Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Singing Tree

Elvis' face seen in tree!

The Scotsman reports the rather fantastical apparition of Elvis' sylvan silhouette. Jon Rowley snapped the bequiffed arboreal one in a field in Glewstone, Herefordshire. Beautifully styled by the Roving Wind?
Ah see trees of green
Singing Tree (from Clambake)

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Feliz Navidad

I wrote this post in September for Christmas. Because my own Elvis died in November, I have been a little out of the spirit. But I post for a traditional 40 days of Christmas. 

I have a favourite Elvis song. From From Elvis in Memphis it is the widely ignored Wearin' That Loved On Look. Back in undergrad days it was a favourite pastime in the Pen digs to dress up as Elvis and sing this loudly. I like to think my flatmates enjoyed the experience. I never thought it was Christmassy until I discovered that the Colombian Elvis is a rockabilly star called Marco T and he recorded a slightly adapted version for his Christmas album. The original song was written by Dallas and Owens, Nashville songwriters, and was track 1 on the Memphis album, which rescued Elvis from awful-movie obscurity. Recorded at American Sound Studios by Chips Moman in 1969 (in the same year the studio put out possibly the best and certainly the sexiest album ever, Dusty in Memphis), it was the first time Elvis had recorded in Memphis since he left Sun. (Dusty hated it and did most of the recording to massive backing tracks in New York.)
In Elvis's version,

I had to leave town for a little while, 
You said you'd be good while I'm gone,
But that look in your eye done told me you told a lie.
I know there's been some carrying on....

while in Marco T's,

Ya se con la Navidad
Y tu no estas aqui
Es como un rana que me que falla (?)

Porque falta tu corazon

Baby otra navidad sin tu amor 
(shoop shoop)
Baby otra navidad sin tu amor.

Elvis screams above the overdubbed backing singers. Marco T is altogether less dirty. The pics in the vid show Marco T, suitably toned down but effortlessly Elvisy, chatting to a beautiful woman with, oh my, is that Marilyn coming between them?

Anyhow people,

Feliz navidad to you all, the El Vez way. There is only a thin line between an Elvis jumpsuit and a Mexican wrestling onesie.

Thanks: Ana Di Rana for translation.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Dead Elvis Style

When the saints go marching...

Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, as I've mentioned before, has found a place for Elvis in its pantheon of those to be remembered, and its imagery has infused the design cloud that envelopes the Dead Elvis phenomenon. For the Day of the Dead special at Casa Morito, Brixton Market's atmospheric Mexican cantina, I accessorized with Mixco's (the now dissolved design double act Alex Garnett and Nahoko Koyamo) ceramic pendant, a familiarly quiffed skull with the legend Elvis is Dead printed on the base.
Elvis is Dead, proof
Etsy has a number of Elvis skull cameos in various garish colours. The mold is available on ebay for those who want to dictate their own colour-scheme.
Elvis is Undead
Beyond the quiff is designer Elvis Jesus' Día de los Muertos t-shirts from this year's Spring collection, now pretty hard to come by. Elvis Jesus chose the two most recognizable names with images, guaranteeing brand recognition. His stock t-shirts take a famous pop image and substitute an Elvisy Jesus or slip both Elvis and Jesus into the mise-en-scene. 
Elvis is Dead Famous
It's almost as if Dead Elvis has a little more hipster kudos than living Elvis. Hardly surprising I guess; the protected, projected altered image is what you want it to be, but remains familiar; close but not too close.  

When The Saints Go Marching In

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Who Are You? (Who Am I?)

814 Elvii can't be wrong

When it just so happens that the Bridgend Love2Walk group's annual festival coincides with the Porthcawl Elvis festival, well, you might as well see if you can break the world record for the most Elvis impersonators gathered in one place. So that's what they did. 
1, 2, 3, dang I don't have 814 fingers
The 814 Elvii (to qualify, the rules state, you need at the minimum an Elvis hair-piece, supplied by the organisers) sang a rousing Hound Dog, essential for the record to count, and then processed from Trecco Bay into Porthcawl town. They beat the existing record of 645 set in Las Vegas in 2010 and coordinated by Nike Western Europe with employees flying for the occasion from across the US. A Little Less Conversation was the song of course.

The bar's set high now; before Nike raised the stakes, the record was Way Down at 147, set at Australia's Elvis festival. The landlady of the Ship Inn, Parr, Cornwall. She's hoped for 148, but only 29 braved the rain. Fortunately, sun shone on Trecco Bay and fairweather Elvii came from far and wide. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Working on the Building

Earlier this month a friend of mine glanced out of her window onto her Oxford street only to be met by the site of Elvis cleaning windows while being papped. She sent me the evidence.
Papping pap papped
Well I puzzled over this, but not for long! The following Wednesday, the Oxford Times reported on Tim Crysell, by day a window cleaner with local firm DF Williams, and by night an Elvis impersonator.
When I'm cleaning winders, oh, hold on, wrong song
Tim took up the Elvis trade after being complemented on his karaoke Viva Las Vegas in Southsea. He's invested in a £3000 jumpsuit (my guess is from IC Creations) and nets £225 a night as the king. Catch him on October 20th at the Bystander at Wootton.

