The King is Dead (Long Live the Queen)

I had the occasion, recently, to have an unusual experience. As I am a collector of unusual experiences (I have a first edition of Get Stuck in an Elevator With a Ventriloquist and His Hermaphrodite Dummy still wrapped in plastic, but that’s a tale for another day) I didn’t hesitate when I received the bizarre invitation. A friend of mine had lost her elderly uncle (great-uncle, actually) and had called me up and asked if I’d like to come to the wake with her. A strange request, perhaps, but then, as you may have already gathered, I’m a strange person. I have been accused of being an unreliable narrator, and I have never denied that, and I have been charged with outright fabrication, and while I do not take offense at that, I maintain that going through life with a highly attuned sense for the surreal has benefited me greatly, darlings, and if you have the means of picking one up, I highly recommend it. I believe that if you scour eBay, you may be able to find one for a good price.

So it is that I, on occasion, find myself in situations that lend themselves with great ease to — not satire — satire’s not the right word — but rather, illumination. Such was the case when I found myself at the wake of my friend’s uncle, who was, in the later years of his life, a professional Elvis impersonator.

Was it Jean Paul Sartre, or Bruce Wayne who once said: “The things we do define us, darlings”?

If that is true, then, by definition, my friend’s uncle was a king among men. And, as is befitting of a king, his wake was an opulent event filled with singing, dancing, and rhinestones. Lots and lots of rhinestones.

As I walked into the hall with my friend on my arm, I was assaulted by a barrage of sequins, sideburns, and wraparound sunglasses.

Elvis Presley, 1973 Aloha From Hawaii televisi...

There were Elvises of all ages and races. There was an Elvis in a wheelchair decked out in a blue jumpsuit, while his nurse pushed him around so he could dance to Jailhouse Rock. There was an Elvis dressed up all in black leather, looking like ’68 Comeback Elvis, doing karate kicks and talking about his little Lisa Marie. There was even a Sikh Elvis, who incorporated his turban into Aloha from Hawaii Elvis, complete with white sequined jumpsuit, which he had apparently Bedazzled himself, complete with that famous gold eagle. He sang something with such a heavy Indian accent that it was either A Little Less Conversation or else In The Ghetto — I’m still not sure.

There was a young Elvis, who got up and sang Heartbreak Hotel, and there was gospel Elvis who gave a heartfelt rendition of Just a Closer Walk With Thee, and in the corner of the hall that they’d decked out as The Jungle Room, a freshly Leid Elvis sang Blue Hawaii for a group of older ladies who looked as if they’d like nothing better than to pluck his ukulele, if you know what I mean.

I marveled in the utter lack of irony in the performances, and found myself a little humbled and ashamed at my own cynicism as one by one, friends and loved ones paid sincere tribute to the man they knew in the best way that they knew how. In life, he had loved Elvis, they said, but he loved his family, his friends, and his Lord even more. (This coming from gospel Elvis, of course, right before launching into How Great Thou Art, the song that won Elvis his last Grammy.)

But the highlight of the afternoon was when a female impersonating Elvis impersonator got up with tears in his/her eyes and sang Love Me Tender, dressed as old, fat, white sequined jumpsuit 1977 Elvis.

I’d never seen a man dressed as a woman dressed as Elvis before, but I have to say, darlings, it was not something I’ll soon forget.


Helena Hann-Basquiat 

26 comments on “The King is Dead (Long Live the Queen)

  1. Reblogged this on Being the Memoirs of Helena Hann-Basquiat, Dilettante. and commented:
    I was invited to write for The Community Storyboard, darlings, and so I have. I’ve been itching to tell this story for a while now, so I’m happy to present it to you now.

  2. Ha! Love it. I was just having a conversation with Charles about “fat Elvis” the other day.

  3. Reblogged this on readful things blog and commented:

    Take a moment. You won’t be sorry.

