Surely anyone who has observed an Elvis impersonator has, at some point, wondered what compels these sequined showmen to do what they do. Are they driven by dreams of success? Are they indulging in an overactive tribute to a childhood idol? Or do they just need a reason to sport a greasy black pompadour?
Either way, you can usually spot one somewhere on the perimeter of the American dream sweating over the Jerry Lewis Telethon, shagging flies at a Lansing Lugnuts minor-league baseball game, or frightening children at your company picnic.
The reality is that these secondary stars live on because ours is a planet that continues to fixate on The King. There are an estimated 35,000 Elvis impersonators worldwide ranging from Hispanic legend El-Vez to the San Francisco-based "Nude Elvis."
Westlake-born Dave Pyle is known as "Green E The Environmental Elvis." Since transplanted to Chicago, he'll be gyrating back into town this weekend for a stay at the Phoenix Coffeehouse, where he'll sing, do stand-up monologues, and offer environmental tips.
"I feel that I have enough environmental karma, and certainly enough Elvis karma, that I can make a difference," says Pyle, who confesses to having over five hundred Presley albums and a mini-Graceland shrine in his home.
It was his "twelve" years in college in Athens, Georgia, that Pyle says started his transformation into Green E. "There's this huge music scene down in Athens. So I started doing parodies during my stand-up routines like Bob Dylan singing all the choices of a vending machine or Neil Young working the Burger King drive-thru.
"When I moved to this starving-artist neighborhood in Chicago [Pilsen], it was so environmentally screwed up that the city sent us fliers saying, if we wanted to start a garden, that they would deliver a truckload of uncontaminated dirt. I couldn't believe it. So I turned "Are You Lonesome Tonight?' into "Are You Recycling Tonight?' and the rest is history."
Despite the polyester jumpsuit (in the Elvis identification system, he's a "Vegas Elvis"), Pyle is serious about helping "Mama Nature." A portion of the suggested $2 donation for his show goes to the Cleveland chapter of the Sierra Club.
After Green E moves on to greener pastures, there are plenty of local Elvii waiting to crash your next luau.
Danny G, of "Danny G's Memories of Elvis Tribute," is Northeast Ohio's big daddy, commanding $3,500 for his full-band show. "There are three Elvises," says the humble G, who also does extensive charity work. "There's the early years, there's the 1968 "Comeback Elvis,' and then there's '70s "Concert Elvis.' I'm Concert Elvis."
In his white jumpsuit, Danny G passes out souvenir scarves to the faithful, who continue to be old-school fans and young children, with not much in between. "The teenagers and twenties are tough to reach, because of the rap and headbang-in' stuff," he admits. Still, with the Riviera in Las Vegas under his giant belt, why worry about a few dissenters?
"Elvis is still the guy who people want to see," says Jeff Reed, who's known as a "meet and greet" Elvis. Besides singing the occasional "Happy Birthday," Reed sticks to sauntering around various citywide functions, pressing palms with the people. Reed was in costume for a recent Las Vegas-style ceremony at Hopkins and found himself with all the honchos. "I tried to stay out of the way, and the next thing I know I'm helping cut the ribbon. That's just the way it is with Elvis. He's universally recognized. If you try to do a meet and greet with Jimi Hendrix, somebody calls security."
Reed opts for the less gaudy black leather of "Comeback Elvis," but not without regrets. "Everybody expects the white jumpsuit, but they're all custom made. And the truth is . . . they're all custom made for fat people." Somewhere up there, "Heaven Elvis" is laughing. Tim Piai
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