Pics: Wendy and Oxford Times
Thanks: Wendy
Working on the Building
When I'm Cleaning Windows

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Animal Instinct

Over coffee recently with a forensic archaeologist the subject of DNA came up. She's researching how DNA is being used in the creation of national identity through the establishment of relationships between the living and war dead. It made me think about the possibilities of the use of Elvis's DNA. The amount of his hair going around, bogus or authenticated, as documented in auction posts (see labels), means that somewhere in the not so distant future we might get a glut of Elvis cloned creatures, exploited for all manner of purposes in the unregulated aether. Having your own bit of Elvis with which to build your fantasy relationships becomes a realistic possibility.... Of course, I'm not the first to think of this.
Elvis as a mouse
Koby Barhad, grad student at the Royal College of Art here in London and part of kn-studio, has modeled the possible recreation of Elvis as a mouse and the subsequent channeling of the Elvis mouse's life. In All That I Am, Barhad proposes that three products and processes available online to all comers could bring the Elvis mouse about, and asks questions about the veracity of such an event. Barhad's portion of Elvis hair was attained from ebay at the grand cost of $22. He asks, 'Does buying a pre-owned item gives one the legal right to another individual's genetic data?' I might add to that, hocking a guy's used pants around just isn't cricket.

The project design: 

From a speck of hair to a mouse model.

A combination of three online services can make this project possible.

Hair samples of Elvis Presley, bought on ebay were sent to a gene sequencing lab to identify different behavioural traits (varied from sociability, athletic performance to obesity and addiction). Using this information, transgenic mice clones with parallel traits were produced. The genetically cloned models of Elvis (in this case) are tested in a collection of various contemporary scientific mouse model environments, simulating some of the significant biographical circumstances of his life.

Is it possible to quantify our life through a series of conditions and events? What are the aspects of life that are responsible in making us ourselves?  

Does buying a pre-owned item gives one the legal right to another individual's genetic data?
Can mouse models of ourselves help us prepare for possible futures or will it impose them on us?
Will we make different choices Re-living the same life?
Can a mouse be Elvis? What makes you believe it can be? 

Barhad's socially engineering mouse house has been specially designed to replicate Elvis's life conditions to ensure that the Elvis mouse doesn't just look like Elvis but behaves like him too. The mouse will grow up in poverty with the love of his mother (whom he will be cruelly bereaved of later...), will have his army years simulated, and lastly will work himself to death on a treadmill.
Childhood model
Barhad's realised mouse house has been on display at the RCA, his submission as part of the RCA's Design Interactions programme through which artists explore the possibilities of technical futures. It's attained a fair bit of press interest, including a number of reports such as this one, which claim that Barhad has actually engineered Elvis as a mouse. Sadly he hasn't. But he can. 
Mouse house
Thanks: artists. Especially Koby Barhad. Archaeologists. Especially Layla.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Anything that's part of you II (but only if it really is part of you)

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Well wouldn't you know it, hair authenticators can't always be trusted. Those scoundrels at Mastro Auctions (I must emphasize these are not the good people of Julien's Auctions discussed in an earlier post) have just been done for selling hair that wasn't Elvis'. They did it first in 2003, but were caught out after the buyer's DNA tests proved the hair of questionable origin. But then, they did it again in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. How much hair can one auction house questionably sell? Brings the whole hair authentication business into disrepute. Well justice is done. They face up to 20 years in prison. Well fraud is a hairy business if you cut it too fine. Even by a whisker.

Grave business

And I also reported on efforts to auction Elvis' crypt by Julien's Auctions. Uproar across the Elvis community ensued, with fans demanding the crypt be kept as a shrine to the King. Well, Darren Julien proved himself a fine kind of an auctioneer by pulling the crypt from the auction. I can report however, that the authenticated hair went for $4160 while the x-ray went for $9375, a good $3k more than expected. Unexpected hit of the day was Elvis' nice beige boxed phone which wet for $20,480, $15k more than the estimate.
Calling Elvis

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Anything That's Part of You

For sale: one crypt (hardly used); one lock of hair (one not-so careful owner).

Hair today, gone tomorrow
People often say to me, Pen, Pen they say, being born in 1977 don't mean that the King's soul just passed into you, hell you wasn't even born on the right day. Well, I say to them, on October 2nd 1977, just before I was born, Elvis and Gladys were moved from their crypt at Forest Hill cemetery in Memphis prior to interment in Graceland. Yeah.

We can't all have a piece of the King's soul it's true, but we can damn well try. On June 23rd for example, bidding opens at $100,000 for the very crypt Elvis spent a month and a half in thanks to Julien's Auctions and the good news is you can bid online for this delicious bit of marble. Yes, be interred where Elvis was. Surround your dead self with a lot of neo-classical white stone. Not quite got the money? $2000 - $4000 might net you an x-ray of Elvis' forearm and hand, and the injury therein sustained during a karate session. Penny pinching? Go for hair! You can't go wrong with hair. 

