1955 - ON CHANCE

Chance in Lives of Some Cohorts

      In 1955, Elvis Presley met Colonel Tom Parker. A carnival operator with such "acts" as Colonel Parker and his dancing chickens, which involved chickens on a hot grill, took over the management of the life of Elvis. From 1955 till the death of Elvis in 1977, Colonel Parker was a major influence on his life. Indeed, critics of the Colonel likened Elvis to one of those dancing chickens. Opinion about the influence of Colonel Parker are mixed. Some emphasise the positive side - the big contract with Decca Records and the three important appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show arranged by Parker. Some emphasise the negative side - the series of schlocky movies which distracted Elvis from his principle skill and the proliferation of tawdry Elvis knick-knacks which contributed mainly to the fortune of the Colonel who took up to 50% of the income from them. There is, however, no debate about the fact that his influence - for good or bad - was important.

      Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Ronnie Hawkins were all born about the same time - Ronnie only 2 days after Elvis and Jerry only about 9 months after them - one likes to imagine him as being conceived on 9 January, the day between the births of Elvis and Ronnie - and about the same place - all were born in the Deep South of the United States. They all became musicians and were all invited into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. It is amusing to consider that the major difference between them is that Elvis met his Colonel Parker, whereas Ronnie and Jerry Lee did not. (Actually even if Ronnie or Jerry had met the Colonel, he would never have become their manager, since they were essentially unmanageable.) Is it the Parker factor which has determined that Elvis is now a very famous dead icon and that Ronnie and Jerry Lee are less famous but very much alive? Of the three, Elvis is the only one who is universally recognisable.

      Ronnie continued to differentiate himself from Jerry Lee by another meeting - with Canada. A spontaneous trip to Toronto in 1958 in a car borrowed by his sister evolved into a life-long love affair with that city. Thus , whereas Jerry Lee remained in the American South and in his rockabilly music, Ronnie moved to another country, another culture, and a whole other range of music.

      Other members of my group of cohorts have had significant meetings. Christo Javachekk met Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon in Paris. Their environmental installations are attributed to Christo and Jeanne-Claude (both of them having abandoned their surnames). They also share a birthday - 13 June 1935. He was born in Gabrovo, Bulgaria and she in Casablanca, Morocco. They met in Paris in October 1958 and married in November 1962. They have worked together ever since. Had Christo not been commissioned to paint a portrait of Precilda, the mother of Jeanne-Claude, which led to their meeting, they would have led entirely different lives.

      Christopher Pratt and Mary Pratt, another couple within my cohorts, are both artists. They do not seem to have the intense collaboration like that of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. However, they no doubt influence one another's work in subtler ways. They met and married in New Brunswick in 1957. She encouraged him to study at the Glasgow School of Art and at Mount Allison University. They continue to work, side by side, on their very different artistic styles. Once again, a meeting has a very profound impact on both of their lives.

      Another fateful meeting involving another member of my karass was clearly intentional from the point of view of the meetee. Henry Grimes was a very successful musician who suddenly disappeared in the 1960s. He was assumed to be dead and listed as such in many jazz reference works. Reports of his death turned out to be grossly exaggerated. Marshall Marrotte, a social worker and jazz fan, set out to discover what had happened to Henry Grimes. Following a lead that Grimes had gone to California, Marrotte, to his surprise, found Grimes alive, but nearly destitute, renting a small apartment in Los Angeles. Having suffered from bipolar disorder and sold his bass, Grimes had fallen out of touch with the jazz world. When word spread of Grimes's "resurrection", other jazz musicians rallied around to arrange performances, assist with travel and living expenses, and one musician, William Parker (in no sense related to Colonel Tom Parker) donated a bass. Grimes's return was featured in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. A documentary film and a biography are planned.

      What role does such meetings and moves play in determining the lives people lead? Are those meetings and moves really chance? The meeting between Elvis Presley and Tom Parker was presented as chance. However, there is some suggestion that Colonel Parker was "stalking" Elvis and hanging around so as to accidentally bump into him. It was a chance meeting for Presley but not for Parker. Perhaps it was not even a chance meeting for Elvis. Could it be that unconscious motivation guides what appears like chance. After all, Elvis met thousands of people by chance, and few of those meetings had any major impact on his life. Many people fritter their lives away dealing with mundane maintenance matters. One strategy for reducing the time spent on MMM is to subcontract it out to a manager. The interest and talent of some people is in managing.1 A fine synergy can often be established between a creative person and a competent manager. The Christo & Jeanne-Claude team is one such example. Is it possible that Elvis unconsciously recognised that the Presley-Parker team would also be productive?

      This is not as spooky as it may sound. Most of the writers in the famous Paris Review interviews, at one time or another, say that they are merely vehicles through which the writing is taking place. We all received the conception-day gift of all the experience of our species. Is it possible that we can tap into that common experience by getting into a particular state of consciousness? Writing in this state will resonate with others because it is attuned to this experience we all share. The dream state is seen by many psychologists, notably Sigmund Freud, as "the royal road to the unconscious". I once woke up because a word had been used in my dream and I didn't know it's meaning. A compulsive scholar, I went to a dictionary to look it up. The word was "post-prandial", it meant "after a meal", and it had been used correctly in the dream. It struck me in the morning when fully awake that this was a bizarre situation. It was my dream. I didn't know what the word meant but someone in here knew.

Return to the Table of Contents       Continue to Chapter 5.2

1   My one year as chairman of my department - a job often described as herding cats - taught me that this can be a very creative skill. It also taught me that this skill is not one that I possess.