Elvis fever in Fells Point

August 17, 1994|By Howard Henry Chen and Kathryn Markham | Howard Henry Chen and Kathryn Markham,Sun Staff Writers

Elvis at Fells Point!

Elvis seen taking Water Taxi!

Elvis spotted buying crabs at Baltimore's Broadway Market!

(OK, we thought we'd give it a try. It helps sell those other newspapers.)

The sightings were part of the Salute to Elvis '94, a tribute to that scion of 1950s blue suede, rock 'n' roll cool, held at the Broadway Market Square in Fells Point yesterday. The celebration commemorated the 17th anniversary of the singer's (supposed) death.

The eighth annual hourlong festival was sponsored by the city's Department of Recreation and Parks in conjunction with the Elvis Fever Fan Club of Baltimore. Featuring a look-alike contest, a teddy bear contest for children, an impersonator and a barrage of Elvis memorabilia, the celebration drew more than 300 people, from fans to tourists.

"Our whole goal with the club is to enjoy music, meeting people and helping children," said Chris Malone, vice president of the fan club. Revenue from the club's events and sales go to the Children's Cancer Foundation. "[Elvis] always helped anyone who needed help, and a lot of them were children."

Ms. Malone was out yesterday peddling Elvis plaques, velvet art, towels, nail clippers, Graceland china, jewelry emblazoned with the King's picture and "Toity Tunes," a device that hooks onto toilet paper rolls. Give it a tug and it plays "Love Me Tender."

Albert Plum, 36, of Fells Point, took first place in the look-alike contest. Bill Fields, 51, of Rosedale, took runner-up honors. They were the only two contestants.

"Elvis was always part of my life," said Mr. Plum, who has listened to Mr. Presley since the age of 5. "He was for the poor people. Up until the day he died, he loved people. The King will never die in my mind."

When the King died in 1977, he left a legacy of music that inspired countless other performers, and a sacrosanct image of an artist that his fans will not let die.

How do they explain his lasting appeal? Don Bergman, an Owings Mills stockbroker and an avid collector of Elvis memorabilia, motions to a nearby youth in Doc Martens shoes by way of explanation. "That rebel-type image -- that's what Elvis was." The popularity and spirit of the King's music has spread across the Atlantic, according to a British family on vacation in Baltimore.

"We just came off the water taxi and saw this, and my husband's always been a big fan," said Maureen Tidder, who lives in London.

"I can understand the attraction Elvis has for you," said Robert Tidder. "He embodied the rebellion of the 1950s.

" 'Heartbreak Hotel' came out in England in 1956, and it meant something to me," he said.

Mr. Tidder recalled with great affection the first time he saw an Elvis movie.

Then at noon, He came. Slicked-up pompadour. Rhinestone belt. Flared white polyester jumpsuit. Ohh, the voice, the hips . . . the impersonator.

Frank El, 37, alias Frank Wagner from Dundalk, a father of three and factory supervisor at Clendenin Brothers, took the mike and crooned "Suspicious Minds," "The Wonder of You" and "Burning Love." Men tapped their toes, children sang along and women swooned.

Even the Tidders were impressed.

"He's quite terrific," Mr. Tidder said. "He's a lot better than the guys we have back home in England."

Mr. El, who has had no formal voice training, still manages a mean vibrato. (His "In the Ghetto" rendition actually culled some tears from a middle-age woman in the front row.)

"It's all done for fun," said Mr. El, after his first set. "I do parties and shows, but that's where it stays. I've been doing this for about six years, and the interest stays the same. It's wonderful."

And his take on the Lisa Marie-Michael Jackson marriage?

"I hope it's a . . . thriller," he replied, not missing a beat. "And I hope they did it for their . . . burning love."

At that point, Mr. El was interrupted by an elderly woman with crooked teeth and a wrinkled, sun-dried face. She walked up to him and grabbed the white body suit.

"You look like him, and you sound like him," she said. "But you will never replace Him."

Mr. El blushed. His lips bent into a snarl-smile. He cocked his head like the King.

G; "I don't try to, ma'am," he told her. "I don't try to."

IMITATE ELVIS

Here's your chance to share your best impersonation of the King. Call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6153 after you hear the greeting and listen to the instructions. Tomorrow, we will provide a number to call to hear some of the results.

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