Hair: snip at the price
In November 2002 a strand of El's hair went for £70,000, but Julien's are only plumping for $1000 - $2000. Perhaps because the hair in question (cut by 'Gil', Elvis's traveling barber) hasn't been DNA tested, merely authenticated by John Reznikoff of Westport, Connecticut. But then John collects celebrity hair, and might be considered quite the expert. So let's go with that certificate and jar of hair. A snip at the price if the mere £1055 strand auctioned at Devizes in November 2009 was anything to go by. That's it Elvis collectors, the smart money's in hair. Anything that's part of Elvis.

Hair it is: authenticator
Hair: authentic

Friday, 8 June 2012

Elvis & Marilyn II

X-Men: Bullingdon Club
Sometimes I spend my time flaneuring about Oxford. No city has a right to be so pretty, but pretty it is and with pretty comes a bit of attention. Oh look, there's James McAvoy sauntering 19 times from Hertford to the Bodleian under an enormous silver umbrella that's making it sun. That'll be Xavier in X-Men: First Class. There's a story going round that when the blockbusters are in town, the ITV crew filming Lewis stick a notice on their vans saying: this is not X-men, or whatever big name is in town that day.  Ha. Ridiculous, surely everyone would rather have a nice cuppa with Lewis and Hathaway, Ma'am and Hobson than hang about with Young David Cameron and Magneto? 

Curling up with Lewis, king of kindness, in the episode entitled Generation of Vipers (which could in all fairness be the series name), I noted that his angry astonishment at the level of depravity on the internet, specifically an imaginary believable awful site called 'Barker', was further kindled by a particular article...
Elvis & Marilyn, pretend, on a pretend internet site in a pretend police station
Needless to say, Lewis and Hathaway put an end to the nasties running that particular show.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Elvis in Swansea: You'll Never Walk Alone

When the bookies profane the King's name it's bad enough, but when it's at the expense of the pride of South Wales, that's just asking for trouble.

Brendan Rodgers, manager of Swansea Town FC (the Swans), quite reasonable took exception to the claim by certain bookmakers that punters had more chance of seeing Elvis than Swansea did of staying in the Premiership. Facing Liverpool in their last match of the season, already in the clear to stay up, Rodgers asked fans to don Elvis costumes in celebration and in an effort to harness the strange and mighty power of Elvis' love. Fans took it seriously, and Swansea faced a shortage of Elvis costumes. Said Carol Guy of Swansea's Mardi Gras Fancy Dress shop to the South Wales Post,

"There were people waiting for me to open up this morning, and I wasn’t able to have my morning coffee until midday."

Swansea City's website met the demand by offering a cut out Elvis mask to download (eerily reminiscent of the Forbes Dead Rich list Hallowe'en death mask). And while Carol Guy suggested Brendan himself ought to dress up, Wales Online went one better and offered a Brendan Rodgers Elvis mask to celebrate Swansea's mid-table non-obscurity after the club managed to defeat Liverpool 2-0.

The Liberty Stadium filled up with multiple Elvii of all persuasions, Dean Mack, Elvis ETA (we've had him before in Bundoran remember?), sang The Wonder of You, and with that kind of home support, the erstwhile Merseyside anthem, You'll Never Walk Alone belonged to Swansea that day.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Elvis & Marilyn?

This scoop from Ed Demetry, on Driggs Avenue, in South Brooklyn, along the Williamsburg Bridge. On leaving a bar and his basketball team, Ed spies the news, which somehow seems better with Marilyn on top.
So I looked into it. Did Marilyn even meet Elvis? I looked Marilyn up in the works of Peter Guralnick among others, but no: Bill Monroe, entries many; Marilyn Monroe, entries none. I looked it up in Greil Marcus's great Dead Elvis. "1987 [...] Elvis will become a movie poster, unanimated, still, like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe..." (p134). And indeed, in Chris Consani's various works, like Four of a Kind, you find those three hanging out with Bogey, still and unanimated. 
But I gotta tell you, in 1987, there was no internet.

I asked Google. According to Wikianswers, they dated once in the 1950s but Elvis thought Marilyn too short. And also Marilyn boasted that she'd slept with E. But Red West, one of the Memphis Mafia, says that Elvis never met Marilyn since she was too busy. But according to the Daily Mail online, Elvis's former agent Byron Raphael told the New York Daily Post that Elvis got him to pick Marilyn up one time and bring him to the Beverly Wilshire hotel, 1956. 

"When he saw her, they came together and, without a word, started kissing."
"I was in shock and didn't know what to do."
"The next thing I knew I was startled awake by the door opening and I dove behind the bar."
"And they both walked out stark naked. I didn't say a word, I just stayed quietly."

(According to Google, Elvis was 6'0", Marilyn was 5'5" and Arthur Miller was 6'1").  

Elsewhere, here, for example on Napa Valley TV, is Diana Dawn as Marilyn and "Lloyd" as Elvis. And here, Banbury Cross and Pete Storm do the honours. I could go on.
And I will.

This wonderful image. I got it here, I don't know where it came from originally. You'll see those pringle socks in the Elvis at 21 exhibition if you can catch it.
And then there's the sticker itself. It's not just Ed who's been snapping away. Maltagracia's even found the same one.

We could go on. Elvis and Marilyn, together, forever, online and on the Williamsburg Bridge.

