I have remembered the significance of January 8 every year since I was fourteen. The reason – Elvis Presley was born that day in 1935. Interesting that a teenager in the mid 1990s would find his birthday to be a day of significance? No, because Elvis Presley was the King of Rock and Roll – and he always will be – to me, my mother, Uncle Ryan, my sister’s little brother-in-law Caleb, and to some one million other Elvis fans and impersonators the world over.
Famous for his up-tempo fusion of country music and R & B with a strong backbeat, Elvis joined the hearts of Black and White America (at a point in time when these were two separate entities in a more real and painful sense than they are today) with his music and his uninhibited dance moves. So much so, that 32 years after his death he held the record for the most amount of posthumous number one singles in the history of music – until someone equally strange but wonderful decided to pass into the next world – Michael Jackson, the King of Pop.
The similarities between these two musical royals are numerous and have been discussed profusely on the internet since June 25 of last year. My intention is not to go into the juicy details of this here, but instead, to highlight the important lesson there is to learn from the lives of these two men; cultural icons of our time.
Both came from small towns and conservative families, started young, were profoundly talented, made lots of money, did a lot of controversial things and died suddenly on the crest of successful careers. They were both loved and hated with equal fervor by various groups of contemporaries. But what I find most significant is the underlying sadness they both shared. Why would two of the richest, most famous people in the world, be sad and lonely? How was it possible not to feel loved when millions of people paid good money to hear their voice or catch a glimpse of them from a distance? I don’t know how it is possible, but I know it happened. And it drove these men to their early graves. To me, this means one or all of the following:
No one has the right to assume someone else’s happiness, based on their material achievements or general trappings.
Even if misunderstood or unhappy, you may still leave a cultural legacy behind, if you put your heart and soul into what you are good at, even if it is as simple as making one fantastic parippu curry.
Appreciate people while they are still alive – choose not to indulge in gossip – you are not living their life, so how are you in a position to discuss their flaws? A wise man once said, ‘judge not, and you will not be judged. With the measure you give, it will be measured unto you’. This holds water for me.
You will have realized by this point that this is not simply about Elvis and Michael Jackson; these principles apply not only to how we view major media figures, but also to how we relate to other human beings we share our lives with – our friends, work colleagues, political leaders. The principles are the same.
People in high places may seem more privileged, more powerful, more important, in a better position to effect change. But the fact of the matter is, they are still people – just human beings like you or I; prone to mistakes and misfortunes in the same way we are. And when they die, they die alone, just like you and I will one day, and they will take nothing with them. Instead they will leave a part of themselves behind. And this is what counts; their life stories, their personal imprint on the world. This is our real task in life, whether we are superstars or average Joes.
Do you know what will you leave behind? The world – even your little world of family and friends – will remember you for something in the end. Make it something good. Leave the world a song, a story, a lesson, a reason to love.