Throughout her life, Lisa Marie Presley had a complicated relationship with Graceland. She later blasted “That damned back lawn,” saying it was ghoulish to have a family graveyard in the garden. Tragically, she has now been laid to rest there, along with her father, grandparents and her only son, Benjamin Keough, who died in July 2020. Lisa Marie’s shock loss earlier this year on January 12 brings the story full circle. Her own childhood at the Memphis mansion was a dizzying whirl of excess and joy, that started to fall apart when her parents separated in 1972, when she was just four years old. One deeply personal Elvis Presley song speaks of his own pain during that period.
Elvis’ entire life was defined by his music, but he was not a songwriter and so few of his iconic songs were actually that personal to him. All great songs find a universal resonance, plus he brought all of his considerable vocal talents to recordings and added charisma and stagecraft to their live performances.
But it’s one of the music legend’s later, lesser-known songs that speaks directly about his own life and that of his young daughter. He sings about the tears he cries when they are separated and her pain that her parents are no longer together.
Years later, Lisa Marie, having become a recording artist in her own right, revealed she was drawn to the “darker” side of emotions and this was reflected in her favourite Elvis songs.
Lisa Marie said: “I like the darker songs, the sad ones. There’s a song called Separate Ways that was treacherously painful.”
The song was released in September 1972, with the iconic Always On My Mind on the B-side. Incredibly, it was written by one of Elvis’ own inner circle, his Memphis Mafia, a man Lisa Marie would later condemn as a “disgusting idiot.. a mother****er.”
Separate Ways was written by Robert ‘Red” West, one of Elvis’ bodyguards in May 1972, along with rising songwriter Richard Mainegra, who was sure The King would reject a song so blatantly describing his own upsetting life.
Mainegra said: “We started leaning the storyline toward Elvis’ break-up with Priscilla and how it affected their daughter. He (Red) told me when it was finished Elvis was going to cut the song. I let that go in one ear and out the other. I thought, ‘No way!’ First of all, why would Elvis want to sing about his personal life that was already being dragged through the media every day?'”
Elvis, however, embraced the track, which also gave its name to a compilation album that same year.
The lyrics start: “I see a change is coming to our lives, It’s not the same as it used to be, And it’s not too late to realise our mistake, We’re just not right for each other. Love has slipped away left us only friends, We almost seem like strangers, All that’s left between us are the memories we shared, Of times we thought we cared for each other.”
Elvis and Priscilla had already separated and would divorce in 1973. The next verses refer directly to Lisa Marie, who was only four years old at the time.
The song continues: “There’s nothing left to do but go our separate ways, And pick up all the pieces left behind us, And maybe someday, somewhere along the way, Another love will find us. Some day when she’s older, maybe she will understand, Why her mom and dad are not together. The tears that she will cry when I have to say goodbye, Will tear at my heart forever.”
Red West was one of the three members of the Memphis Mafia, along with his cousin Sonny West, and David Hebler, who had been fired from their jobs and wrote a tell-all book. Elvis, What Happened? was released two weeks before the star’s death on August 16, 1977, and caused him considerable distress.
Lisa Marie later said: “These idiots were so disgusting… they helped him go down and were actually worse than he was. It infuriated me. They were trying to take away his dignity, the one thing that was most important to him.”