Thanks: Ed Demetry
Pics: Ed, Chris Consani; Internet

Monday, 26 March 2012

Graceland, Sevenoaks, sic transit gloria mundi

Working on the Building: 

Guest post by James Dixon, contemporary archaeologist

There used to be a little place on the Old Kent Road called Graceland Palace. It was an Elvis Presley themed Chinese restaurant run by Paul Elvis Chan. A few years ago Graceland Palace closed down and the Elvis murals all over its walls were painted over. Rumour is that Paul Elvis Chan became ill and returned to China to be treated by a particular Chinese doctor. The King was dead. Yesterday I walked past Survey House on Brockley Rise. It was being stripped out by a building firm using a second-hand Ford Transit van bearing the logo and contact details of its previous owner, one Paul Elvis Chan of Graceland Palace Chinese Restaurant (although an attempt had been made to remove this evidence).

So, the King is alive and stripping out buildings in south-east London. Today, I also hear unconfirmed rumours that he has been seen at the Memphis Inn in Bexleyheath.

Thanks: James Dixon
Pic: James Dixon

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Too Much Monkey Business

Bequiffed Elvis monkey of Kachin
The Elvis monkey is among a couple of hundred species previously unknown to those that know about these things highlighted in a new WWF report on the Greater Mekong area of South East Asia. It might also be reported as the noseless Michael monkey no?

Too much monkey business for me...


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

My friends say I'm acting wild as a bug...

Elvis Presley's Face Seen On Bug!!!
It's well known that Elvis has been seen many times since his 'death', but could Elvis actually have been reincarnated? Maybe all those little bad deeds sent him down the scale a few stops (see Greil Marcus's fabulous Dead Elvis for a discussion of Elvis - devil or angel?).
Winston Jansen's Stinkbug Elvis
Amateur photographer Winston Jansen of Singapore fortunately had his camera handy for this extraordinary siting. The stinkbug, wondering around the 'forests' (according to The Telegraph) clearly has Elvis's face. Perhaps it's evolutionary - no longer do bugs try and scare off predators, they entertain them.
Picture: Winston Jansen, filched, with love.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Welcome To My World 5: Finland, Finland, Finland,

The country where I want to be...
As Monty Python once said of the northerners with a long term love of the King and his influence on Finnish music is apparently quite strong. You may remember the eccentric professor whose album of Elvis covers in Latin made the world news (future post). 

So, when I came across a notice for the imminent release of Elvis: Suomessa in Finland (Elvis in Finland) I asked contemporary archaeologist and Finophile James Dixon to pick up a copy for me on his summer trip. I confess that I did not realise until it arrived that the album that James sent me, Elvis: Suomessa in Finland, is actually volume 2. Volume 1, released just before Christmas 1987, featured Finnish Elvis covers from the 1960s, and represented Elvis’ early popularity in a Finland that was, like the rest of Europe, going through extreme social change. Volume 2 continues where 1 left off, but with only a few 1960s hits, before we move into the 1970s and ‘80s and then the ‘90s.  It “wishes to celebrate the long road of The Official Fan Club of Finland”, 25 years of keeping Elvis alive in Finland.

The cover of this wonderful compendium features a superimposed Elvis head on a neatly suited man who has a map held out and is asking directions from a 1960s Finnish policeman. They are standing outside Helsinki’s marvellous Helsingin päärautatieasema (Central station), designed by the great Finnish national romantic architect, Eliel Saarinen, who abandoned his original design for modernism. Elvis wasn’t Finnish, and never went to Finland, but if he’d got there he would have felt comfortable enough in his beige suit to ask for directions from a friendly cop. The back cover shows Elvis, jacket nonchalantly thrown over one shoulder, sitting in Senaatintori square. A Finnish Jackie O lookalike stares opened mouthed, her sunglasses in her hand.

Some of the songs are straight covers – complete with exact fade-out, if slightly more plucky guitars, like Eero Raittinen’s tribute to Elvis, Epailet Vain (Suspicious Minds). Others are much more, um, Finnish? I love drawling, plucky, Loputon Blues (A Mess of Blues) by Topi Sorsakoski. Topi didn’t know the song, and when the band started singing it, he said “Is this an Elvis song?”. Jussi, the singer “looked at me and went: ‘F****ng hell!'”, it says in the liner notes, although when I compare with the Finnish version, actually what Jussi said was “v**u, -tana!”. Translations on a postcard please. But the first track is my true favourite, growly, roary, whoopy, fun and just a little bit dark – Kaikki Hyvin Mama (That’s Alright Mama) recorded by Rauli Badding Somerjoki in 1985. He died in 1986 a proper rock'n'roll death. And Ma Eroon Paase En (Gonna Get Back Somehow), recorded by Danny in 1968 is so fabulously late-60s, its almost unrecognisable as an Elvis song. Not sure why, but I like that. All in all, it’s a really fun album. Lots of steel guitar, wah wah, lounge sounds, echo microphones, and Finns!

