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Picks and Pans Review: I Am Elvis: a Guide to Elvis Impersonators

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Edited by Marie Cahill

Let us celebrate the diversity of America, where even African-American men (check Clearance Giddens on page 58), Hispanic boys (note Miguel Quintana, 4, on page 97) and women (Janice K on page 68) can be Elvis Presley impersonators.

Such representatives of the Elvis Wannabe Rainbow Coalition are included, along with 60 white guys, in this compendium of amateur and professional performers who believe they sing and/or look like the late Minstrel of Memphis.

I Am Elvis is billed as a guide but it’s more a catalog, since Cahill makes no judgment calls about the talents of her subjects. Rather, she culled the responses of 64 hard-core would-be Elvises to questionnaires and interviews about how Elvis touched their lives and why they persist in squeezing themselves into spangled jumpsuits.

This is not a group to hold back its enthusiasm. Take, for example, Janice K, who bills herself as the Lady Elvis. A blond from Nebraska who looks more like a vintage 1950s country-music singer than the King of Rock and Roll, Janice knew as far back as high school that “the trail that I must blaze would be the Elvis Trail, however right or wrong that might be.” Janice also reveals that back in 1983, as she finished a phone conversation with Elvis’s Uncle Vester, she saw a man looking through her kitchen window: “It was Elvis’s image! It was his forehead, cheekbones and nose on the window screen,” she says. Elvis fans will be gratified to learn that the Screen of Elvis imprint remained for four years.

Although I Am Elvis includes its share of professionals for whom impersonating Elvis is more a living than a calling, even they sound excessively enthusiastic. Gary Wayne Bridges travels with a display of memorabilia, including Elvis’s shaving kit; Dave Carlson conducts seminars on aping the King; Dennis Wise, an ex-car salesman, has had Elvis-enhancing plastic surgery.

The most purely devoted of these guys is Rob Dye of Cresthill, Ill., who doesn’t even try to sing. As the book explains it, Rob is “a guardian of Elvis’s memory rather than a performer, [he] is spiritually involved with Elvis.” What does this mean? “He simply dresses like Elvis so that people won’t forget about the King of Rock and Roll.” With books like this one, how could we? (Pocket, paper, $8.95)