Tuesday, August 16, 2005

elvis and orion

It has been some twenty-eight years since they planted him there behind the tiny Graceland swimming pool and lighted a torch in his memory, yet Elvis remains up there Coca-Cola and Jesus as one of the top southern exports. I have spoken about my connections to the king before, both real and imagined, and will spare you a rehashing of my thoughts that he, while being extremely talented, was overrated. It isn’t a day for speaking ill of Elvis, and it should be known that I have nothing but love for him and both of the other aforementioned icons.

Each of the three also has their number of imitators, and a good Elvis impersonator, if in possession of that hip-shaking magnetism that elicited the deafening screams on all the Ed Sullivan footage, can really give you an idea of what it was all about.

Take Orion, for example.

Jimmy Ellis was shot and killed behind the register of his convenience store in Selma, Alabama in December of 1998, and you won’t find people gathered there on the anniversary. Yet he was the first big Elvis impersonator and had a voice so similar to the king’s that he was almost sued by RCA records. His voice fooled Elvis fans everywhere. His manager gave him the name “Orion” based on a novel about a very Elvis-like southerner who rises from poverty to become the biggest star in the world, grows fat and depressed, loses weight, grows a beard, fakes his own death, and then drives off into the sunset. Jimmy Ellis didn’t much like the plan, but he preferred it to moving back to Alabama and having no musical career at all. So he took the name, wore a Lone Ranger mask to fuel the mystery, and tried to pick up where the king left off. You can’t make this shit up.
All of this happened here in Nashville, and you can read a great cover story on him that the Scene ran shortly after his death here.
I got to see Orion back in 1991 at the Shoals Theater in downtown Florence, Alabama. There wasn’t much else going on, and my dad had told me the stories of what it was like when Orion first appeared. It all sounded like some sort of second coming, but the guy now ran a convenience store in Selma and played places like my hometown. I figured it would at least be amusing.
It was really more educational than anything. He had been unmasked long ago, and the unmasked face of Orion that I saw that night looked nothing like Elvis’. Yet there were women my mother’s age screaming and throwing their panties on stage—not many, mind you, but enough to keep it entertaining. They knew this wasn’t Elvis, but they were sincere and so fanatical that the cops had to remove a couple of them. Bear in mind that this venue did not serve alcohol, and that these women could’ve very easily been mothers of my friends and ladies in my mom’s Sunday school class.
It was almost like seeing people having a religious experience, and I have to wonder if people thousands of years from now will base their religions on Elvis and fight over the minor differences they have in their perceptions of him. If so, will they also remember Orion?
Also, I now wonder if women two thousand years ago screamed and threw their panties at Jesus.
I would like to think so.


Anonymous tha b said...

very interesting indeed... one can learn much about useless history from a blog such as yours...

the king is dead, long live the king...

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Gunny Walker said...

Everybody knows that the king didn't go out like that. That's an impersonator buried there. Elvis swapped places with him, but was stuck as an unknown when the impersonator died. He eventually was shut up in a nursing home in west Texas to keep the whole thing quiet. He and JFK went out fighting an ancient egyptian who came to be known as Bubba Ho-tep.

3:14 AM  
Blogger Stella said...

He's totally living upstairs at Graceland. I saw him from under the crack in the door on the back steps. Why else would they have three bolt locks on every door leading up there?

Thank ya...thank ya very much.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

I so wanted to just dart up the steps to the forbidden upstairs when I was at Graceland. I know I could have easily fought off the skinny little tourguide and made it to the bathroom where it all ended.

If I ever go back, I might not be able to exercise that much self control.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Stella said...

I've had to restrain myself all three times I was there. It's like...RIGHT there. It would be so easy. May even be worth getting arrested for.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

Aren't you family, Jill? I would think that the Presley name would entitle you to special privileges.

7:42 AM  

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