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Caught In That Elvis Groove

By MIKE BOONE (The Montreal Gazette), April 02, 2001 | Other
I'm going to Bordeaux jail to screen an NFB documentary and lead a workshop on anger management with full-patch members of the Hell's Angels. This will preclude attendance at the Elvis Presley Convention because, as the Firesign Theatre famously asked, how can you be in two places at once when you're not anywhere at all?

A cynic might suggest that the precise location of nowhere on April 7 will be 5415 Jean Talon East. That's where about 500 Elvis fans will gather in a church hall to honour the King of Rock'n'Roll and pick over albums, compact discs and kitschy memorabilia ranging from souvenir dolls to Elvis cologne.

Myself, I'm partial to Chuck Berry eau de toilette. But Patrick Hughes assures me that scent of Elvis was a legitimate product, not something that a retired Memphis moonshiner had brewed up in a bathtub. "You could buy Elvis cologne at the Bay and J.C. Penney when it first came out," Hughes said. "They've discontinued it, though, so bottles are a collector's item."

Hughes knows Elvis collectibles. He is president of the Elvis Friendship Club (480 fans, each of whom paid $5 for lifetime membership) and co-organizer, along with Roland Vaillancourt, of bi-annual conventions that began in 1988. When I caught up with him yesterday morning, Hughes was just getting home from McDonald's, where he's a maintenance worker on the graveyard shift. The mental image I formed was a troubled loner, mopping restaurant floors and dreaming of glory in Las Vegas.

Hughes, 33, is not like that. He's a nice guy who just happens to have a living room that's decorated wall-to-wall with Elvis Presley stuff. "Let me guess, Patrick," I ventured. "You're single."

Right - but he's getting married next week. Hughes's fiancé, Stacey Hodess, has made it clear that in their conjugal home, there will be a separate room for his Elvis stuff.

"She's not much of an Elvis fan," Hughes said, somewhat regretfully. "But she's actually happy that I have a passion for something that's legal and keeps me out of trouble."

Hughes was only 10 when Presley was cruelly snatched from us ("too young to die, too fat to live" in Lorne Elliott's memorable characterization.) "Fans are getting younger," Hughes said. "Graceland does yearly surveys of their visitors, and the average age is 34. It's amazing, because 10 years ago the average was 42."

Hughes traces his own fascination to two Presley LPs, From Elvis in Memphis and Speedway, that he got from his uncle.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," he said. "I was six years old and I remember thinking 'Who is this guy with the sideburns?' Then I played them and played them until the grooves wore out."

Hughes has been collecting Presley recordings ever since. He has 1,400 singles, albums, tapes and CDs.

"The Internet is great," Hughes enthused. "I can track down bootlegs and unreleased material from all over the world."

Hughes's current fave rave is concert soundboard recordings.

"It's the best audio quality," he said. "And new stuff keeps coming out." When Hughes can't find Elvis stuff, it finds him. A few years ago he was waiting for the bus at the corner of Cote des Neiges and St. Kevin. "I was getting impatient and kicking the snow when I saw Elvis's face," Hughes recalled.

A vision? No, a discarded copy of Albert Goldman's controversial biography of the King. Hughes read the book and concluded, like many fans, that it was "garbage."

Hughes has been to Graceland three times. He was 19 when he made his first pilgrimage and still remembers being awestruck.

"I don't want to sound weird," he said, "but there's an aura, a feeling you get being in Elvis Presley's living room."

Maybe some of that Memphis magic will be wafting through the air of the convention.

* The Elvis Presley Convention will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 7 at St. Gilbert church hall, 5415 Jean Talon East. Patrick Hughes's recommended Elvis web sites, among hundreds of thousands on the Web, are www.elvisnews.com and www.biwa.ne.jp/~presley.

ElvisNews.com likes to thank Patrick Hughes for sending us the complete article.