What’s the 411?

Last week, we paid Audrey to catalogue* our record collection.

*As an aside, I realize that “catalog” is the more common spelling of this word in American English, but I prefer the European version. I also favor favour and find colour more colorful than color. However, I refuse to belabor the point and call our holiday Labour Day. I’m funny when it comes to language. 

Anyway. Our record collection continues to grow, and this was becoming a problem. Case in point: we hit our favorite record store in Portland recently and ended up buying an album we already owned. As much as I like Ozzy Osbourne, one copy of “Blizzard of Ozz” is plenty. This has happened on more than one occasion, so we figured it was time to actually come up with a list we can refer to in order to avoid duplicates. Only, the idea of sitting down and going through all those albums one by one seemed far too onerous a task to deal with, so we bribed my daughter to do it. The grand total? 411. That’s a lot of vinyl! Some of those albums we bought nine days ago, while others I have had for almost 40 years.

In fact, I still own the very first record I ever bought. And there’s a great story to go along with it.


In August of 1977, we were on vacation in Texas, staying with some friends of the family in Wichita Falls. I was eight years old and not nearly as worldly as I am these days. One afternoon the adults walked into the living room, and I could tell immediately that something was wrong. Their eyes were downcast and brimming with tears, and they spoke in the same hushed tones usually reserved for the recounting of Bad News.

“What’s wrong?” I asked nervously.

“Elvis is dead,” my mom answered sadly.

“Oh, no!” I cried. And then, after a long pause, “Who’s Elvis?”

I feel pretty stupid about the whole thing now, of course. I may have only been a kid, but you’d think I’d at least have some knowledge of the King of Rock ‘n Roll! Nope. I’d never heard of the guy before. It’s rare that you can point to any random, particular day and assign it significance, but for me, August 16, 1977 is monumental. It’s not just the day that Elvis died – it’s also the day I discovered rock ‘n roll.

elvis headlines

News of Elvis’s death was all over television for the next few days. It made me want to learn more about this fat man in a white sequined jumpsuit whose death stunned the nation. A few weeks later, I walked into a record store and bought my very first album ever. C’mon, Everybody. Because I did not know any of Elvis’s music I chose that one randomly. It was a compilation album containing songs from a number of his movies (another revelation: Elvis made movies!). Aside from “Follow That Dream” there weren’t even any songs that I would consider classic Elvis, but it was enough to whet my appetite and ignited a love affair with popular music in general, and vinyl in particular, that continues unabated to this day. 411 records and counting, remember? (And a handy Excel spreadsheet so we don’t double dip further).

Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can’t help but move to it. That’s what happens to me. I can’t help it. ~ Elvis Presley

I am reminded of this story not just because the 38th anniversary of his passing was Sunday (did you realize Elvis would be 80 now?), but also because the King has a significant role in my novel-in-progress. In case you’re wondering, it’s set in the present day. Anything more than that is a spoiler, and my virtual lips are sealed. But I’ve had to do some research in order to flesh out the character and portray him convincingly. I was hoping to avoid cliches such as fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, but guess what? Elvis really did eat fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. All the damn time. So, fine. Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches will make a guest appearance in my book, too.

In the meantime, I’ve been listening to his music a lot lately. Trying to get into the right frame of mind, if you will. My favorite Elvis songs, in order, are:

  1. Burning Love
  2. Kentucky Rain
  3. Suspicious Minds
  4. Don’t Be Cruel
  5. Mystery Train

What about you? Favorite Elvis song? First album you ever bought? Is there a celebrity whose death significantly affected your life?


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

16 thoughts on “What’s the 411?

  1. The thing I remember most about Elvis’ death? He died on the toilet! That freaked out my jr high self!

    I was pretty torn up about JFK Jr’s death. Such a tragedy. I still tear up just thinking about it.


  2. I remember where I was when I heard the news. Paige Chandler’s big sister came out to where we were jumping the ditch along side the road across from the elementary school. She was crying. “Elvis is dead,” she sobbed.


  3. I hit the thrift shops to buy the records of the classic Italian singers: Perry Como, Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jimmy Roselli and the like. I don’t care about the records, just want the album covers to frame. Can’t go wrong for $1.


    1. Hence our rock ‘n roll wall. It’s all boxed up now, but once we get a house, we are devoting one section to album covers, concert ticket stubs, posters, etc. And I’ve got a bunch of Sinatra myself.


  4. Is it odd that I really dont know much Elvis music? I just think of Hubba Hubba when I think of him… I know I know some of the songs but the names just arent jumping out at me. I think I am showing my age… :/


  5. Having recently returned from Graceland, let’s talk about Elvis!! First off, have you ever seen the movie Mystery Train? They talked about it on our trip in Memphis. It stars to Japanese actors, Steve Buscemi, and a few blues stars like Rufus Thomas and more. What’s cool is it was filmed in the old hotel that used to be owned/operated by the Greek family that started the Arcade Restaurant – one of Elvis’ favorite spots – where he ate grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches. (Which Joe and I have made – add bacon – and are delicious. You can even “healthify” them like us and use almond butter, banana and turkey bacon. Yum!!

    Anyway, we recently watched it and it’s pretty campy but cool. The story is two Japanese tourists come to Memphis to tour Graceland and Sun Records, and they stay in this downtrodden hotel. The film follows a few people’s storylines and they all meet up at this hotel.

    We’ve also been watching a bunch of Elvis’ films. We knew much of his music but neither Joe or I had seen any of his movies. King Creole was the one he was most proud of and we both agreed it’s the best one we’ve watched. It really is a great film all around. It’s more of a dramatic role for him too – very centered around a father/son relationship. We’ve also watched Blue Hawaii and Jailhouse Rock, which were ok. My verdict: Elvis is often a total cad in most movies. He treats women rather despicably. Making out with whoever he chooses. Picking fights. LOL Those storylines were kind of bad, but still entertaining to see some of his big work. If you watch any or have seen them, hit me up on Twitter and tell me what you guys think while you’re watching it. I’m so curious.


    1. My ex-wife was into Elvis movies, but I never cared much for them. Blue Hawaii was probably the best of the lot, though Viva Las Vegas had its moments. Did you know that he famously wanted to sign on for A Star is Born with Barbra Streisand, but Colonel Parker put the kibosh on that? One of the biggest disappointments of his life, I’ve heard.

      I’m sure he drowned his sorrows with fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

      P.S. Super jealous of your Graceland trip!


      1. Blue Hawaii is NOT the best of them! I lost count of the number of times he abandons his girlfriend, Maile. And the plot is centered around him not wanting to work on pineapple farm. ??! No. You have to watch King Creole and then we’ll talk about this some more.

        P.S. See you at #Keanuthon.


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