Friday, July 08, 2011

The Incarnations of Elvis

Nothing attracts a group of white people like an Elvis impersonator. It’s Lake George and the cheesy feel of the “authentic” Adirondack experience is in the air and clings to my skin like bug spray with that same balsamic feel. I walk around in shorts and a t-shirt, in what could arguably be the t-shirt capitol of the world. I feel privileged enjoying the July festivities, taking in the glorious iridescent colors and sounds of Lake George during Independence Day week.

The Elvis impersonator has a mellifluous voice. His dress and hair style and big belt buckle (BBB – note: please refer to Dara Weir’s poem about BBBs) are reminiscent of Elvis to be sure, but he is subdued. He has not adopted all of Elvis’ traits. He sounds like Elvis, but he appears uncomfortable with his other signature traits: the hip swinging, the leg bowing and arm sweeping, even the guttural tics that made Elvis who he was.

I have always been fascinated by the Elvis cult. I was a Public Enemy fan in college so when Chuck D. rapped “Well, Elvis was a pretty big hero to most/but he never meant shit to me,” I could relate. But this idea that there are these many incarnations of Elvis at various stages of his life floating around in the public consciousness interests me in the same way that there are many incarnations of the Buddha or the various Hindu gods. These multiple identities reveal a deep human need to contort primal forces of nature into what is required in order to survive, so we create visions of Elvis bookmarking moments in our lives, marking the momentous in our personal narratives, and in essence signposting to others who we are.

There was fat Elvis, skinny Elvis, post-Hawaii Elvis, pre-drug addicted Elvis, military Elvis, etc. From these perspectives of how we create our heroes and gods we illuminate our own fears and longings. Which Elvis we relate to is what we fear or long for in some fashion.

Perhaps in connecting to that specific Elvis quality – the sneer, the irreverent sexuality, the cockiness or showmanship – even his tragic ending incarnation, when he was too drugged to find his way out of his prison – we reveal something about our own wants. Sometimes I feel that way. Sometimes I want to just phone it in and not be present, wishing it would all just go away. In this case, this incarnation of tragic Elvis, the one where he has lost all zest for life is the one I can relate to. There are other times I feel on top, in control. Perhaps then the pelvic-thrusting idol would be my Elvis. It may not be profound to say, but I think it is true nonetheless: the heroes we get are the heroes we need.

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