Monday, September 17, 2012

Elvis has Left the Building; or Stories I Like, Yet Am Not Entirely Convinced They Are True, Part Three

I was watching Elvis on Tour a couple of weeks ago, thanks to TCM, one of the channels that justifies my sending about half my paycheck to Comcast Cable each month.

The movie documents Elvis on a 1972 US tour, a few years before he blew up and got all rambling on stage due to his 'medications.' I've always had a soft spot for '70s Elvis, mainly because his voice sounds more melancholy and ... lived in or something, and songs like "American Trilogy" will instantly transport me to falling asleep in the back of my parent's car as we drove through Mississippi. Plus, he looked all awesome:

King of Rock and Roll, King of his Castle.

At one point there's a shot of the Jacksonville official seal, which reminded me of a story I heard years ago that I've been telling ever since.

Florida Theatre is this cool old downtown Jacksonville theater that has been around since 1927. All sorts of people have played there through the years, including Elvis back in 1956, when the mayor had to be on hand to ensure Elvis' pelvis didn't inflame the Jacksonville youth to unheard of heights of juvenile delinquency and public sexiness.

The upper level of the Florida Theatre is now office space, but it used to house a radio station in the old days, according to the story. Since this was back in the days when bands had to give interviews all the time before rocking, everyone who played the Florida Theatre would go upstairs, give an interview and play a song or two in an effort to get people to come out to the show. Then I presume they ate a fried chicken dinner provided by the theater owner's wife and drank some whiskey before going on stage.

These performances were recorded onto acetate records, which were then just sort of stored away in boxes or used to prop up uneven tables or used in primitive Frisbee games.*

Years later when the theater was renovated, crews went through all the stuff in the top floors and threw it all out. Decades of posters, old props and clothing, and hundreds of unmarked records all ended up in the dumpster.

So somewhere in a North Florida landfill lie hundreds of interviews and performances from the '20s til about the late '60s. Who knows what lies unheard and broken? Elvis is definitely in there, as well as countless other irreplaceable recordings.

This is the part where I would make a dramatic pause when retelling the story and say something profound like, "If only they would have known," while gazing wistfully off in the distance.

So is the story true? I asked Raymond, a senior librarian in the Florida department via email. This is his reply:

"Sounds entirely plausible. I can't find anything on a radio station there by randomly searching city directories, but I do know there was a fully-functional small theatre upstairs in that office building portion on the side of the theatre - like a screening room. Here's a pic of it **with a mic from WJAX, the radio station the city used to own:

I guess WJAX could've set something up to record there, but I think their studio was always elsewhere.

And yes, they probably threw everything away. That's Jacksonville SOP."

The verdict? "Entirely Plausible" is close enough to give it an Unverified But True which might be the highest level of truth we're ever gonna get here.

So feel free to use this story as your own, and remember the dramatic pause and wistful gaze at the end. People really like that.

Oh, and Raymond, I guess I should have asked before using your email like that, but I think Florida's Sunshine Laws should protect me if you try to sue.

*OK, so I made up the Frisbee and table leveling part.

 **You should check out the library's Sandgren Collection. Not all of it has been digitized, but it consists of thousands of photos of old Jacksonville buildings, old school wrestlers and entertainers and general olde tyme awesomeness.

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