Letters to Elvis

Elvis Aaron Presley died at the age of 42 in 1977, the year I was born. Growing up in a Portuguese family in Canada, American music was not a significant influence in our life, but the curiosity of what it meant to be American was tied to my understanding of what drew people to Elvis.

As I inched closer to 40, confronting my own mortality and legacy, I grappled with the question of how this man who had a sad, lonely and tragic end, had such an enduring pull on people across generations, socioeconomic classes, and from all corners of the world. The year before my 40th birthday I went to Memphis hoping to answer this question.

Men, old and young, dedicating their lives to paying tribute to Elvis, fans coming together annually to commemorate his death, and those who immortalize Elvis with ink on their skin, these are the people I wanted to understand. When asking them to explain their affection for this man, the responses felt generic. I then started asking people to write letters to Elvis with the understanding that he would absolutely read them.

One fan explained this cultural phenomenon as, "there is an Elvis song that can help you get through anything in life." Another told me, "If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary. If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."