Thursday the 8th was Elvis Presley's 74th birthday. The mind boggles. Makes you wonder what his Las Vegas act would have been like if he were alive today.
Mind you, I am not an Elvis fan. I was in diapers when his music was popular, and it wasn't until many years later, seeing the old video of the Ed Sullivan show, that I caught even an inkling of why people thought he was so cool or controversial back in the early '60s. The dancing fight scenes in West Side Story looked a whole lot more dangerous to me, frankly -- not to mention more interesting musically. I'm much more into Elvis Costello than Elvis Presley.
The only thing I've understood less than the attraction of Elvis is his continuing popularity. I mean, sure, he had a good voice and made some records that sold lots of copies -- but he's freakin' DEAD, people. He's not living in Africa with JFK and Jim Morrison. (Neither are they.) He should be a poster boy for the dangers of high cholesterol -- and bad fashion.
On the other hand, I've always had a major-league fascination for pop-culture kitsch -- and since The King's untimely demise while on the throne back in 1977, a whole industry has sprung up around the production, marketing, and sale of Elvis-related crap. Porcelain collector plates! T-shirts with sequins and glitter! Figurines! Light-up mirrors with roses painted on them! "LOOK at this!" I'd call out to my youngest sister. "They're actually selling this stuff -- but not in any store!" We'd laugh our butts off. We love Elvis impersonators. The movie Bubba-Ho-Tep was okay by itself, but the DVD audio commentary by Bruce Campbell was (and is -- buy the DVD!) absolutely hilarious. I can't even describe the Graceland scene from This is Spinal Tap without howling.
And then there was the day when someone gave me a freakin' velvet Elvis as a gag gift -- I forget whether it was for Christmas, my birthday, Be Kind to Animals Week, or whatever. I laughed until I couldn't stand it any more, and then awarded it pride of place in my front hall closet. A few years ago, I posted a condensed version of the Saga of the Velvet Elvis to this blog. The condensed version is enough; you really had to be there to appreciate the details. Suffice it to sat that the velvet Elvis, now parted from its distinctive faux driftwood frame, is still living in a barn in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I dread this particular Return of the King.
Ever since people witnessed the gift of the velvet Elvis, I've been dragged into the Cult of Elvis. People still give me Elvis crap, and it still strikes me funny. I have Elvis playing cards, Elvis lunch boxes, at least one nasty-looking Elvis T-shirt (never worn) with glitter on it, Elvis Christmas CDs, Elvis fridge magnets, and more fine products from the Elvis-crap industry. This Christmas, I received a particularly fine (and hilarious) Elvis purse made out of a recycled tin can and festooned with a bottle-cap clasp -- and lots of blue rhinestones. Will it ever see the light of day (or of neon)? HELL NO. I can still take it out, lovingly undo the tissue paper wrappings, and laugh. I am SO going to Graceland one of these days -- preferably with my sister and a bottle of Captain Morgan.
To be honest, I wish people would give me stuff I can actually use, rather than stuff I keep hidden away lest anyone (the electrician, the UPS man, any of my friends not in on the joke) see it. One main problem with having any Elvis crap at all is that it breeds in captivity. People see you have anything at all with Elvis's image on it, and they rush out and buy you more Elvis crap! Before you know it, you're overwhelmed with the stuff -- and too chicken to sell it on eBay, for fear the giver sees it up for auction and takes offense -- or worse still, buys you more crap to keep the other crap company.
All the same, I still laugh my butt off every time I look at any of it, and laughs are hard to come by these days.
I have a co-worker who is about my age, and who actually is an Elvis fan. He has even gone to Graceland with a straight face, and without the Captain Morgan. When he had an office in one of the company buildings, it was generally regarded as one of the great landmarks of our little slice of Silicon Valley. It was a complete shrine to Elvis, from the life-sized cardboard cutout standing in the window to the horrendous tapestries hanging on the walls. His collection of Elvis crap made mine look pathetic. (Okay, it was pathetic anyway.)
I asked him about the collection, and he admitted that he had never bought a single article of Elvis junk for himself, either. Everything in the shrine had been given to him as gifts from other people who spied the junk he already had, and then gave him more of it. When he left the company for a startup gig, he probably needed to get a moving truck just to transport all the Elvis crap. He's back at the company again, but works from home now. I wonder whether his home office contains any of the original decor. Probably not. He probably has boxes of the stuff breeding in his garage, and someday it will burst from its container and overwhelm his entire neighborhood. eBay is looking better all the time.