I will never forget what happened on this day 31 years ago.
It started like any summer day at my house in Columbus. The weather was beautiful, and quite warm, so I, of course, was sitting in the basement, playing a made-up dice baseball game with a mock team that I called the Columbus Explorers. Once a nerd, always a nerd.
It was around 3 p.m., and I was listening to WCOL, which was the premier Top 40 station in Columbus back in the days before AM radio was given over to Rush Limbaugh. Suddenly, the music stopped and an announcer came on, speaking in a serious voice that rivaled Death in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.
“WCOL NEWS. A SPECIAL REPORT.”
I knew this had to be important, because I rarely heard anything on WCOL besides music, DJ patter, and ads for Oxy-10. But what could it have been? Had President Carter been shot?
“ELVIS PRESLEY, THE LEGENDARY KING OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL, DIED TODAY AT HIS HOME IN MEMPHIS….”
It took several minutes for the news to sink in. Even at that young age, I was well aware of Elvis’ status as a cultural icon. One of my favorite albums was Elvis’ Golden Records, and I knew that no one else epitomized the cultural phenomenon that was rock ‘n roll.
Sure, other rockers had died during my childhood—Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison. Their deaths could be explained easily. They did too many drugs. But Elvis’ drug use did not become public until after his death, so the world—including an 11-year-old kid sitting in an Ohio basement—wondered why.
If anything, Elvis was, at the time, a symbol of the enduring qualities of rock ‘n roll. It didn’t matter that he had been recast as a Vegas-style entertainer that my grandmother could like. The fact that he was still having hits 20 years after he first shook his hips proved that rock ‘n roll would not only last, but could also age gracefully. How ironic that seems now.
After a few minutes of pondering this brush with mortality, I walked upstairs and out of the house. Our German shepherd, Jazz, was sitting in the fenced-in portion of the yard, looking dejected. She was usually chained up just outside the back step, so this was strange.
Mom said that Jazz was behind the fence because she had bitten a man who was delivering towels to Dad’s barber shop. He had apparently wandered into Jazz’s territory and surprised her. It was a minor wound, and nothing more came of the incident. It was the first and last time Jazz bit anybody.
While these two events stand out in my mind because they happened on the same day, there was no connection between them, of course.
Or was there?
My Grandma Acky had a weakness for tabloid newspapers such as The National Enquirer and The Star. She would read these papers cover-to-cover every week, laughing at the most ridiculous stories and believing some of the more straight-faced items. In the months after Elvis’ death, these papers were dominated by stories about Elvis, loaded with the sordid details of his final years.
One day, I thought about the events of Aug. 16 and put two and two together. It would be six more years before I would learn the word “synchronicity” via The Police, but I apparently understood the concept. I came up with this idea that there was some connection between Elvis’ soul and the towel guy’s leg, and then the tabloid headline flashed in front of me: “MY DOG KILLED ELVIS!”
I think I should have called the Enquirer with the story. I could just picture Jazz and me on the front cover, under some headline like “German Shepherd Holds the Secret to the Mystery of the Century!” I even thought of a possible motive. (Never anthropomorphize animals—they hate that.) I could picture Jazz being interviewed and saying, in my dopey “dog” voice, “He said I ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog!”
Such are the thought patterns of an 11-year-old boy who ate too many Creamsicles and had no interest in playing sports.
I never called the tabloids, although it wouldn’t have been the most absurd news item ever written about Elvis. But for better or worse, I will always remember Aug. 16, 1977.
It was the day Jazz bit the towel guy.