“Elvis is everywhere.” — Mojo Nixon
What can be said about Elvis Presley that hasn’t been already? He pioneered everything in contemporary popular culture from being referred to without a surname, to the excessive rock star lifestyle and premature death. Love him or hate him, the surviving twin of two poor-as-dirt Mississippi sharecroppers arguably had more cultural impact on the world than any other single musical artist.
Even in death, his impact on people’s lives seems to have grown more powerful because the King lives on via a phenomenon that almost rivals his own earthly existence . . . Elvis impersonators.
There’s no way to prove who was the first Elvis impersonator, but the idea of copying the King was always popular in small-time talent shows during his lifetime. He was also a popular impression in many stand-up comics’ routines, including Andy Kaufman’s.
Kaufman, the super-eccentric star of Taxi and frequent guest on Saturday Night Live, did a brilliant take on Presley, which was made even funnier when he would uncomfortably introduce himself in a thick foreign accent before launching into a spot-on Elvis parody. It’s rumored that Elvis himself, before he passed away, saw Kaufman’s routine on TV and approved.
Shortly after he died, the idea of imitating Elvis took on a whole new life. For some, it was an opportunity to cash in on the loss; but for many it was a legitimate tribute. Suddenly a whole new culture sprouted up, not about Elvis per se, but about pretending to be Elvis, and it was far from a short-lived fad. At the time of his death in 1977, there were a little more than 100 known impersonators. Today, Elvis impersonating is a multimillion-dollar industry with more than 85,000 Elvii (yes that’s the correct plural for Elvis impersonators) out there in some fashion.
Elvis impersonation can be broken down into many different categories but there are three genres that all Elvii usually fall under: Look-alikes: those who just dress the part and, depending on what era Elvis, add a wig or actual hair to attempt to mimic his features.
Sound-alikes: they concentrate on singing and talking like Elvis. Many of them make actual albums covering the King but stay away from walking around downtown in white rhinestone tights.
Look- and Sound-alikes: they incorporate both aspects of impersonation to look, talk and perform just like the King. Obviously a certain level of talent is required for this.
From there you can break it down to different levels of seriousness. There are the professional Elvii, who are paid to perform and act like the King. The biggest in the biz tour the world and appear in film and television, making a more than comfortable living. This group tries to distinguish itself from the term “Elvis impersonators” preferring, “Elvis tribute act,” mainly to distance themselves from the hacks and the loonies; but try as they may, the “Elvis impersonator” tag usually sticks. Then there are the amateur Elvii, who do it primarily for fun, as a hobby in talent shows and local venues. Finally, there are the comedian Elvii, who tend to mock the King in sketch or stand-up routines and often are targets of scorn from the faithful.
It’s the professionals who will be taking the stage this weekend for their first West Coast appearance at the Ocean Pavilion in Port Hueneme as part of a package tour that features three top Elvis impersonators, each covering a period of the King’s career and backed by an actual orchestra. Billed as the “Three Faces of the King,” it’s a show for the hard-core Elvis fan with the highlight being the award-winning Shawn Klush, who will be covering the King’s latter jumpsuit years.
Despite being the subject of frequent debate by fans and Elvii alike, Klush is heralded by many in the know as one of the best Elvis impersonators in the world.
So whether you find it creepy or inspiring that so many grown men (and even women) would spend part, or all, of their lives imitating a long-dead performer, one thing’s for certain; the King will continue to live on and on and on. In response to all the mimicry, with curled lip and a shake of the hips, he’d probably approve with a simple, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Three Faces of the King: A Tribute to Elvis, will be performed Saturday, Jan. 24, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 25, at 2 p.m. at the Ocean Pavilion in Port Hueneme. For more information call 986-4818 or visit www.oceanviewinfo.com.