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Is That You, Elvis?
by Stephen Morris
"Is that you, Elvis?" The speaker is a young (by my standards) woman, with blond hair that falls to her shoulders, then gaily flips to the side.
Let me set the stage. It's a sunny day. The temperature is still summer, but the foliage is fall, dry and brittle with the anticipation of winter. (Hmm-m-m, the same description applies to me.) I'm on a dirt road in Central Vermont, surrounded by the foothills of the Green Mountains and the trees of the Northern forest. There are no bright lights of Vegas, no majesty of Graceland, just stone walls, now overgrown, and some squawking jays in the distance. She's walking one way and I the other.
"Is that you, Elvis?"
It's been thirty years since the real Elvis left the building, but there have been numerous rumors, sightings, and impersonations. But on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere?
"I really liked your performance on Saturday night," she says.
"It's me, Baby," I reply, dropping my voice at least half an octave. "Thank ya, thank ya very much."
My rock and roll career officially ended when I retired from The Fabulous Van Goghs, purveyors of "the artistic sound in rock and roll." (It said so right on our business cards.) It was 1966. Three years earlier, inspired not by Elvis but the Beatles, I, along with every other teenage boy in America, bought a guitar and "learned how to play," a line lifted from the Byrds's "So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n Roll Star."
By "learned how to play" I mean four chords that let me at least fake 75% of the songs on the radio. The next step was obvious ... join a band. Now, we were four boyz making noize. Our first gig was at a fraternity party where every third song was a variation of "Louie, Louie." It was years later that I discovered that "Screwing Around in G" was not a real song, but something we did to fill the void.
I officially retired in 1966 at the age of 18 to go out of state to college while the band remained in Little Rhody. My career as a teenage idol was over.
Elvis was yesterday's news by this time. He was still a star of great magnitude, churning out mediocre music and even worse movies to an unfailingly loyal coterie of fans, but he was no longer a creative force of significance. The British Invasion had succeeded, and the singer/songwriter had replaced the crooner atop the musical hill.
Time passed. Elvis died, or did he? My rock and roll fantasies persisted as I turned from young stud to husband to Dad. My hair turned from blond to chestnut, from chestnut to silver, from silver to white, and I don't even want to think what happens from here!
Then I got what in show biz is commonly referred to as THE CALL.
Our local music hall, an acoustical gem, was celebrating its one hundredth anniversary with an epic performance of 101 premieres covering nine decades. The caller (I detected a hint of desperation in his voice) explained he was director of a segment that covered 1947 to 1956, and he needed someone for an Elvis cameo.
To describe my musical skills as "modest" is to be guilty of gross exaggeration. "Stunted" is a better word. I do still remember those four chords, however. Still, I have my principles.
"I'm not going to wear a wig and do a silly impersonation," I said. I could feel my left leg twitching.
"That's OK," said the director.
"And I'm not going to wear a leather suit or silly jumpsuit."
"Agreed," said the director. I smiled, my upper lip curling into that familiar sneer. (Actually, I would have killed to have worn a leather suit like Elvis wore in his 1968 comeback concert.)
My performance strategy was clear: loud, fast, and brief. Wearing a pink Hawaiian shirt that I bought at the local thrift store, I packed snippets of seven Elvis songs from 1956 into a six minute performance. Because my stint was the last one before intermission, audience feedback was instant. "That was fun, Elvis" said the lady who runs the local bookstore. "You were so good I thought you were lip synching."
I give her a look meant to convey "Elvis doesn't lip sync." I had been off-stage less than thirty seconds and I was already thinking of myself in the third person.
Another woman whose name I don't know, but whom I recognized from around town touched me on the forearm and said "That was good, Elvis ..." She had this very weird expression on her face. I mumbled a "thank ya" and it took several minutes for me to realize SHE WAS FLIRTING ... WITH ME!
The next day I was addressed as Elvis at the post office. Another lady, a local hottie known to drive around town in her sports car with the radio blasting the all-Elvis satellite radio station, gave this critique: "I appreciate that you interpreted Elvis, not impersonated him. It gives The King the dignity he deserves." I couldn't have said it better myself.
Coincidentally the performance was witnessed by a weekend house guest who just happens to have been one of my band mates from 1966. He found it all quite amusing: "I'm glad I was here to see you on both ends of your rock 'n roll career," he laughed
"Both ends?" I retorted. "What you've just witnessed is not the end, but the beginning of the middle." We have an aging population. Doesn't it follow that we need aging sex symbols?
"Is that you, Elvis?" You bet it is. His music, even in the hands of a rank amateur, can still move people fifty years after he first swivelled a hip. Keep a sharp eye as you drive the back roads. If you pass a grizzled guy, give him a wave. He just might be The King.
Stephen Morris can be heard banging on his guitar late at night. He is the publisher of Green Living Journal and founder of The Public Press. Reach him at Stephen@thepublicpress.com.
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