Tuesday, September 7, 2010
You Never Know When Or Where An Elvis Impersonator Will Show Up
Back in my callow youth, when I believed myself immortal and a quart of Colt 45 put wings beneath my soul - or at least fooled me into thinking those rusted hooks were wings - my friends and I used to laugh, partially with empathetic horror, at a strange little documentary called something like "Rock N Roll Legends". Like a lot of footage you watch in your youth I have no idea where it came from, other than some cable show, and it was fairly blurry, but it left long lasting impressions.
It followed a handful of devout Elvis fans after The King's fairly pathetic early exit, clutching peanut buttery bananas on the john with multi-colored pills dancing like Vegas sequins in his blurry bloodshot eyes. One woman had uprooted her young children from school to move closer to Graceland. She spoke with complete conviction and without a trace of doubt, even as she related how family members disowned her after the apparently whimsical act.
Another affected family was a father and son where the father was a semi-professional Elvis impersonator and he was training his son in the same field. I'll never forget the shot of the 12 year mop-headed boy standing in late era Elvis gaudiness with wet glistening eyes of fear and shame. It would take a resurrected Kafka to truly tell the son's tale.
But then this last Saturday I went to an old friend's wedding. A wild and wacky poet girl, Barbara DeCesare, who survived the '90s Baltimore poetry scene to continue writing, raise children and still look 30. Sadly, she didn't tell me ahead of time, "Hey chucklehead, you might want to bring your camera". I've been carrying that small digital thing around with me so much of late that it is like a shiny tumor that has replaced part of my vision. So many nights up late downloading (or is it uploading?) photos onto my tiny notebook laptop, hearing Everly say "Honey, when are you coming to bed?" only to find out hours later that Everly is no longer even in the bed. She has stuffed a few old pillows with straw and sewn them together with a corn stalk wig and taken off for the El Dorado lounge where she dances lasciviously with our plumber while Cornell Woolrich drinks Manhattan after Manhattan at the U-shaped bar, dreaming up the Hells that await whoever is the husband of that feisty Alabama gal who looks like one of the girls in the B-52s dancing with all the sailors on shore leave and making them laugh with stories about her feeb hubby at home toying with his photos of flowers and gerbils re-enacting Orson Welles movies in little shoebox theater sets.
At any rate, I'd been using my camera so much lately that I purposely didn't take it to Babs' wedding. "This will prevent some OCD activity," I told my left hand, which passed it along to my upper thigh. Then Everly, Chris Toll (good Lord, another Chris Toll car trip!) and I drove to Red Lion, PA, where 57 people live among 26 churches, all of them grand. We walk into the wedding reception at the Great American Saloon and the place is filled with stuffed mountain goats, a thirty foot by thirty foot aquarium filled with piranha and flags from all over the world. The walls are some kind of ancient Elk Lodge wood and the tables are filled with cool little robot toys and bowling doo-dads. We barely get done jamming as many little cheese cubes and fruit squares into our mouth as fast as you can say "Britney Spears' Beaver Shot!" when canned music explodes from the pa system and an Elvis impersonator comes running out! A skinny Elvis impersonator who looks suspiciously like Jim Belushi.
There is enough pancake makeup on him to cook some tandoori chicken. His hair is sculpted and looks like it could cut through tandoori chicken. He is wearing the requisite white jumpsuit with sequins and colored studs, but he actually kicks some vocal ass. He does a tasteful minimum of the Vegas years moves, does more of like a vogueing of them or perhaps alludes to them. And the ladies, ladies from many different rungs of the economic strata and of many different cultural types, went wild. Including my Everly, who did some beautiful kind of bunny hop frug that made me fall in love all over again once more, even though she was doing it for this echo of a fallen icon who was an echo of black soul.
What all is enacted in the frenzied worship of the Elvis figure? The permission among civil society for even aged matrons to gyrate and wiggle and hump-de-humpty? Is the symbol of Elvis, especially late Elvis, like a reverse of that old childrens' game "Statues" where you have to remain frozen in your one selected pose until the spell is broken - in this case you get to be as wild-assed tacky and dorky until the Elvis wig is no longer visible?
All I can say is that during his half hour or so of performing I didn't once think "Okay you fake chintzy cheeseball, get your ass off the stage and go back to cleaning toilets at the Ramada Inn." The bubble wasn't burst until much later when we were outside getting air and bogarting the free photo booth (especially Kim Jong EV who normally won't even let you take her damn picture! You couldn't keep her out of the photo booth. Little children were crying because they hadn't even gotten their first crack at it and Everly had strips of her likeness gathered around her ivory ankles like the needles that fell from Charlie Brown's Christmas tree), listening to entertaining stories from David Fair (another David Fair event! What a summer!) about his homeless, jobless wanderings in California in the '70s, when lo and behold, the Elvis signifier came out of the bar part of the place with his slim assistant/girlfrend who looked harder than Aunt Eugene's washboard and he was wearing black loafers! I'm not sure if there were tassles or not, I couldn't look that closely. But somehow he still was able to carry off that sculpted shellacqued lacquered black ax wig with some dignity in broad daylight in a strip mall parking lot in PA, where just about only The Great American Saloon and a Karate class remained standing in the ashes of the American dream.
And perhaps it's for the best that I didn't have my "real" camera. That I had to resort to feverishly pressing the tiny button on my B grade cellphone to capture the elusive shadows you see here. It has always been said that he or she who looks directly at the face of God will die instantly.