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I feel so alone sometimes
The night is quiet for me
I'd love to be able to sleep
I am glad that everyone is gone now
I'll probably not rest
I have no need for all this
Help me, Lord.

- Elvis Presley, December 1976
In the heart of those moments of true genius, there is pain and usually madness, and beyond that point is a downward spiral of confusion, loneliness, and often death. van Gogh reached that level. So did Brian Wilson, and hundreds of others.

When I was young, I used to listen to the pile of Elvis Presley records, and I realized that the man had the talent to weave genres together like no other: rock, rhythm and blues, gospel, country - he used them all as a palette in his recordings. Yet throughout his eclectic career, he relied on the songwriting of others; he collaborated with them, of course, but he never struck out on his own as a songwriter.

That's what I believed, however, until I read a series of interviews published in the 1980s with members of Elvis's entourage, most notably a pair with Jerry Schilling that I came across in issues of a now-defunct Elvis fan newsletter entitled The King. In it, Jerry reads from a discarded note that Elvis wrote in December 1976, just before his last concert in Las Vegas. The contents of this note had a tremendous amount of impact on me.

There are these moments that we have where something is so beautiful and yet so painful that we are almost blinded by the light. That we lost our chance to turn into that light from the man who brought the rock and roll to the masses is a tragedy.
I might be in the saddle, but I'm not on the throne
- Elvis Presley, December 5, 1976

By late 1976, Elvis Presley's life was falling apart at the seams. Elvis had spent much of the decade wandering through a lost career suffering under the far too heavy weight of a lack of creative freedom and a management team devoted to an excessive micromanagement of his career. He was addicted to a series of prescription painkillers given to him by doctors who mostly just did whatever his management team told them to do. Even more painfully, he terribly missed his Priscilla, who had left him and taken their daughter Lisa Marie just a few years earlier.

During the first week of December 1976, Elvis sat alone in his suite in the Hilton. He had locked himself in after firing all of his bodyguards as well as Colonel Parker. He cried. He slept. He played his guitar. He considered killing himself (or, at least he told his entourage that he was). And he wrote.

A series of four short poems, perhaps the beginning of song lyrics - or not, were retrieved from the trash from his room during that week; many more likely weren't saved as they were ripped into pieces. These four notes are amazing in their simple expressions of pain, self-loathing, and loneliness mixed in with a deep faith. The faith aspect isn't surprising given that Elvis recorded a number of gospel albums during his career.

I don't know who I can talk to anymore
Nor to turn to
I only have myself and the Lord
Help me Lord to know the right thing

- Elvis Presley, December 1976

Elvis Presley had not been free for twenty years. He existed inside a prison where Colonel Parker was the warden; the employment of three hundred people rested on his shoulders. Two women had been the foundation of his life; the first was his mother, who had passed away, and the second was Priscilla, who had left him. He was alone without a pillar to lean on.

He was at his core a good and caring man, and it was this nature that made him keep leaving Graceland to go out on tour, to go to Las Vegas and perform for thousands of adoring fans. One only has to look at his eyes during some of those taped concerts to see that there was a man who was empty inside, but there he was, out there, performing for his fans, for the hundreds who relied on him for their daily bread.

He was a man trapped; he couldn't escape without hurting lots of others, but he couldn't stay inside without killing himself.

I will be glad when this engagement is over
I need some rest from all of this
But I can't stop
Won't stop
Maybe I will take everyone to Hawaii for a while

- Elvis Presley, December 1976

Elvis emerged from his seclusion after several days and rehired Colonel Parker and the members of his entourage, mostly due to the guilt he felt in putting so many people out of work; the numbers added up to roughly three hundred. After this low point, Elvis would only live another ten months, but during those months he lost roughly 30 pounds and, at the time of his death, was planning on working on a "different" album; he was negotiating with Colonel Parker for the ability to actually record at least one self-penned song.

These notes capture the absolute nadir of one of the true legends of rock and roll. These were the murmurs heard at the very bottom, when everything had fallen apart. And in that, there is tremendous beauty.

Most likely, these notes would have never been known without Wayne Newton, who took the note at the top of this writeup and converted it into a mediocre song called The Letter in 1992; the ensuing publicity allowed the rest of these notes to come to light.

I wish there was someone who I could Trust and talk to
Prayer is my only Salvation now
I don't
I feel lost sometimes   be still and know I am God
Feel me within, before you can know I am there

- Elvis Presley, December 1976

These notes are like leftover shards from a shattered mirror. Did he keep any for themselves? What would complete lyrics have been like? What would composed music to complement these lyrics sound like? Maybe he thought of writing poetry? We simply don't know, and never will.

Regardless, these brief interludes into the mind of Elvis Presley show us someone gifted but also someone deeply troubled. I close my eyes and picture a man with such deep internal pain and such massive pressure on him that he was on the verge of collapsing, and yet he was able to reach out and put glimpses of this onto paper. The frightening loneliness he felt even as three hundred members of his road group and entourage surrounded him and as thousands of fans waited outside for him; his mind addicted to painkillers and his body literally hundreds of pounds heavier than it should have been, his career slowly running away from him.

Elvis sits there, in sadness, and pours it out.

Elvis died of creative disappointment. The drugs were the Band-Aids. It was short-term thinking for a long-term artist. That's how we ultimately lost Elvis.
- Jerry Schilling, August 1985

Sources for this writeup include:
Elvis by Albert Goldman, Interview with Jerry Schilling, The King, August and September 1985

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