An Elvis State of Mind
by Marjorie Dorfman

Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion.   
– Mark Twain

Will death spoil Elvis Presley? No, I don't think so because it hasn't happened, even after being dead for more than a quarter of a century. Although many celebrities retain fame long after passing, few manage to still provide a means of income for others. Learn about this strange cultural phenomenon and....wonder.

No one ever asked: "Elvis who?" There was only one and his last name was Presley. I can remember as a pre-pubescent teen informing my father that Elvis Aaron had a twin brother named Jessie who died at birth. His response was: "You mean there are two of them!" I cried with tears that only misunderstood youth could muster: "Never, never, never!" Icons have their place in our history and certainly Elvis ranks right up there among them. I loved him as a child and still find his music appealing; albeit from the loss of a child’s perspective. I do find it amazing, however, that his persona has not only survived pop cultural memory, but has actually transcended it. The world of icons is fickle and inconstant and yet today, believe it or not, there are 36,000 men in the world who make their living as Elvis impersonators. For a dead fellow, he’s busier than anyone could ever hope to be and I can’t help but wonder why.

Many of the bogus Presleys live in Las Vegas, the grand town of tinsel and glitz. Oscar Levant once said of Hollywood: "If you strip away the phony tinsel, you’ll find the real tinsel underneath." He could just as easily have been referring to Vegas. Perhaps this large cluster of jiggling pelvi find work because the town is the wedding capital of the world and, let’s face it, best men are hard to come by these days. There’s probably a burning need for Elvis at confirmations and bar-mitzvahs too, where the elite meet to expound upon the effects of sideburns on the modern world. Impersonator agencies offer "Elvis Presley" for anyone and everyone and for any occasion, small or large. Unbelievable for a man who’s been dead almost twenty-five years!

In addition to walking, jiggling and singing rock and roll kings, for the last nine years Elvis Presley Enterprises has licensed a ten member sky-diving team called The Flying Elvi. (I kid you not, as Jack Paar used to say.) Jumping from altitudes of 5,000 to 12,500 feet above the earth, these daredevils combine a spine tingling aerial sky diving performance of fireworks and precision maneuvers with an entertaining stage show. Team members are all United States Parachute Association pro-rated skydivers with an average of over 2,000 jumps each. They advertise that "Parachuting Presleys will make any occasion a spectacular happening!" Who am I to question their claims? So invite The Flying Elvi to your wedding and make it truly memorable by including the them in the ceremony. You’ll be the talk of the town (not to mention the asylum down the road as well)!

I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention the video "Almost Elvis" This is the definitive documentary on the quest for the title of "World Champion Elvis Impersonator." Order your copy now and be the first on your block to get it! Winner of the Gold Award, this video offers details on how to get an Elvis nose job, the Elvis Impersonator Diet, Elvis karate dance moves, custom jumpsuit tailors and Elvis Impersonator groupies! From Las Vegas to Memphis, watch as artists compete for the crown. Do you believe this? Absolutely mind boggling!

What on earth is it about the "king of rock and roll" that has persisted for more than forty years? Was it his sullen sexuality that drove teenagers and their hormones wild (not necessarily in that order) in the 1950s? Or was it the rural black southern music whose melodies he stole and re-adapted for the modern scene? (I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t know it to be true. I have heard the original, almost plaintive rendition of "Hound Dog" which became a smash hit for him as well as some of the others.) Still, Elvis rocked and I rocked with him along with millions of other kids in search of someone our parents wouldn’t approve of. The problem with an icon is that it can do no wrong. How can cardboard be wrong unless it yearns to be marble? Elvis was only a man. But it is not that which makes him the same as everyone else that is conjured by the mere mention of his name.

In his day, many called him an upstart. What would his imposters be called? False starts? He was a man of little education who soared to fame even beyond his own wildest dreams. He was a fair singer, but certainly not an excellent one. His back-up group, The Jordanaires, rendered a quality and strength to his vocal renditions that he could never have achieved alone. He could play the guitar, but nowhere near as well as Johnny B. Goode. (Or do I mean Chuck Berry? I get confused sometimes.) He had a great publicist and manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who knew a good thing when he saw one and profited immensely from Elvis’s rise to stardom and fame.

Elvis appealed to the teens of his day in the same way Rudolph Valentino did in the 1920s. Valentino was really our very first heartthrob. Frank Sinatra outdid him in the 1940s as bobby-soxers all over the country screamed and carried on wherever he performed. The Beatles experienced this same madness when they were all the rage in the 1960s. Sure, they were icons too, but the difference is you don’t see people renting themselves out by the hour impersonating "Old blue eyes" or the Sheik himself! Sinatra still has his following; people like me still listen to and enjoy his music. I’m sure too that there are those who still watch Rudy gallop across the sands of Araby in search of the fickle silver screen that left him behind a million midnights ago. Still, these icons never intrude into our reality or distort it. They are dead; we are alive. That’s the way it is and the way it should always be.

I once knew a woman who kept a flask in Elvis Presley’s image and whenever she took a drink from it she would refer to it as "a little touch of the king." This I can understand, but impersonators are another thing entirely. Why can’t these people pretend to be themselves instead of someone else for a change? Even if they are mediocre, at least its their own mediocrity and not someone else’s they are expressing. If an Elvis impersonator knocked on my door looking for work, I can’t imagine that I could find a place for him anywhere in my life unless he wanted to mow the lawn. I wouldn’t know what to do if I found myself among those who claim to se Elvis in convenience stores all over the Northern Hemisphere. (This poor dead man has been everywhere! I suspect aliens have abducted these same people many times!) I guess if I did see the king of rock and roll, I would ask for an autograph. Traces of the past are always there and demand respect. Besides I "could never be cruel to a heart that’s true."


Did you know . . .

Copyright 2003