Long live the King Part 2
A different passion for Presley belongs to Costa Dobros, aka Costa The Greek Elvis. His voice breaks with emotion as he talks about his love for the man – and the sadness Elvis must have felt in those final, lonely days. ”Every time I sing I can feel he is right next to me. It brings tears to my eyes, it makes me so happy. I love the man, I do [perform his songs] with my heart.”
An 11-year-old Dobros heard Elvis’s debut single, That’s All Right, soon after coming to Australia from Greece in 1957. From then on his dream was ”to open a shop so I could play his music”.
Subsequently, Dobros has been single-handedly responsible for something peculiarly Sydney: establishing a link between Elvis and pizza as strong as that between Elvis and fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. He set up the Elvis Pizza Bar in Rushcutters Bay in 1984, cooking pizzas while crammed into a sparkling jumpsuit and singing Elvis songs between tables – or out on the street next to his white 1964 Cadillac (number plate: Elvis8). He decorated the restaurant with memorabilia and the pizzas took suitably Elvis-style names (pepperoni: Burning Love; salami: Are You Lonesome Tonight, ham and pineapple: Blue Hawaii).
After Brighton-le-Sands, Dobros opened a third Elvis pizzeria, in Earlwood, with son Angelo (another fan of The King, of course). There’s not enough floorspace in the latest restaurant for Dobros to do his show, as his son explains it, but The Greek Elvis still plays at weddings and birthdays, and sings continually when cooking. ”Elvis means a lot to the Greek community, but everyone loves Elvis, every nationality, right across Sydney,” Dobros explains. ”Elvis is going to be with us for the next 500 years, he will never die.”
The rest of us will, however, and this is where Russell Hansen, ”the singing marriage celebrant”, steps in. Hansen has been performing about a dozen Elvis weddings a year since 1999 (cost: about $600. Sample vow: ”Do you, Darren, take Sharon to be your teddy bear? Do you promise to love her tender and never to take her to heartbreak hotel? That you will love and care for her and never be a hound dog and never lose that lovin’ feeling?”).
Hansen, who delivers Elvis telegrams, is launching Elvis funerals. ”There’s a lot of dissatisfaction with the way funerals are conducted these days,” he says. ”People feel they are not participants. I think this could be one way to break the ice, for people to express themselves, whether at the crematorium, wake or scattering of the ashes.”
”Music is therapy,” he adds, ”you can always feel a song coming on.” While Hansen – who also performs ship’s captain weddings – says the repertoire would be by negotiation, he reckons it would likely rely on Elvis’s gospel favourites such as Peace in the Valley.
Hansen also pulls out his guitar and jumpsuit for baby namings and anniversaries, which means Sydneysiders now have the chance for a full cradle-to-altar-to-grave Elvis life experience. ”Sydney’s a big Elvis town,” Hansen says. ”But I think every town is a big Elvis town. He’s like Santa Claus, he’s an icon now.”
Another local fan, Allan Levinson of Destiny Tours, conducts trips around Sydney in a converted Caddie hearse. In his spare time, he has compiled the definitive list of Cadillacs owned by Elvis, who bought about 100. It’s a subject with particular resonance in Sydney because, although Elvis never visited – not during his official lifetime, anyway – one of his Cadillacs did.
Levinson says there are 340 Cadillacs registered in NSW, plus others on (restricted use) club plates or in the process of being restored. Many of them are owned by Elvis fans or impersonators. The 1959 model – the ”King Fin” most associated with Presley – is the most common, though Levinson says Elvis never actually owned that model. ”It’s associated with him because of its flamboyance.”
The car that came to Sydney was a 1960 Fleetwood Limousine with a gold-plated phone and shoe buffer. In addition to the usual fridge and tape deck, this one had a 10-disc automatic-changing record player. It was bought to Australia in 1968 by the Benevolent Society of NSW to raise money for charity. Elvis, or one of his handlers, even filled it with toys for children in need.
As Levinson describes it, the car had ”40 coats of exterior paint made with pearl and diamond dust, while oriental fish scales were used on the outside. Hubcaps, wheel covers, headlight rims and the front grille were plated in 24-carat gold. Gold lame drapes covered the back windows and separated the front and back seats. Truly a vehicle fit for a King!”. The tour raised nearly $150,000 (the car is in Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame).
Jim Porter, who with 25 other Elvis club members is scheduled to arrive in Memphis this week to celebrate the annual Elvis Week (August 10 to 18), has already begun planning a 30th anniversary tour of Graceland. ”My personal love of Elvis is not going to die.”