Gezien dit boek enkel in het Engels verscheen, zijn er geen Nederlandstalige uittreksels beschikbaar.
‘There is probably an element of malice in the readiness to overestimate people; we are laying up for ourselves the pleasure of later cutting them down to size.’ (Eric Hoffer, U.S. philosopher)
Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon. At first glance, one cannot help but wonder what these two men could possibly have in common. Close examination reveals amazing parallels – fateful circumstances that guided each through his rise from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of success. By the time their paths crossed at the height of their respective careers, Nixon and Presley had overcome numerous, similar hardships in their struggle to capture the elusive American Dream. How that dream slipped from their grasp, and why, provides the focus for this book.
History is rich with legends and heroes. Whether Presley and Nixon will share space with Beethoven and Lincoln depends on the criteria used in judgment.
What, for example, defines a legend? ‘One that inspires legends or achieves legendary fame,’ according to the American Heritage Dictionary. An interesting supplement is found under Usage Note: ‘The words legend and legendary have come to be used in recent years to refer to any person or achievement whose fame promises to be particularly enduring, even if its renown is created more by the media than by oral tradition.’ Few would argue this adjunct has become common in modern times; rock stars who make headlines by punching out fans, sports celebrities who break contracts when a teammate receives more money, criminal attorneys who handle high-profile cases are all visible forms of proof. We come to know their names and faces from the covers of the tabloids, but does that notoriety qualify them as bona fide legends? Most are unlikely to be remembered five, let alone fifty, years from now.
To understand the true meaning of a legend, we must go beyond the simple definition quoted above by tracing the history of the word in its basic form. ‘A legend is a long-told story or a group of related stories about a person or a place that is popularly believed to have some historical truth,’ reports Groiler’s Encyclopedia. ‘Mythology, in contrast, frequently takes the divine or the supernatural as its primary subject. Myths and legends are often intermixed.’ Indeed. What person could stand alone as a legend without a little bit of myth thrown in? A rumor here, an exaggeration there, and an already bigger than life individual becomes super-human, an example to look up to, an ideal toward which to strive.
When exploring the synonyms for legend, we find the following: renowned, celebrated, great, noble, glorious, unfading, immortal, eternal. Noticeably absent is the inclusion of any negative terms. How, then, is it possible for a human to become a legend? People are not without faults, nor are they immortal. Although men and women might rise to legendary fame, it is their reputations surviving in the wake of their mortality that become legend.
‘A person noted for special achievement in a particular field,’ states the American Heritage Dictionary, is a hero. ‘A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose.’ A person. A mortal, not without faults. Before there were legends, there had to be heroes.
Although the tone of most synonyms for ‘hero’ is positive (good person, sterling character, model of virtue), for others it is ambiguous (idealist), afflicted or challenging (brick, rough diamond, ugly duckling). Bearing the range of such qualities, Nixon and Presley strove for, and ultimately realized, the American Dream. Whether their reputations will become legendary, only time will tell. As Ralph Waldo Emerson aptly put it, ‘To be great is to be misunderstood.’
Connie Kirchberg & Marc Hendrickx
From A Jack To A King
‘Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat . . . the redeeming things are not ‘happiness and pleasure’ but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle.’ (F. Scott Fitzgerald, U.S. author)
In fiction, memorable characters come alive to the reader by seeming to live and breathe on the page. How does an author manage to create this fictive illusion? Every character is a combination of the writer who creates him, the people s/he knows, and the town in which s/he grew up. This is no less true of real people. By examining their history, we can see how their characters and personalities evolved, and gain a basic understanding of their behaviors in given situations. We begin our study, then, with a glimpse into the Presley and Nixon family albums.
No one who lived across the tracks in East Tupelo, Mississippi, ever referred to Vernon Presley as a stellar family provider; he drifted from one low-paying job to the next, with substantial rest periods in between. But when the responsibility of fatherhood set in, Vernon proved up to the task. Despite his precarious history, he managed to secure a $180 mortgage to build a house for his wife, Gladys, and their child-to-be.
In this sturdy two-room shack, with no indoor plumbing or electricity, Gladys gave birth to twins in the early morning hours of January 8, 1935. The first child, Jesse Garon, emerged from the warmth of his mother’s womb, cold and still, unable to cope with the hardships of life. Elvis Aron burst onto the scene thirty minutes later, lungs breathing and heart pounding, ready to take on the world. Jesse was laid to rest in an unmarked grave at the local cemetery, a spot Elvis would return to many times as he carried on the Presley name.
The roots of his humble beginning remained deeply embedded in Elvis’ character as he rose to heights far above even his own expectations or dreams. ‘The money, the financial end of it isn’t the most important,’ he said during an interview amidst the glitzy backdrop of Hollywood some twenty-seven years later. ‘It can’t be, because if it was, it would show, and I wouldn’t care about other people.’
Life did not have quite so tragic a beginning for Richard Milhous Nixon, though economically, his family was not much better off than the Presleys. The senior Nixons ran a floundering lemon ranch in Yorba Linda, California, a small farming community about 30 miles east of Los Angeles. Richard, the second of five sons born to Francis and Hannah Nixon, entered the world on January 9, 1913, in a ‘poor, lower-middle-class family,’ as he would later describe it. ‘I suppose it could be said that we too were poor,’ he admitted. ‘But our parents left us a legacy far richer than anything money could buy.’
No more blessed with opportunity than Vernon, Francis had been only eight when his mother died of tuberculosis. Four years later he was forced to quit school after completing the sixth grade; an able-bodied ‘man’ at the ripe age of twelve, he was expected to help support the family. Among his many jobs were farm hand, sheep shearer, and oil field roustabout. Like Vernon, his self-taught carpentry skills enabled him to build a modest home for his family when the time arrived.
Unlike the elder Presley, however, Francis Nixon was ambitious. Everyone who knew him gave him that. According to Richard, this was because he wanted only the best for his sons. ‘Above all, he wanted us to have the education he had been unable to have,’ he wrote in his memoirs. Francis was determined his boys would perform to the best of their abilities as far as their studies went and made it clear that he would accept no less.
Surely Vernon, too, wanted his son to get an education. Referring to himself as a ‘common laborer,’ however, he obviously viewed the world through less demanding eyes. Like Francis, he had dropped out of school well before graduating, most likely for similar reasons: he was capable of contributing to the family income. Because such attitudes continued to prevail in East Tupelo, one of the poorest communities in Mississippi, it stands to reason that Vernon, barely able to read himself, would have been happy if his son made it through high school. Expecting straight A’s was beyond comprehension.
Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon and the American Dream – p. 1.