Special Report

Elvis and The Gipper

Scot Bruce revives the pre-Army Hound Dog just perfectly.

By 4.24.07

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So that's what it was all about! Wow!

Yes, the King of Rock and Roll, the one and only Elvis, returned to my little home town of Helena, Montana, to stage a drop dead, knock out, shake the rafters performance. The audience of over a thousand screaming, cheering, tickled pink septa- and octogenarians (I was one of a hundred young punks under sixty) went wild. They were dancing in the aisles.

Now, it's true that Elvis presented himself using Scot Bruce as his corporeal proxy, but from more than fifty feet away I saw the Real Elvis. The Good Elvis. The Most Excellent Elvis of the mid-'50s, the Sun Records Elvis, the young kid with talent and voice and swagger and sex. The Fun Elvis.

I confess that sitting in the concert hall before the show, I harbored doubts. I'm an Elvis music fan, especially of his pre-Army Sun Record recordings. (John Lennon said that for him, Elvis died the day he entered the Army -- I tend to agree.) But I really didn't know much about the man until a few years ago, when I absorbed a half dozen biographies and watched all the available film interviews and performances of the Early Elvis (for reasons I'll explain later). I had such strong conceptions I was sure I'd be disappointed by an "impersonator" who could never live up to the real thing. Not that I'd seen the real thing, but I had my conceptions, darnit.

And by the way, what was with all these old folks hobbling into their seats? I thought these were the folks who'd griped about Elvis some...fifty-two years ago? Fifty-two. Hmm. Let's see, they would have been about 18 to 25 in Elvis's hey day. Go, man, go!

Okay, maybe I was guilty of a form of ageism with the oldsters, but what about the teens and the twenty and thirty-somethings with their iPods filled with 5,000 eclectic tunes. Where the heck were they? Having "fun" at a Madonna or Green Day concert? Wouldn't at least, say, a hundred of them show up? Out of curiosity? Why was my 14-year-old daughter one of -- at the outside most! -- ten people under the age of 21? Less than one percent of the audience!

The lights dimmed. A bent old man to my side recounted how he had an Army buddy who was stationed with Elvis in Germany, and every year Elvis would give him a phone call. A blue-haired woman behind me giggled in her frail voice to a friend, "I just know I'm going to start screaming when he starts singing!"

True to her word, she -- and a thousand other seasoned citizens -- did just that. Though their voices couldn't match the physical volume of younger audiences, they exuded more energy than I've seen at many rock concerts. Their eyes gleamed, their smiles widened, their feet tapped and hands clapped when ---

Elvis hit the stage! Bam! Pow! Zap! Pure youthful fun and vigor rippled through the audience. His voice was pure and right-on the mark. Every gesture --the lip, the droopy eyelids, the swagger, the cocky gum-chewing -- was a 3-D echo from the past. His ineffable charisma betrayed not an iota of falsehood. He dripped magic as, before my very eyes, he invented rock'n'roll. He owned the stage. He owned the audience and played it like an instrument.

That cat was cool, man. Thank you, Scot Bruce, for serving as Elvis's medium.

RIGHT AFTER "THAT'S ALL RIGHT" became his first hit, Elvis played a gig at a small auditorium. It was the first time an audience went berserk, the girls gone wild, the boys envious but still captured by the sheer fun. Elvis, guitarist Scotty Moore, and bassist Bill looked at each other in bewildered joy and amazement. "What's happening?" they remembered asking each other later.

Same question I asked myself, in a slightly different form. How can an impersonator, a half century after the fact, re-create the same energy as Elvis? Why am I falling for this?

To answer those questions, I intrepidly arranged to interview Scot Bruce. For starters, turns out he's an actor who can sing, and coincidentally bears a perfect resemblance (from fifty feet) to the real Elvis. But more than that, Bruce explains he tries to be respectful to the performances of the young, vital Elvis.

"It's all about having fun, a good time. That's what made Elvis famous, that's what turned the world upside down. I'm not going up there to make jokes about cheeseburgers. It's all about respect for the performer, and respect for the audience."

His talent and attitude work well. He's made a good living as young Elvis for the last fifteen years, performing across the globe. He knocks 'em dead. Figuratively, anyway, for now. In a few more years he might be literally knocking his older fans dead.

MEANWHILE...I CAN'T HELP but daydream. Wouldn't it be refreshing and vitalizing if, at the first round of Republican Presidential Primary debates, a talented actor appeared in the persona of President Reagan, Ronaldus Magnus? The man who politically liberated the nations behind the Iron Curtain every bit as much as Elvis liberated the culture behind the Iron Curtain.

When is the last time I heard a Republican politician give a speech that made me smile? Wouldn't a Reagan impersonator who respected the real Reagan and his followers just knock me dead? It's been sooooo looooong. And looks to be longer. I'd pay $25 to re-visit Reagan speak inspiringly about conservative values and America. I'd be happy. I'd smile. I'd be all shook up. Uh huh.

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