• Richard Murff

Weapons Grade Elvis

Elvis is everywhere. Mojo Nixon was right about that, at least on Beale Street.

Memphis’s slightly shabby entertainment district is the place where the Blues came off the Mississippi Delta to be launched into the world. It was too hot this sticky August afternoon to be wandering around in double-knit polyester and bedazzling capes, but you can always spot a true believer. Seated next to me in the tap room of the King’s Palace Café was a man with a jet-black pompadour and those unmistakable sideburns. He said that his name was Jesse, like Elvis’ stillborn twin, so who can tell?

Every year they arrive around the second week of August — Dead Elvis Week, as it’s known to the locals — like colorful, if freakish azaleas that walk and talk all things King. Twice a year they flood Memphis in full regalia like a Mardi Gras parade without a route or much of a point. Some of the pretenders are pure enough to make you believe in ghosts. Others take on a more holistic “We are all Elvis” approach, such as El Vez, the Elvis with a Latin flavor. There are African-American Elvi, Arab Elvi, and fleets of them from Japan. Many don’t speak a word of English save for the memorized songs. Then there was Tortelvis — who claimed to be the illegitimate son of Elvis (there is a lot of that) and fronted a band doing reggae covers of Led Zeppelin. The effect of seeing a jumpsuited Tortelvis flanked by wailing Rastafarians and a 112-pound bassist wearing nothing but gold lamé briefs and crash helmet was, among other sensations, nightmarish.

I asked Jesse about one Paul MacLeod. He knew who I was talking about, and had heard that the old boy had shot an intruder to his home — a worn shrine called Graceland Too in Holly Springs, Miss. MacLeod was held for questioning, but never really suspected of anything other than defending himself. Two days later, the question of guilt was moot — MacLeod was found dead of natural causes, slumped over on the porch of his trashy monument to the King.

“That guy,” Jesse said into his beer. “That guy went overboard.”

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