Big thanks: James Dixon and Saini Manninien

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Just for Old(ham) Time Sake

Grumpy old Elvis fails to win Oldham & Saddleworth by-election
The Bus Pass Elvis Party (also known as the Militant Elvis Anti-Tesco Popular Front, Elvis Defence League, Elvis Turns Green Party, Grumpy Old Elvis Party, Elvis & The Yeti Himalayan Preservation Party) failed to really make an impact on the Oldham & Saddleworth by-election, winning only 67 votes, despite a set of manifesto pledges that would turn a lib-dem green with envy then red with rage (before he changed his mind).
David Bishop, aka. Lord Biro, of Nottingham did have stiff competition however - never mind quite a strong Labour candidate, Loz Kaye, from Manchester, standing for the Pirate Party Of The United Kingdom, and a candidate named The Flying Brick, from Ashbourne, Derbyshire, for The Official Monster Raving Loony Party. Bishop is a retired painter decorator, now a poet and artist.

The Bus Pass Elvis Party also failed to win Kettering in the general election, stood at Tatton, and is generally an example to us all. Hopefully it is making some headway in this fabulous campaign:
Thanks: Emma Dwyer
Hear: Elvis singing Just For Old Time's Sake

Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas Baby (2)

Gold lame Elvis found in crib! 
It’s that time of year again. The Daily Mail has given out its Elvis sings Christmas cd, free! with the poisonous rag. Perhaps you are playing it now as the turkey roasts and the snow turns to ice. The fire is aglow. The tree is overburdened with tatty decorations made by small children, and surrounded in torn wrapping paper.
And in the Graves-Brown household, fimo golden Elvis has taken his rightful place at the cribside in the Nativity scene, replacing last year's Jailhouse Elvis. In these days of austerity and cuts, how joyous that an extra position has been created, and one of more substance and respectability. After all, we need all the wise men we can get.

An Elvisy Christmas to one and all. 

Thanks: PGB

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Welcome To My World 4: Farhad Darya in Helmund

Home Is Where The Heart Is: peace and love and the Afghan Elvis
John Simpson seems to think that he was the one that liberated Kabul, but Farhad Darya might also stake the claim. It was his song, Kabul Jaan, that was played over Radio Afghanistan announcing the fall of the Taliban and the liberation of the city. He became a peace and goodwill ambassador, representing Afghanistan at home and abroard. Farhad Darya has been living in the USA since 1995, having left Afghanistan as an exile in 1990.

Why he has been dubbed the Afghan Elvis, I'm not entirely sure. Patriotism and global reknown I suppose. I'm not really sure it's that apt - I think he might just be Farhad Darya - an exiled Middle Eastern superstar who has infused his enthusiasm for his homeland into his very successful music. Music which finds a home among the millions of exiled Middle Easterners across the world. Farhad wears his beliefs on his record sleeves, and has contributed to the recent album of music by musicians who have been persecuted or exiled from their homelands, Listen to the Banned. He has recently started a tour of Afghanistan, despite the dangers that accompany such a venture: Farhad's concert in Herat on the 30th September was bombed, wounding many, and the Taliban has started a recent campaign of attacks on music shops. But on Friday 19th, Farhad Darya performed at the Karzai Stadium in Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province, in front of 5000 fans; one of the biggest events to take place in Afghanistan.

Tickets were distributed free. Karzai himself, who had intended to go, instead opted for Nato in Lisbon. British forces have claimed the success of the concert as testiment to the success of their presence - very few British troops were present, while the British trained Afghan National Police took control.

The chief of police claimed Farhad's presence as a sign of the safety of the city. But surely, it's testament to an indefatigable patriot who thinks globally and acts Elvisly.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Welcome To My World (3): Chile underground

Mine! Elvis underground
Edison Pena, 34, spent nearly four months 700 metres down in the San Jose mine, in Chile's Atacama desert this year, after tunnels collapsed. He was lifted out, 14th of 33, on October 13th in a claustrophobic capsule to face friends, family and round-the-clock media.

Edison conquered some of his fear and panic by running - up to eight kilometres a day - through the mine's tunnels in his boots and helmet with lamp. When contact was made, and after essentials - food, water and clothing - were sent down to the men, they were able to ask for other items. Among that material was Elvis music, requested by Edison Pena. It's a moot point as to whether Edison wanted it as sing-song material to keep the spirits of his team up, or whether he wanted to retreat into an Elvis acoustic bubble.
On emerging from his incarceration in the Earth Edison Pena was invited to run the New York marathon - which he completed in under six hours - not bad for someone who's been 700 metres underground for most of the training period. Before his run, he appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman. On being asked about Elvis, he mimicked listening to the King on headphones, he liked to listen alone, and sang a few bars of Suspicious Minds. As the studio band's keyboard player picked up the tune, Edison was quick to respond, and stood up to perform (go to 3:48 if you just want Elvis, watch the whole thing if you want a bit more - sanitation, the vernacular use of 'funky'). Last night, he performed Summer Nights alongside Olivia Newton-John (who incidentally went to my school) at a concert in Santiago. He's now been invited to Graceland with a significant other for Elvis' birthday in 2011.
Pic credit: Worldwide Pants
While underground, Pena engaged in correspondence with the BBC's Panorama team. In one of his letters, very often full of darkness and anxiety, he wrote: "I think that now I'm more human. I think I'm loving everybody more, I believe in touching people. I think I love myself much more." In running the marathon, he wanted to encourage people to do what they can do. It's a hazy but rather wonderful philosophy. Think globally, act Elvisly.  

