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Elvis Presley’s “Just Tell Her Jim Says Hello” And My Mom


my mommy

When you’re young your parents are gods and as you grow up they fall to earth and become human, but in time you can see them clearly, and hopefully love them for who they are, the bonds can be deep enough to last a life time. Except when they not only become human but become bad humans. I am not saying if there is a heaven my Mom hasn’t gotten in, she was a selfish person (my Dad died when I was sixteen and she threw me out), I didn’t speak to her for 30 years, till a year before she died, I am saying when gods fall for children, they need to watch out how far they fall. If she had not been my mother, I might have thought her an ass but not been that bothered. People want what they want. But sons and mothers are not like that and for me, to make matters worse, I was a real Mummy’s Boy: I worshipped her. So for me? Her fall from grace became complete. 

I don’t want to tell you exactly what happened, instead I’ll tell you about a short story I wrote maybe 20 years after the fact. In the late 1970s I was friends with a bartender who told me she had a degenerative eye disease and would be blind by the time she was 60 years of age. Decades later I wanted to write a short story about our drifts toward death and I used the bartenders condition as a starting part: it worked, everything slowly and completely unstoppably turning to black was such a strong metaphor: it was like double dipping into the concept.. It gave me what I needed.

The story: A middle class man with the same degenerative eye disease as the bartender (I wrote him as a cipher, I didn’t delve too deeply into his internal life because he was meant as a metaphor, the thing was there was little there),  worked as an usher at a movie house where a woman would show up alone every couple of days, to meet up with a guy. The usher became obsessed with the woman and one day followed her home, she lived in a mansion, obviously married, children, she must have been having an affair. he began taking secret pictures of her and her lover, spent all his free time keeping track of her.

The woman finally notices the usher  following her and assumes he is a private eye and works for her husband. She gives him money and finally sex to stop him from telling her husband what she is doing. The man takes the money, it is enough to save him from poverty when he goes blind, and starts the long drift into blindness and death with the memory of the one night to sustain him.

I didn’t write it to write about my mom (I just liked the usher in the darkness of the theatre to the light of his spying, than the darkness of the misconception, the light of the solution, and finally the final darkness -it was just a shaded story about the inevitability of death) but once it fell into place it was too easy to steal her.

So that’s my Mom, dead five years now herself. The sadness on a personal level is how hard it is to remember how much I did love her and when I listen to Elvis Presley’s “Just Tell her Jim Said Hello” , I can briefly conjure the feeling.  She loved country (a huge Jim Reeves fan) and “He’ll Have To Go” and “Jim” she played over and over again.

One afternoon in the summer of maybe 1965, after another spectacularly unsuccessful adulterous relationship went south, she played “Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello” and cried and cried. She was a figure of pain, her shoulders shaking, glass in hand, getting up to play the song over and over again, oblivious to me  as I watched her drink and cry until she passed out and I watched her sleeping.

The song is full on Leiber Stoller from 1962, Presley is all emotion, the way his voice goes up an octave at “I’m afraid to face her” is like a tear in the voice, a line later, the two conjunctions  are oddly stressed and by the bridge Elvis is using his uppermost register. As high as he can get. The song is all sorry incident, it is just devastatingly sad, and while the feel is country, it is actually a cha cha, and you can imagine people slowly moving their hips to it. For my Mom, she was imagining a chance encounter with the man she had ended it with somewhere in the future and she imagined him (or her, or both) not fully recovered. Just the sight of the woman puts Jim in a tailspin, “she’ll know” if they mention his name. She’ll know what? How devastated he is? Which Jim it is? . Somewhere over there, she glances over and their eyes meet. would he cry, would he beg her to stay? Don’t tell her I still love her, don’t tell her that I’m thinking of her. I’d run up and embrace. I’m ashamed to face her. The incident is filled with questions, enough to allow the listener to channel herself in.

If music can bring back the past, it can also bring back people. Even to this day, even recently, the demo version of “Green Shirt” reminds me of Helen Bach though I see her every day (you think you don’t lose people who are with you but you do, you lose the person who was with you then because they are a different person now) . Any time I listen to Gilbert O’Sullivan I think of my sister and Demis Rousseau -any euro MOR -Johnny Holliday, Charles Aznavour, reminds me of my Step-Uncle. You are listening to the exact same sound you had been listening to then as you are now. It isn’t nostalgia, nostalgia suggests you are missing something, and that isn’t necessarily so. Remembering isn’t the same as missing. The thing about the past is that it is irrevocably past, there is nothing to be done with it. And because the past is dead and dead and dead and gone, what it is, even you are no longer there.

“I’d like to tell her what, I’m really feeling but…” when I made my peace with my Mom, I did it without really mentioning the past. She was 80 years old and I didn’t have the stomach for it. What difference does it make? But I wish I had told her that one reason I couldn’t forgive her was because I was too hurt, I wish I had told her about watching her sleeping, sitting quietly by, watching over her. How much I had loved her. I guess it wouldn’t really matter, would it?

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