  4. I absolutely adore this post – soooo much. My mother was a huge Elvis fan. A matter of fact, when she was first admitted to the hospital (she was very ill, went into cardiac arrest – they subsequently discovered she had Stage 4 terminal Pancreatic cancer) she did not recognize me. I am her only daughter – only child and she did not recognize me. I had driven 6 straight hours and arrived at 2 in the morning. So I went to a 24 hour Walgreens across the street from the hospital to get a drink and some food and there it was – Elvis cassette tapes (it was just before Thanksgiving, so they had his Xmas music on display.) I bought two different ones, a cd player with earphones and when I returned to the hospital, I placed them on her and she sang the songs – with the words. She knew them – not me – but them. My mother lived exactly one more month and the night she died – she was listening to Elvis. I got the call to come quick, I rushed from Illinois to Ohio (making the trip in 4.5 hours) and I could see the distress. She was still alive but her breathing was beginning to fail and she was not awake. I placed Elvis in her ears again and when I did, this incredible look of peace came over her face. The hospice nurse saw it, too. She passed away shortly after – She was listening to Love Me Tender. By the way, she was cremated and I was given instructions to take her ashes to one of two places – Graceland or Hawaii. 🙂

    • Thank you for sharing that, darling. I admit I had gone with every intention of cynical laughter and bitchiness, and I’m not going to lie — it was really surreal — but the sincerity of the people there just doing what they loved — whether it was my cup of tea or not — was humbling and awesome.

      • My mom was a teenager when he broke onto the scene. She skipped school to see Love Me Tender, when he into the army, my grandmother said she locked herself in her room for two days and cried. And I remember the day he died. My mom was devastated. We made a pilgrimage to Graceland! When I listen to his music I feel closer to my mom. I can understand why people laugh and kid around about him – his different sizes and looks – but it really is no different than what you see now. 🙂

      • No, of course not, darling. I feel the same way about Bob Dylan. I hated him growing up because my dad listened to nothing but… but now whenever I do, I have good memories of my father. (and he’s another one who people like to poke fun of quite a bit as well)

  5. Your story is beautiful and sad at the same time. I got to see a concert by Elvis shortly before he died. It was exciting and sad at the same. He apologized to the audience for not being able to remember the words to “My Way.” He then pulled out the words on a piece of paper and gave a rendition that caused all of us to cry like babies. There were over thirty thousand of us wanting to protect him from the pain he was living through. None of us were successful.

    • I find myself strangely fascinated by the whole phenomenon — and in celebrity worship in general. The story of Elvis is probably one of the first and strongest in the general zeitgeist of how show business chews you up and spits you out.
      It’s good to remember that these people are human beings, and that none of them pictured themselves ending up the way that they did.
      Thank you for reading, darling, and for sharing your wonderful anecdote.

    • John – My mom went to his last concert in Indianapolis – she never spoke about they way he looked or about forgetfulness – she did say that his voice was like listening to an angel – she never ‘saw’ the weight or his pain – (of course she did) – i believe in her heart she saw him as the same man he was in his first movie – my mom’s vision came from her heart.

  6. This was a hoot! I hope folks can find some sort of reason to celebrate my death with such vigor and circumstance, but i highly doubt it. Elvis, King or Queen, really rocks!

  7. I am so glad to see you on here, Helena. What a lovely tribute they did for your friend’s uncle.

  8. Oh my! I laughed, but also for a personal reason. I bought a horse named Elvis. Of course the husband thought it would be funny at a horse show I attended if we entered the costume contest. I have to admit, yes, umm, I’ve been a female Elvis impersonator. It’s not something I’m proud of and I’ve since refused to do anything else my husband has suggested. LOL (We did win though!)

  9. I almost paid an obscene amount of money to be married by Elvis……..I wish I had known I could’ve requested a female version……….

  10. Awesome post! Funny and a little sad and holding the message of not being ashamed of who we are all rolled into one!

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