Pics: and

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

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Welcome To My World: World Cup extra!

Paul the Octopus, the eight-tentacled thwarter of football dreams, aqueous predictor of scores, ultramarine World Cup pundit, has an agent who works hard. Says he (the agent, I doubt the octopus can speak which may thwart the cephalopod yet), 

“One of the most exciting things is that he has a record deal in place for an album, called Paul The Octopus Sings Elvis.”

I have nothing further to add. 


Monday, 1 November 2010

Welcome To My World: International Elvis

Part 1: Elvis World Cup, Cardiff, 4th July 2010
Firstly, I must apologise for my absence - my computer broke. Now, we're back in action I am starting a short series of posts on Elvis, here, there, everywhere. I've already mused on the King's Irishness, and a little on his appeal to the Welsh. Wales, there's a good place to start. Wales in the context of the Elvis World Cup.

Behind every succesful Elvis enterprise in these isles is an amiable chap in a Hawaiian shirt. His name is Peter Phillips and he has it well wrapped up in Wales. Wales, with its natural resource pool of Elvis fans is just so, well, Elvisy.

So it was that an unwitting photographer from Brockley ended up driving me to Cardiff one July day on the (as it happens unfulfilled) promise that we might get to see the sea. In the week preceeding, Tredegar, Porthcawl, Cardiff and Bridgend had hosted various Elvii performances. The day before, an open-top bus toured Cardiff with an awful lot of Elvis wigs, aviators and jump-suits.We arrived for the final. St David's Hall wasn't full exactly full - Wales is suffering from the recession - but a jolly crowd of the usual suspects for this kind of thing. Yes, the Welsh women in abundance - home territory.

There were supposed to be twelve Elvii, but Simon 'The Rebel' Patrick, mysteriously representing Spain, was a no-show. Perhaps their success in the football World Cup had waylaid him somewhere. Or perhaps he just wasn't Spanish.

Each Elvis gets two songs on each, there's already been a gospel heat and an 'own song' heat. They're judged on movement, stage performance, singing, and their overall tribute.  Then the judges - led by Executive Judge, Terri Grant, 'the most respected Elvis judge in the business' - narrow it down to three. They get another chance and then we have a winner. 'Elvis is gone,' says Terri in the programme notes, 'We are not looking for perfection, but someone who has put together a respectful tribute to Elvis'. Terri has been judging Elvis competitions independently for ten years now so she should know. Your compere for the evening is after-dinner speaker, Brian Voyle-Morgan.

Dean Mack, representing Wales, isn't there either - but you couldn't have the home nation Elvis-less, so Darren 'Graceland' Jones of Cymbran steps into the breach. Darren 'Graceland' Jones isn't very mobile. But those jumpsuits can be difficult customers. [Nevertheless, Terri says 'getting the moves right and relevant is important'.]

USA: James Wages. 47, from Texas. Up first, 'from the home of the brave and the land of the free' says, Voyle-Morgan, it's the 4th of July after all. Wages has been Elvising in Wales and sees some similiarities with Afghanistan, Merthyr Tydfil is a bit like Helmand province. This quip doesn't stop someone shouting "Sexy!" which is funny since my notes say "good but not sexy". There's no accounting dor taste. He wishes all his Elvis brothers luck and sings Polk Salad Annie and I'll Remember You. He's in a red jump suit and is older than Elvis ever was. He does the old scarf ritual to the detriment of the mental health of two young boys, one of whom gets a scarf while the other is stuck in a spotlight as Wages retreats, having run out of scarves.

Australia: Mark Andrew. Age 43 of Melbourne. 12,500 miles to sing Elvis in Cardiff. Not the worst trip in the world, said Brian Voyle-Morgan. Now, Polk Salad Annie, by Tony Joe White, was a staple Elvis number in the live shows of the 1970s and it is a staple of the Cardiff World Cuppers. As is Mark's other offering You've Lost That Loving Feeling.

Canada: James Gibb. Age 39, from Ontario. James has a great voice but he makes an odd Elvis.

England: Paul Molloy. 39 from Lancashire, currently residing in Manchester. Elvis got Paul back on track according to the notes, so the sinister shout, and the even more sinister way it silently sinks in, of (Welsh accent) 'David Cameron!', is a bit cruel. 'I think you came to the wrong theatre', he sweetly comes back. But never mind, the England flags are up and he does a rousing Heartbreak Hotel and Houndog. If I were Terri (who has big hair, big glasses and looks fierce) I wouldn't think he was mobile enough.

Germany: Oliver Steinhoff. Age, nevermind age, height: GIANT. The woman behind me, who is large herself, sighs, as Oliver does a gravitationally challenging pelvic thrust, 'Oh yes'. He's in a white suit and when he does the hackneyed 'I hope this suit don't tear up baby' during Suspicious Minds, I hope not too; I don't expect High & Mighty stock too many. And in case you're interested, he's also 39.
Oliver Steinhoff: Lichtburg Essen 25.01.2010
Ireland: Tom Gilson. Age, 40. We know him remember? The winner of the Irish nationals at Bundoran. 'Elvis means everything' says Tom, 'respect and consideration'. He's in his gold lame with a nice pair of white shoes. He moves like, like, er, Elvis! His Blue Moon of Kentucky and That's Alright Mama get everyone going. The Irish flags come out, unfortunately obscuring the judge's view.

