all these pressures and the drugs. You can talk to kids about your choices you can make, what kind of impact your friends have. I mean, it's depressing and inspiring at the same time, I would think, to kids.
HATTORI: At the end of the book, you talk about how, still, there are so many people who have an appreciation and miss Elvis. Could you tell us about that or maybe read a little bit of it?
Mr. EDGERS: Oh, sure.
(Reading) Every year, on the anniversary of his death, fans crowd into Memphis to remember their idol. In 2006, the Japanese prime minister was visiting the United States. He had one request. He asked president George W. Bush if he could visit Graceland. Liza Marie and Pricilla Presley gave a private tour. Being there was like a dream, the Japanese prime minister said. Then he began to sing one of Elvis' songs.
HATTORI: And that song was…
Mr. EDGERS: Well, "Love Me Tender," of course.
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