A Parable That’s Not About Elvis

Once upon a time there was a legendary Elvis Presley Impressionists-Fan Club … the one and only original Elvis Presley Impressionists-Fan Club, and it was extraordinarily successful in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The club members would practice with each other and critique each other’s performances and help each other sound like, look like, dress like, and move like the one and only original Elvis. They even ate fried peanut-butter and banana sandwiches together.

Each of the impressionists had lucrative careers and could pack a night club with their on-spot impersonations. People loved seeing the impressionists almost as much as they loved seeing Elvis in person; they shared a kind of fellowship with these pretenders in their adoration. Plus, the tickets were cheaper.

And when the King of Rock and Roll semi-retired for a while – before his 1968 comeback – they did even better. And when the King succumbed in his Graceland palace, the tributes they performed comforted the grieving.

Then things fell off for quite a while. The club didn’t meet like it had before. The impressionists were growing older, like the King himself had. There were arguments about which incarnation of Elvis was the best; which period of his performance was most worthy of imitating (at the cost of custom-fit rhinestoned jumpsuit or tight leather attire) and whether their sandwiches had to contain bacon in order to be authentic. There were other differences of opinion. Soon, there were other interests in life. Eventually, the one and only original club was no more.

And when a new generation of Elvis impersonators began to sprout, still heady from the performances of the impressionists they grew up watching, they hardly knew where to begin. Some fledgling attempts fizzled quickly; but a couple of bright thinkers among them had the brilliant idea that all they needed to do was restore the one and only original Impressionists-Fan Club and do all the things they did and they would get the same results. So they met together, and they sang all the right songs, and they wore all the right fancy costumes, and they went through all the right motions.

They even critiqued each other – though sometimes the criticism was harsh, and sometimes club members had to be ejected. Or they just left on their own. Then there were hard feelings and new chapters or new clubs.

Yet – even though they were imitating the original imitators – the crowds failed to gather in thousands or hundreds or even tens. One night, one of the bright thinkers -after months of disillusionment and bills for fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches that he could no longer pay – asked the only remaining disappointed fan in the night club why she was leaving in the middle of his “Early Elvis” set.

“You just don’t get it, do you?” she said. “Don’t you ever watch the old recordings? Don’t you ever listen to them? Didn’t you see how he reached out to the audience in each song, and sang himself into their hearts every time? How it was more than just a performance or a costume change or a gig? How he connected with every pair of eyes in the place with his own?”

The bright thinker was taken aback. “But we formed a club just like the original club and we did everything that they used to do and we tried to help each other be just like the original members were and even ate fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches – with bacon!”

His not-so-much-of-a-fan just shook her head sadly. “You don’t need to be like the club,” she said softly, turning away.

“You need to be like the King.”

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