South Africa: James Marais. 37 from Kraaifontein, Cape Town. What does Elvis mean to James? "Everything! He is why I am, and what I am, today." James does serious leg-jiggling and has purpose. He's in a white tassly suit and is big. He sings That's Alright and Lovin' You.

After-dinner speaker, Brian Voyle-Morgan introduces the band, Red Alert. "They don't play period instruments," says the photographer. It's true they don't, and maybe they should. He introduces the backing singers, "The two finest white backing singers", which doesn't sound as good as he intended. Mills & Boon hoist up their boobs and roll up the sleeves of their cardigans, and say "We are in fact black." They are in fact splendid. Is there a fan club? I may join. He compounds my dislike at this point by making a hilarious joke about how you couldn't possibly have lady Elvii. Possibly Terri would combust and St David's mightn't be the place, but by that token, can we really have 47-year old Elvii, or giant Elvii? Just throwing it out there, along with this from Elvis Herselvis: "Straight men are very intimidated by a woman impersonating Elvis. It is one of the last bastions of masculinity - the right to 'do' Elvis. ... I personally think he was very queeny, in the 1950’s he wore make-up and pink, on stage when that was unheard of behaviour for a straight man."

Italy: Ricky Rogers. 25 from Abergavenny. Yes Abergavenny, now living in Rhymney. Not Rimini, Rhymney. What to tell you about Ricky? He's in Comeback leathers, and occasionally there are flashes of Elvisy rrrrrr from Ricky, but then he loses his nerve and pulls his jacket down as if he's worried his belly's showing. Viva! Says Ricky, who does have a lot of home (Welsh) support here. Mills & Boon - you remember them from Bundoran too don't you? - are having fun. Yes, despite the ill-fitting leathers, Ricky is popular. Hound Dog and All Shook Up. Earlier, Ricky sang Heartbreak Hotel off the top of a bus. In the daytime he works in Ebbw Vale cash'n'carry. He's second generation Italian and was turned on to Elvis after watching Jailhouse Rock. He's rocked ever since really.

Malta: Gordon Elvis. 26 from Naxxar, now living in Tamworth. For Gordon, Elvis was a 'great loving man' and for Cardiff, Gordon appears to be the popular underdog. He is certainly the skinniest Elvis I've seen; in his white jumpsuit there's nothing to him, it might all slide down his non-existant snakehips if he keeps moving (tick) like that. He sings Walk a Mile in my Shoes and Bridge Over Troubled Waters and my companion says, 'here's the funny thing, I've got goosebumps'. Gordon has a fabulous voice.  You can hear it and see him dancing here.

Scotland: Johnny Lee Memphis. 35, from Coalsnaughton, where he runs a health and fitness centre. We've met him before, downing gin before winning over Donegal. Johnny has a fanatical aunt Helen who introduced him to the music of Elvis, and Elvis is like the uncle he's never met, that he respects, loves and follows in the footsteps of. So Johnny Lee Memphis is in a tiger jump-suit, grr. He delivers a Big Boss Man and a My Way that do put him top of the league, if not in a league of his own.

We have a little break and Mike Nova - Bossa Nova Elvis - does a little turn. And then the judges are ready. Terri has spoken. We are down to three. Brian lines up the boys. It's not a suprise that Johnny Lee makes the break, and then Tom Gilson, who really has the monopoly on rock'n'roll Elvis. And here, Terri seems to have gone for ol' snake-hips - Maltese Elvis! It's a popular choice. He does have a terrific voice. They all get another number, and the pressure's on, they all pull a little extra out of the hat. Tom does a splendid Jailhouse Rock. Gordon Elvis gives us Polk Salad Annie (again), and his tassly belt slips off, "Come on you Malteser!!" someone screams. But Johnny, arrogant and catlike in his total self-belief delivers a flawless I Got a Woman with plenty of movement, stage performance (playing the crowd and the band), great singing and therefore his overall tribute is by far and away the best. Yes, you guessed it. Scotland has won the World Cup! "I can't believe I won. To come top in such a class field of Tribute artists is amazing", he said to his local rag. I don't believe he can't believe it, and am pleased he likes his trophy. It's like a real World Cup.
Johnny Lee Memphis: Scotland conquers Wales
The male voice choir strike up the national anthem. And off we go.

Thanks: Matthew Bookshelves and Angie.
Pics: Oliver Steinhoff:,Double,Show/Bilder/Seiten/Lichtburg_Essen_25.01.2010.html#26; Johnny Lee Memphis:

Monday, 13 September 2010

Green Green Grass of Hyde Park: Radio 2's Elvis Forever

Part 2: In which Moira Stewart appears, KT embodies the King, Big TJ plugs his new album, and Priscilla loves us....

