A Growing Fervor For Elvis In Europe

By Doreen Carvajal (Herald Tribune)Oct 21, 2007
Along a narrow side street on the Right Bank, a familiar figure in a shiny gold tuxedo looms from a little shop the color of blue suede shoes. The crooked smile, smoky eyes and tousled hair are instantly recognizable but, just in case, the shop owners hail the "King of Rock and Roll" and their petite Graceland in bold gray and red print: "Elvis My Happiness." Elvis Presley never performed a concert in Europe in his long singing career, but that unfortunate oversight apparently is helping to stoke the burnin' flames of desire for all things Elvis in this Parisian colony and other unlikely outposts, from Elvis Matters in Belgium to the Flaming Star in Norway, where the perennial best seller is a €10, or $14, pair of Vegas vintage sunglasses. When Elvis Presley's septuagenarian backup bands showed up in Europe recently, they rocked a sold-out concert hall in Jonkoping, Sweden, then pressed on to finish up an 18-day European tour in Paris for an original-lineup performance organized by Elvis fan clubs across five countries. These fans are discriminating aficionados who aren't satisfied with an Elvis impersonator in a white jumpsuit and who yearn for a taste of the original. "They're hungry for anything Elvis," marveled Joe Moscheo, a bass singer with the Imperials, a backup gospel band for Elvis that finished one European tour in October and is returning for a second next month. "They ask a lot of questions and they're very fanatical," Moscheo said. "I hate to use the world cult, but these people are serious. It's not just like they say, 'Let's go to a concert.' They know what he wore, what he ate and what he sang." Many of these fans don't know enough English to define the difference between Heartbreak Hotel and a hound dog cryin' all the time. But the music remains universal enough to build fan clubs of 4,500 members in France and 1,600 in Germany. There is enough passion in the Netherlands that Elvis's record company, Sony BMG, this year released a CD titled "The Dutch Collection," with a selection chosen by fans, who voted from a list of 150 songs. A reissue of Elvis's "A Big Hunk O'Love" recently clawed up to No. 12 on the BBC's Top 40 singles chart in England, behind 50 Cent and Sugababes. "It amazes me day after day," said Peter Verbruggen, president of the Elvis Matters fan club, which opened an Elvis store more than two years ago in Turnhout, Belgium, near the Dutch border. The club also runs a store in Antwerp, in the north of Belgium, and is considering opening a third branch. "Everybody is surprised by the success," said Verbruggen, who started his club in 2003 with hopes of drawing 300 people and watched membership soar to 2,200. "One of the reasons that Elvis is so popular is the fact that he's never been here before and he's still a mystery. Another explanation is that Elvis is a universal icon who touches so many different people from all parts of society. He's everything: the rebel, the crooner and the actor." Elvis's oeuvre is so varied that fans divide themselves by periods, debating the relative merits of '50s Elvis, '60s Elvis and his comeback as Vegas Elvis. "There is a great difference between most of the American fans and the European fans," said Peter Beines, chairman of the Elvis Presley Gesellschaft in Bonn. "Americans prefer Elvis impersonators while the original musicians for Elvis are more popular in Europe. The Americans prefer music from the Elvis of the '50s, but European fans, especially in Germany, prefer the concert Elvis of the '70s." The U.S. and European markets also differed in music sales trends after the 30th anniversary of Elvis's death in August. "In the states, there was no huge uplift in terms of Elvis sales. But what we saw in the rest of the world, predominantly in Europe and Australia, is that we were able to get Elvis back to number one for albums in five countries," said Timothy Frafer-Harding, a vice-president of Sony BMG. In life, he noted, Elvis never managed to hit No. 1 in Germany, but 30 years after his death his compilation album climbed to the top of the charts. All of the major clubs are watching the average age of their membership fall with a new generation of young people in their 20s joining the clubs. The average age of the French membership of Elvis My Happiness, the fan club that operates the Paris store of the same name, is 27 and dropping, according to Jean-Marie Pouzenc, club president. Pouzenc is the author of two books on Elvis, including a new edition published in August of "Elvis à Paris," a glossy title that minutely explores the brief period in 1959 when Elvis, the uniformed soldier, visited Paris, staying in the Hotel Prince de Galles and passing time with the chorus girls at the Lido club. For the 30th anniversary of Elvis's death in August, Pouzenc led a pilgrimage of 300 fans to Graceland, a tour that he said represented the diversity of Elvis's fan base in France that includes President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has let it be known that Elvis is on his iPod. "The strength of Elvis is that he touches everyone," said Pouzenc, who presides over the Paris store in a yellow shirt emblazoned with gyrating Elvises. "When you go to Graceland you can see that with people there from all countries, races and religions." But don't ask Pouzenc if he can translate "Just a hunk-a, hunk-a burnin' love into French." ("Morceau d'amour brûlant," suggests an old club magazine.) "It's too difficult," he said.
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Reactions

Kenneth (profilecontact) wrote on Jan 25, 2008report abuse
after what i see and hear in my part of the world, which includes the U.S. it's my opinion the best and most loyal fans of ELVIS are from EUROPE.
Elvisnites (profilecontact) wrote on Oct 24, 2007report abuse
Ok so I do have to agree that America has an obsession with the mid-century, 50s and 60s. Anything from Elvis to furniture to houses. Don't ask me why, I haven't figured it out yet.
elviskid80 (profilecontact) wrote on Oct 24, 2007report abuse
I Agree I Personally Love The Comeback Elvis. 1968-1977 However The Majority Of Americans Do Like The 50's Elvis .I Think He Was Much Better In His Comeback Period .Better Songs ,Better Shows , Better Vocally However I Love Elvis Period. Long Live Elvis T.C.B
EspenK (profilecontact) wrote on Oct 22, 2007report abuse
True, of course. Though I guess BMG/EPE has some statistics that could be used in these regards, at least if there is a significant difference. Anyways, it kind of makes sense, fits into the picture (my picture).
Elvisnites (profilecontact) wrote on Oct 22, 2007report abuse
Where did they get their statics? Don't believe everything you read.
EspenK (profilecontact) wrote on Oct 22, 2007report abuse
The difference between the american and european fan was an interesting read. Cause I've always wondered why the Elvis souvernirs was so focused on the 50s over there.

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