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Clark: Time to celebrate Elvis’ birthday a la Klein

It’s time we Americans came to grips with the fact that Elvis isn’t coming back.

Not without a lantern and a shovel, anyway.

Fortunately, there is a far less macabre way to scratch that EP-itch. And that is to attend the big Elvis Birthday Bash on Saturday night at Ichiban, 202 W. Third Ave. Call (509) 868-4671 for details.

(AMAZING ELVIS FACT: Had he lived, Elvis would be 78 on Jan. 8 and probably swiveling artificial hips.)

Spokane’s own Ben Klein, one of the world’s foremost Elvis tribute artists, is the star of the Ichiban show.

Klein has never taken well to the “impersonator” label.

He identifies that word with those sad souls who get so immersed into the late star that they go through life speaking in a soft drawl and affecting the requisite lip curl.

“Thenkya vurry much.”

Klein leaves his Presley onstage, where it belongs.

“I look at it like this,” he said. “A tribute artist is just trying to keep the memory alive, and I feel privileged to be able to do it.”

I’ve liked this young man ever since I met him in 2004.

He was in his early 20s back then and had just discovered his inner Elvis. Now 32, Klein has honed his abilities into an act that might even fool Priscilla.

“When you perform that often in front of people you can’t help but get good at it,” he said.

“You only have six or seven songs to make people love you.”

Klein has mimicked the King in hundreds of shows. He’s competed in major Elvis-offs and won his share.

When I wrote about him last year, Klein was a few days away from an Elvis Presley Enterprises-sponsored bus tour with a grueling schedule of 29 shows in just 35 days.

That’s a lot of pelvis grind.

Klein not only survived but learned many subtle tricks that come with his offbeat trade.

Kissing, for example.

Once while singing, Klein said he extended an offhand invitation for women in the audience to come up for a kiss.

A daunting line began to form. Klein’s lips were all but numb by the time the impromptu smooch-a-thon finished.

Klein also learned about the care and maintenance of tight leather pants.

Portraying the ’68 Comeback Special Elvis meant Klein had to wear those iconic black leather togs.

Which are way cool, of course.

But nobody ever stops to consider all the hunka-hunka burnin’ funk generated by such thigh friction that, if properly harnessed, could light up Cleveland.

“It’s like a sauna in there,” Klein said of his pants.

“The audience only sees what’s happening on the outside. They don’t see what’s going on on the inside, thank goodness.”

To keep things hygienic, Klein said he sprays the inside of his leatherwear with a cleansing solution of water and vodka.

The real Elvis, of course, had minions to keep his britches daisy fresh. Besides, being such a big fan of pills it’s doubtful Elvis ever used vodka much for cleaning or otherwise.

I’d need several jugs just to summon up the courage to attempt the leather pants look.

“You have to be in a certain physical place to wear it,” agreed Klein.

Not long after the bus tour ended, Klein took his act aboard ship for a 3 1/2-month ocean cruise.

“It was tough,” Klein said. “The reality of life on a ship is nothing like life on land.”

The problem isn’t the performing, he added, but all the down time between performing. After awhile you start looking for a white whale to harpoon.

But Klein still enjoys the work. And on Jan. 10, Klein will say farewell to his wife, Vanessa, and their cat, Memphis, and take off on a 16-week “Elvis Lives” bus tour.

This time Klein will channel the 1950s Elvis, which is a whole lot safer than playing the Comeback Man.

During one of his shows, for example, Klein said he cracked a joke about splitting his leather pants.

Then Klein launched into “Jailhouse Rock.”

Any guesses about what happened?

Yep. “A 3-inch hole in my crotch,” he said, laughing.

Such are the trials and tribulations of being Elvis.

“Who knew there’d be a whole business for guys like me?” says Klein, his tone changing to wonder.

“Lord. Even Elvis wouldn’t have believed it.”

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.


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