YBHS IX: ‘The King’ by William Relling, Jr.

AlohaThis story inspired me to listen to the live album from Elvis Presley Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite which I highly recommend. Colonel Thomas Parker, Elvis’s agent, reportedly got the idea for a live worldwide television concert after being inspired by the then recent trip President Nixon took to China in 1972. Nixon had a television crew following him around on his historic trip documenting everything, bringing the world together through television. Colonel Parker wanted the same thing for Elvis. On January 14th, 1973 Elvis performed a concert raising money for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund, a fund for Cancer Research at the University of Hawaii. It was aired in over 40 countries and was watched by an estimated 1.5 billion people. Sadly the United States had to wait to watch until April 4th, 1973 because January 14th happened to be the same day as the Superbowl. But what does all this King talk have to do with William Relling’s story ‘The King’ you say? EVERYTHING.

‘The King’ recounts the story of a gig drummer who had spent some time on tour playing with Elvis filling in for the sick Ronnie Tut. Following Elvis’s recent death, our narrator hooks up with an Elvis look-a-like and cover band to tour and capitalize on the public desire to see Elvis. All this capitalizing on the dead leads to a vengeful ghost of sorts, and boy can that ghost sing “Love Me Tender”.

Relling makes several references to the famous Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite concertElvis throughout the story to great effect. At the beginning the narrator mentions Elvis being at the top of his game at that point. Later he mentions the set list the Elvis cover band plays the night of the haunting. It starts out with ‘Also Spracht Zarathustra’ and goes into ‘C. C. Rider’ which is how the Hawaii concert also started. These callbacks to the concert call readers attention to the mythic and even God-like status of Elvis. During the concert, Elvis was appearing to a possible 1.5 billion people in their homes. The action of throwing his cape into the audience, which is played over and over again like a ritual by Elvis impersonators, originates from this concert. In the repetition of this musical event to the masses from beyond the grave through impersonators, it is as if Elvis has risen indeed. The whole story draws into focus a commentary on modern-day idolatry, and like Pet Sematary when we ask for something to come back will we like what it has become?

William Relling, Jr. (1954-2004) was fairly new on the writing scene when ‘The King’ came out. This story originally appeared in the February 1980 issue of Cavalier, a skin mag much like Gallery. It later appeared in his collection The Infinite Man (1989) by Scream Press. Relling had several notable books come out during the 80’s horror boom including Brujo (1986) and New Moon (1987). He continued writing until he sadly took his own life in 2004.

Of all the stories in the collection thus far this one seemed the most similar to something Wagner would write. The voice of the main character had a hip contemporary feel to him. Relling used an icon to talk about the dark side of fame and worship. It brought to mind such Wagner tales as ‘Did They Get You to Trade’ and ‘Neither Brute Nor Human’.

Next: ‘Footsteps’ by Harlan Ellison

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