Ted's Continental Blowout
Elvis. One word. The truck driver who shattered the cultural myopia of mid-20th-century America, a star who gorged himself on peanut butter and banana sandwiches, shot out the TV screen, and wept at old spirituals on his private jet or inside a multimillion-dollar palatial compound, because he knew firsthand the longing and despair that fueled those great old gospel songs. All in the name of TCB, baby.
And then TCB came to stand for something else: This Can't Be. On August 16, 1977, there was thunder from the throne. The El train derailed. Things just haven't been the same since.
Oh, Elvis is still with us. The Daily Texan received an anonymous tip a few years back that Mr. TCB himself was, right then and there, chowing down at Ken's Donuts on the Drag. The E-Man sure as hell wouldn't have been shoveling his face at Martin Brothers. On record (the 4-CD A Life in Platinum box set is the most recent addition to the canon) and in lore, the King's legacy endures. There's a statue of him in the Netherlands that recently started weeping. Whatever he's crying about, it isn't because people don't remember him.
Or do they? Today, people know Elvis through Clambake and Change of Habit marathons on TNT (see "Recommended"), the annual Elvis week pilgrimage in Memphis (go next year; you already missed it), or horrifically bad "thankyavurrahmuch" impersonations by the office clown at Christmas parties. Do they remember the gangly, awkward young Southern boy who crooned "That's All Right Mama" to Gladys and meant every word of it? What about the man who united black and white music with such hip-shaking force that no man has yet rendered them asunder?
If they live in Austin, they do, because Ted Roddy makes them. Twice a year, Roddy -- who works the year's other 363 days as a member of the Naughty Ones and the Tearjoint Troubadors -- turns the Continental Club into a packed, pulsating hive of Elvis remembrance. Roddy casts his eyes heavenward for "My Way" and "An American Trilogy," the horns crescendo, the walls quiver, the disco ball goes round, and lives change. Couples swoon to "Can't Help Falling in Love." Slicked-back, trouser-rolled greasers and glittering, dressed-to-the-nines divas alike raise their drinks to the rafters for "Viva Las Vegas," get raunchy and rub each others' legs with "Polk Salad Annie," and hang on for dear life during "Suspicious Minds." Frisky bad girls flip their skirts, raising eyebrows and blood pressure as "Burning Love" throbs home the true message of the Graceland gatherings. Anyone, including Roddy himself, knows that these semiannual gatherings are more than just tribute, they're raptures. Presumably sated with donuts, Mr. Elvis Aaron Presley himself has shelled out the 15 clams -- on more than one occasion.
"Every time we do that show, sometime during the night, it all becomes this magic thing," Roddy says. "I think it has a lot to do with the power of those songs, the power of the arrangements, doing it with all that force, that power. And then the people give you all that excitement and energy, that you really feel like `He was here tonight. He dropped by.' It happens pretty much every time."