Old Elvis will take a licking

Kevin Cowherd

April 20, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

Oh, you go ahead and mope about the listless economy and the desultory presidential campaign and the latest crackpot world leader making a name for himself.

Me, I've got something a little more pressing on my mind right now, namely: How's the balloting going for that new Elvis stamp?

The answer, of course, is that it's the biggest thing to hit the post office since those snappy summer uniforms the mail carriers wear -- you know, the ones with the drab POW-gray shorts and attractive knee-length black socks.

(By the way, what is it with those pith helmets they wear in the summer? You'd think these people were hacking their way through a remote jungle in Uganda instead of strolling up Charles Street slurping a Diet Pepsi and thumbing through someone's Playboy.)

Thus far, the post office has received over a half-million Elvis Presley ballots, again proving that people have way too much free time on their hands in this country.

Perhaps a little background is in order for those not yet swept up in the latest pop culture undertow.

What's happening is this: The U.S. Postal Service, in a move that could be construed as blatant pandering to the powerful Elvis-is-God lobby, is allowing customers to vote on which likeness of The King will grace its new stamp.

One likeness depicts the swarthy, oily, lean 'n' mean Elvis of the '60s, the energetic rocker who gave us blue-eyed soul and cornball movies such as the wonderfully dreadful "Viva Las Vegas!"

The second likeness depicts the heavily sideburned, jump-suited, lounge-lizard Elvis of the '70s, who basically sat around Graceland swallowing pills like they were Flintstones vitamins and wiping out the inventory of every Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet within a 50-mile radius.

(And let's face it, you had to be doing some serious drugs to think "In the Ghetto" was a catchy tune. Melody-wise, this was not exactly a toe-tapper to begin with. When you added the maudlin lyrics, it put the listener in mind of a funeral dirge sung by Jerry Lewis.

(I kind of liked "Burning Love," though. Apparently there were times in the '70s when the clouds in his head parted and Elvis was Elvis again.) Anyway, the voting has been a huge hit for the postal service. Post offices all over the country have reported tremendous demand for the ballots. Nowhere was that more evident than in Hawaii (ancestral home of another entertainment legend, Don Ho), where 10,000 ballots ran out before noon on the first day they were available.

(And people have the nerve to say this country is going to hell in a hand basket! Look, those Japanese may be pretty sharp, but we're the ones who gave the world button-fly jeans and strip malls and Andrew Dice Clay, OK?

(And now we're dusting off an Elvis stamp! Look, if that doesn't earn us a little international respect, then I don't know what will.)

Playing it coy, the postal service isn't saying which Elvis the voters are leaning toward right now. But you don't have to be on the staff of the Yale Law Review to figure it out.

Clearly, the lean, bedroom-eyed Elvis is going to win this baby in a landslide.

Look, if Americans wanted an overweight, dissolute icon on a stamp, we could dig up John Belushi or send an artist out to L.A. to do some rough sketches of Marlon Brando.

Or we could wait for Roseanne Barr to come crashing off this latest diet and start elbowing people away from the Fixins' Bar at Roy Rogers again.

No, we Americans prefer our heroes hale and clear-eyed, latter-day Abe Lincolns, not to put too fine a point on it.

One thing is certain, though. With all the attention (not to mention added revenue) generated by the Elvis balloting, the postal service will be doing this sort of thing again.

This raises the terrifying prospect that in the very near future, we'll be voting to see if someone like, oh, Henry Winkler deserves his own stamp.

My gut reaction, of course, is: Yes! Definitely! Long overdue! But I'd want to think about it a little more before making a final decision.

Or maybe the postal service will dump this question onto the laps of the American people: Do we want the young, fresh-faced Henry Winkler, who brought a carefree exuberance to "Happy Days" in his role as hoodlum-with-a-heart-of-gold Fonzie?

Or do we want the older, paunchy, visibly tired Winkler, whose reported bouts of depression and on-set squabbling with professional stooge Anson Williams indicated a man crying out to expand his acting horizons, a punchy sitcom veteran clearly weary of being labeled The Fonz?

I myself would lean toward Door No. 1. But there's lots of room for debate.

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