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Defending the King

By Robert Alaniz

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Elvis would never stand for it.

The Collecting The King Memorabilia Show was held at a new location in August 2007; the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis.  In one of my previous articles, 30 Years of Conventions, I had written about the evolution of the Elvis Memorabilia Conventions throughout the years since Elvis’ death.  Just before the article went to print, I was faced with a situation that required me to make a major decision.  And all things considered, moving the show from the Clarion Hotel near Graceland to the Peabody Hotel was a successful one.  After a full attendance count we were pleased to see that we had more people than we had on the 25th Anniversary. The only common complaint from attendees was about the difficulty they had finding the show’s location in the Tennessee Exhibit Hall (the hotel’s hallways and upper/lower levels became a maze of confusion for first timers).  Everything worked out far better than I had hoped for.

Upon my return from Memphis that summer, I sat down in my living room and prepared to watch one of the new Warner Brothers DVDs (which included my all time favorite Elvis movie GIRL HAPPY).  I decided to watch THIS IS ELVIS, a documentary released by Warner Brothers in 1980 about the life and death of Elvis, produced with the help of Joe Esposito and Jerry Schilling.  It’s a good documentary, but plays a little odd as Ral Donner does a voiceover as Elvis (narrating from the grave) throughout.

As I watched, a sad feeling came over me.  I began to feel the same way I felt back in 1977 when I first heard Elvis had died.  But it wasn’t coming from reliving the events told in the movie.  It was a new sadness.  And it took me a while before I realized why I was feeling that way.

Elvis and his image have always been marketed.  In the 50s, Colonel Parker saw to it that Elvis’ image was put on everything from hats to “poodle” skirts.  But it was all done to promote the Elvis fans’ interest and pride in being an Elvis fan.  The girls wore the skirts and the boys wore the hats to show their love and admiration for their idol.  These items were made for promotional reasons and they were also made with respect for Elvis and his image.

But during Elvis Week 2007, it had become more and more apparent that the new promoters of Elvis and his image were loosing sight of the respect that should be there in the events and merchandising of Elvis Presley in the 21st century.

There is usually a special topic of interest each year that floats around town during Elvis Week.  And this year it was the news that the new owner of Graceland had BIG plans for the future.  Plans about an ALL NEW facility, which would turn the existing Graceland into a tourist attraction similar to Dolly Parton’s Dollywood.  There was also lots of talk about future marketing plans to promote Elvis to a younger generation of fans.  Out with the old and in with the new.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am an Elvis Presley purist.  I respect Elvis, I respect his music, and I respect his memory.  And I don’t understand why the people at E.P.E. don’t.  They say they do, but actions speak louder than words and the actions are pretty obvious. 

For example, how could an organization that claims to want to hold Elvis in the highest of esteem approve the production of an Elvis Presley Rubber Duck?  Do you honestly think Elvis (if he were alive) would approve of a rubber duck with his head on it?  From what I’ve been told, Elvis had a great sense of humor, but this isn’t funny.  It’s insulting.  Back in 1974, when RCA released the ELVIS Featuring FOOL LP was released, I was told from reliable sources, that Elvis and/or the Colonel were so upset that fans were calling it “The Fool Album” that they had RCA pull the album from production and delete it from their catalog because they didn’t want Elvis being referred to as a fool.  I doubt even the Colonel, who was well known for his exploitation of Elvis, would have approved of this item.  The rubber duck is just one of the many recent E.P.E. approved items that use Elvis’ image in an embarrassing fashion and they were everywhere this past August.

Near the Peabody Hotel, there, painted on the side of a building was a picture of an Elvis impersonator (not looking anything like Elvis, of course) that had the caption “Find your inner-Elvis”.  When I looked closer, I saw that it was a promotion for Graceland.  It was almost like they were encouraging people to dress up like Elvis.  Or was it like the Mickey Mouse thing, where you buy a pair of Mouse ears to wear while you’re at Disneyland?  Why not a dynamic shot of Elvis in concert on the wall?

This year also saw the Elvis impersonator as a part of the Elvis Week festivities.  This was quite a big deal when you remember that at one time, it was said that E.P.E. would never allow it to happen.  Apparently they now feel that the impersonators and those who follow them to be an important part of the future of Graceland. 

I was standing in line at an Elvis event last year and a couple (about my age) were in line in front of me and recognized me.  “We love your articles in Elvis International Magazine,’” they said, a compliment for which I thanked them.  They began talking about impersonators and said, “Thank God for the impersonators, they’re all we have to remember Elvis.”  What?  Here was people from my generation saying this.  I was shocked.  What about the music?  What about the movies?  What about the NBC-TV Special or the Aloha From Hawaii concert?  THAT’S what we have to remember Elvis!  I can’t even imagine why an Elvis Presley fan from my generation would ever choose to watch an impersonator over the real thing…live or otherwise.

I know, I know, everyone says that they (the impersonators) carry on the ”live” experience to those who never had the chance to see Elvis in concert.  But, here’s a thought.  If Elvis impersonators continue to grow in popularity and continue to compete against each other, each of them will focus on the next, trying to out do the other by improving of their moves to the point where the original moves of Elvis slowly disappear into the past and the impersonators start impersonating themselves.  Hey, you want to see what it was like to see Elvis in concert?  Check out one of the concerts with Elvis’ original band members or watch the “Special Edition” of ELVIS - THAT’S THE WAY IT IS.  That’s as close as you’ll ever get.

It is becoming more apparent than ever that the keepers of the Elvis and his image care more about the bottom line and try to disguise that fact with a superficial respect for him.  Everything that true Elvis fans once held sacred is seemingly being made a mockery of.  At this rate, Elvis Presley could even become a cartoon character (watch for ELVIS - THE ANTIMATED SERIES, it could happen).  His music will be used to sell everything from mouthwash to life insurance and his image will show up in places that you’d least expect.  This would NEVER happen to the likes of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix or even Curt Cobain.  The people responsible for those artists’ memories would never allow it.  Yet, here’s the greatest entertainer and American music icon in the world being turned into Mickey Mouse.

Elvis would never stand for it.

Robert Alaniz

SOUNDZ GOOD RECORDS


Be sure to read Robert's column "Collecting the King" in Elvis® International Magazine.

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