On the 16th August 1977 the King died. Long live the King. In 2003 photographer Peter Badge and artist Johann Zambryski made an Elvis artists’ publication. I discovered this delightful photobook on the shelf. It was new to me. It has a great long shape. The cover is a great shocking pink colour – a colour that in the 1970s might have looked great on a Cadillac. It is 36 pages long and it is simply and lovingly stapled in the middle. Half the book consists of distorted images of Elvis Aaron Presley and the other half is imagery of Elvis impersonators. It is an intriguing and well executed little book.
Elvis may be dead, but his stardom does indeed live on.
Bob Dylan almost met Elvis and he wrote a song about it called ‘Went to see the Gypsy’. Elvis the gypsy. Elvis the poor boy of humble origins. Elvis the King. Elvis the Hollywood actor. The Singer. The young rocker. The rebel. The outsider. The performer. The sex symbol. I would like to have met all the Elvis’s. My personal favourite Elvis would have been the young early Elvis at the time of those immaculate Sun Recordings (1953-1955). Simply Magnificent. But then the Kung-Fu Elvis of his Las Vegas days, when he was surrounded by his Memphis mafia, that would have been a great experience too. Elvis is always an enigma. Elvis easily crosses all segments of American society. He is such an attractive idea to so many people and he is so beloved by so many different types of people. Strange how so many people want to be Elvis. To really Be (become) Elvis – Elvis the King of America. Elvis the Gypsy troubadour messiah.
All good things come to an end and Elvis – the original Elvis – died in 1977. But then they multiplied and Elvis became many. Shortly after his death the Elvis impersonator became King. Joe Kelly captures the multiple Elvis worlds from the perspective of many different Elvis’s (Elvii). Professional Elvis impersonators, commonly known as Elvis tribute artists (ETAs) can arrive unexpectedly like divine messengers from the great Elvis in the sky. They can be sound-alikes or look-alikes or both. They can be male and they can be female. They can be old and they can be children. Sometimes they are homage and sometimes a parody, but always slightly grotesque. The fetishisation of the omnipresent King is without boundaries – Elvis without borders – and he may one day save the world (until then he is working at gas station, nights and weekends). Elvis the savior. Many global religions have stranger origins after all. The message to the people of the world is clear: We need not worry as Elvis will be ‘taking care of business’. TCB.
Old Jokes home: Elvis himself entered an Elvis lookalike contest at a local restaurant shortly before his death, and came in third place.