Saturday, 20 November 2010

Welcome To My World part 2: Transfrontera-MexAmerica-Everywhere

Think globally but act Elvisly: El Vez at the 100 Club
"Live it up and love it up, amigo, life begins when you're in Mexico" says Elvis in Fun in Acapulco, but for many Mexicans, life is about getting by, US style, within and without the confines of the borderlands and the grey areas of hypocritical immigration policy: "Yes I'm trying to go, get out of Mexico" sings one of El Vez's personae in his take on Suspicious Minds. El Vez - also known as the Mexican Elvis - hadn't toured England for ten years so it was a rare privelege to have him in Oxford Street's legendary 100 Club on a balmy June night. El Vez with a twist because this fifty-year-old King is returning to his roots. El Vez was touring with his tribute to Kiss, in preparation for a tour of Spain supporting the band.
Little Kiss from El Vez's website:

Now, if you're a little jaded by late Elvis delivered in jumpsuits compered by convicted fraudsters, here is an agile, hilarious, talented, sartorially splendid and political Elvis with cojones. Political? Did I say political? Yes! So political he ran for president in 2008 and will do so again in 2012: El Vez for Prez - according to the Mayan Calendar 2012 is also the end of the world! So, Vote for EL VEZ ... what do you have to lose?!?!? is the campaign mantra. "If there's any hope for America, it lies in revolution; if there's any hope for revolution it lies in Elvis Presley becoming Che Guevara." El Vez is the next best thing.

The crowd at the 100 Club are a mixed bag - a few glamorously adorned 50s-stylettes with their chaps, a rock chick who may not exactly be willing but is dutifully humouring her Kiss-tattooed rocker boyfriend. A few long-standing El Vez fans who may have been waiting ten years for this. There are no apparent Welsh female Elvis fans but who knows? On come the Elvettes - El Vez's version of Mills & Boon - two matching very lovely backing singers, one older - she's been with him for years, and one younger, a recent exile from the world of academic animal sciences apparently - and the Memphis Mariachis, El Vez's band. Then bounds on the man himself - Robert Lopez - who's punk beginnings are ever present in the energy and attitude of the show. He's all gold suited and beautifully accessorised by the Elvettes. He kicks off with a phrenetic whiz through Chicanized Elvis - Huaraches Azules (Blue Suede Shoes), then Burning Love, then His Latest Flame (Marie's the Name) or Mara se llama su neuva flame, which morphs into the Ting Ting's That's Not My Name and then into Hey Mickey.

As El Vez shape-changes into James Brown, and break-dances The Night Train, those still expecting an ETA are surely combusted or converted. Then he's off again. The Mariachis and the Elvettes keep the beat and then the girls are off too, but there's no let-up. El Vez is back, in gltzy blue, followed by the girls. The tempo calms, and we are given that impersonator favourite, In The Ghetto, oh hold on, En El Barrio. In El Barrio, Estaban cruises, joins a gang, for there's one thing that he can't stand, and that's to have to join a Mariachi band, en el barrio. Then from Bossa Nova we go to Champagne super novas and then back to the ghetto, you gotta work to keep up with El Vez. In "'Think Globally, But Better to Act Elvisly': Elvis and El Vez", Hanjo Berressem has written that El Vez's hybrid musical flexibility, with its nuanced appropriation of anyone from Toni Basil to Oasis to mariachi to metal, is a "a pleasurable camp process: a joyous mixture of images, in which the blurring of representational and cultural borders allows for a critical position that operates from within the predominant images and thus out of the host cultures. The camp identity is that of a multiply split personality, operating in the over-coded no man's land between cultural lines and demarcations." We can argue about Americanization and globalization, but these are borderlines that we recognise. It is a pleasurable camp process, but in no way a light one. Camp has a history of transgressive reflexivity and reflectivity.

You ain't nothing but a chi-hua-hua. Then he's a tiger, then he's in leather. The Elvettes strut their stuff. And then after a brief detour via the Clash and Alice Cooper, we get started on Kiss, Black Diamond. The excited Kiss boyfriend shows the Elvettes his ink, including a giant KISS across his back.
El Vez decries the US immigration policies. Not least in a reworked Suspicious Minds in which the young Mexican wannabe immigrant is caught in the wire fence:-

I'm caught in a trap, I can't walk out 
Because my foot's caught in this border fence.
Why can't you see, Statue of Liberty,
I am your homeless, tired and weary.

We can grow on together, it's Immigration Time. 
And we can build our dreams, it's Immigration Time. 

The Elvettes are splendidly statuesque, El Vez is in starts and stripes. Tonight, his response to Arizona's draconian anti-immigration policy which allows police to violate civil liberties willy nilly, is delivered in the vehicle of Nina Simone's Mississippi Goddamn, or Arizona Goddamn. El Vez uses Elvis (e los otres) as a recognisable and blank plate in which to surreptitiously, but also extravagantly place another kind of all-American dish - one that is peculiarly palatable to the sector of society that claim a protestant pedigree, but oddly unrecognised where it concerns the workforce that are really 'taking care of business' - the labour forces who are often drawn from immigrant labour.

Walking out, after a last blast of mariachi music, in case we forget, into the warm Oxford Street night, El Vez's good-humoured but culturally and globally prescient mission is still ringing in my ears, in the heart of London's music-land, I wonder who is this super-human ubermensch, so culturally situated yet so universal? I leave the definition to Michelle Habell-Pallan:

He has ‘r-o-c-ked across the USA and all over Europe’, and is referred to as both a ‘modern multicultral hybrid of Americana and Mexicano’and a ‘Cross-Cultural Caped Crusader singing for Truth, Justice and the Mexican-American way’. Rolling StoneMagazine considers him to be ‘more than an Elvis Impersonator ... He is an Elvis translator, a goodwill ambassador of Latin Culture’ in the US and Europe. He is the long lost Chicano punk rock hero who has found his way home to Graciasland, Aztlán, USA; the Pocho Elvis, one who can’t speak Spanish, but ‘loves la, la, la raza’; the revolutionary Latin lover who makes alienated Hispanics proud to be MexAmerican. He is the thin brown duke who makes explicit the connection between Elvis Presley, David Bowie, César Chávez and Ché Guevara in Las Vegas inspired espectáculos (spectacles).

El Vez touches my chest

Thanks: Angie
Pics: Pen77, except where stated
Refs: Hanjo Berressem, 2001, "'Think Globally, But Better to Act Elvisly': Elvis and El Vez" in Amerikastudien/American Studies, 46: 3, 436.
Michelle Habell-Pallan, 1999, "El Vez is 'Taking Care of Business': the Inter/National Appeal of Chicano Popular Music" in Cultural Studies, 13: 2, 195-210.
Josef Raab, 2003, "Symbiose, Hybridisierung und Entgrenzung in der Zeitgenossischen Mexikanisch-Amerikanisch Kultur" in Abgrenzen oder Entgrenzen: Zur Produktivitat von Grenzen, Markus Bieswanger et al. IKO. 171-195

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