And then... Moira Stewart. Sorry? Come again? MOIRA STEWART. Turns out Moira loves Elvis. Clearly she loves Chris. "Darling!" she says to him. "Everything is everyTHING!" she says to us. I had to shut Clare up with her Frank Butcher impression and avoided joining the naughtys with a chant of "Moira, Moira give us a song." Then Moira was busy loving Tony Hadley who loves Bridge Over Troubled Water. The man next to me said, emphatically, "Tony's not fat". It's true, Tony's not fat. I was there. Michael Ball however, who came on next to strut about delightedly while singing You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, opened his jacket seditiously to reveal a tummy. Just a little one. Some, not many, shouted "Off, off, off". Clare looked confused and slightly cross, "something's going wrong here". I'm inclined to agree. And then Marti Pellow came back. Chris said he was the star of the first half. It depends what you like. Everyone liked Marti's In The Ghetto. Then Scouting for Girls were back with Hound Dog and at this point I gotta say, why didn't they bring back Imelda May? Imelda's Hound Dog I would pay to see. Oh I paid to see theirs too. But Chris promised! I think we were over time and a couple of returns got cut. If one of them was KT Tunstall I'll be super cross because KT was tremendous. "She's the nuts," said Chris. I could have put it better but he's right. "Ah'right Hyde Park?!" says KT Scottishly, Quatro-attired. A Little Less Conversation even had the orchaestra's conductor, Mike Dixon, getting so groovy with his baton that he looked like he might spank her with the joy of it. Now, I like the JXL Remix, but the KT groove was just special, people. Special. I'd give her a picture but she wouldn't stand still. "Elvis was living through KT you can actually feel it!" says Chris. Amen, I shut my mouth and open up my heart.
"Some know her best as Jenna Wade from Dallas. Some know her as Jane Spencer from the Naked Gun films. Some know her as an all round business whizz who can move and shake with the biggest and the best of them. We know her simply as Priscilla Presley". I'm sure Priscilla is used to adulation but she must have been quite surprised by the rapture (or not, she's a Scientologist after all). "Hello there, wow!" says she. The wave of people that she's talking about has grown - I guess latecomers and those floating about in the park on the last lovely evening of the year felt the call. Priscilla thinks Elvis might be a preacher if he were alive today. Priscilla is on to introduce the headline. She does so with the story of how Elvis wanted to hear the Green Green Grass of Home over and over. "Please, please, bring out Sir Tom Jones". Big Tom Jones bounces on with Run On. Run On is a traditional song, I'm not strictly sure it's gospel but happy to stand corrected. It is a fabulous song and Tom does it splendidly but can we just acknowledge it is an odd choice for Elvis Forever, unless, perchance, it happens to be on your new album, which in Tom's case is called Praise & Blame. Tom deserves another blog post and will surely get one sooner or later. In the meantime, I gotta tell you Jones the Rocker looks like a big curly-haired universal prophet. You can see his picture on Greek pots, Mayan wall-paintings, Benin bronzes, all in the British Museum. Tom loved Elvis and Elvis loved Tom. He strikes up "I've been travelling over mountains, through the valleys too". And the valleys cheer. Someone raises Y Ddraig Goch. Yay for Welsh Elvis fans. 

Tom pays tributes to his old friends, the TCB band. And then I think he's ready to go off, but the audience loves Tom and Chris suggests another song. "Tom, Tom, one more" says Chris. Tom sounds a bit shocked, "How can we do one more?" Tom chats with the boys and manages a respectable One Night ("What key? Whatever key Elvis sung it in"). My dad would say, unkindly, that Tom Jones isn't concerned with keys. It didn't sound unrehearsed, unless you count the conflation of the lyrics of both versions. The audience get the hang of it and we all sing along. We love our one night with Tom and Elvis. Chris sounds a bit sheepish. I think he might be in trouble ("he's gonna kill me afterwards").

Well where can you go from there? I think you can only go one step further. Enter the King. On the screens to the side of the stage is Elvis himself, singing the Wonder of You. Elvis in Vegas, "play the song James", and there's young James.... and young Glen... (echoes of Elvis at Wembley). And we are all singing. "I guess I'll never know the reason why you love me as you do". And you've got to wonder. When Priscilla says, "This is what a happening  is. I want you all to look around at each other, look in the back, look to the sides, and know that this is what happened in 1955, 56 57, whenever Elvis appeared." I look around, at the nine year old girl who knows all the words (including to Burnin' Love), the loved-up bikers, the four Geordies who are miles away, the ubiquitous Welsh women, the people in their stupid Elvis costumes, the good-looking rockabilly cats next to us, the bloke next to me who loved Suzi Quatro best.... Priscilla says "I want you to know that song really is for you. The Wonder of You! When he sang that song, believe me, he had all of you in mind". Priscilla gives Elvis's fans a little homage, and tells us that it was one of his dreams to perform in the UK, and that "he may not have fulfilled his dream of appearing here, but tonight he is here, with us in spirit". Someone unkindly shouts, you divorced him! (Let there be no doubt we all would have divorced him). Then we have fireworks and Elvis with Suspicious Minds (apparently a preview of Cirque de Soleil's Elvis show in Vegas which is coming here soon). Everyone comes on, KT is in a Tony and Suzi sandwich. Glitter explodes. And on the way out, everyone is pissed. There are stupid hats and a lot of hugging and bad wigs and light sabres. And you wonder what Elvis would have thought of it all. Or what he thinks of it, wherever he is. 

Thanks: Clare, BBC Radio 2
Pics: Pen77,, PA