IMPERSONATING ELVIS by Leslie Rubinkowski


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 A study of Elvis Presley impersonators--their habits, habitats, and hangers-on--that provides lots of detail about jumpsuits and sideburns but willfully avoids analyzing why this peculiar species thrives. Journalist Rubinkowski spent several years attending fake-Elvis conventions and contests and talking with dozens of the estimated 1,500 working Elvises, as well as the ancillary figures who put on the shows or pay to see them. The central character here is Dennis Stella, a 37-year-old insurance salesman and beginning Elvis from Calumet City, Ill., whose largely hapless progress she tracks all the way to the Elvis Presley Impersonators International Association's Las Vegas gathering and Memphis's (relatively) prestigious Images of Elvis contest, held during the August Elvis Week festivities. After several setbacks involving a wig, the big turning point in Dennis's muddled quest is his decision to dye and grow his own hair into an approximation of Elvis's: ``The amount of Elvis happening inside a person's head,'' remarks Rubinkowski, ``corresponds exactly to the blackness and volume of hair on top of it.'' But why would somebody want to perform as Elvis? Dennis started after his mother died, because she had encouraged him to follow his dreams . . . or something like that. It's unclear because Rubinkowski steadfastly refuses to amplify the comments she elicits from her not-so-articulate subjects. The wry Robert Lopez (``El Vez, the Mexican Elvis'') is, thankfully, ironic about his career, but most of the Elvises seem earnest and foolish, rambling deludedly: ``I'm a very good singer. I just happen to do Elvis, you know? . . . I could be the next big entertainer.'' Many fans obsessively attend impersonator events, but Rubinkowski, aside from poker-faced descriptions of their tacky outfits, offers no more insights about the audience than about the performers. This kind of ceaselessly deadpan delicacy, which merely underlines the ridiculousness of the phenomenon without penetrating it, is not nearly response enough.

Pub Date: July 24th, 1997
ISBN: 0-571-19911-9
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1997