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Elvis of the North

He just wants to sing you a song

Lynn Lau
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Aug 27/01) - Last week, on a cold and rainy day, something strange and unexpected blew into town. It was Elvis Aaron Presley of Tagish, Yukon, arriving in a whirlwind of energy and colour.

Lynn Formerly Gilbert Norman Nelles, now legally Elvis Aaron Presley. - Lau/NNSL photo

He arrived Wednesday, a day before the 24th anniversary of the original King's death. He performed at the Mad Trapper pub, posed for photos, and gave away bumper stickers and CDs.

Then, Monday morning, he drove away, back down the Dempster in his red 1980 Pontiac Acadian -- a little hatchback adorned with plaster angels and a big spread-eagle ornament glued to the hood.

The streets of Inuvik seemed somehow less colourful without him.

It was hard to know what to make of this 45-year-old Elvis of the North, a regional celebrity in his home territory who really thinks he's Elvis. Unlike other guys with an Elvis act, this guy is Elvis all the time.

He had his name legally changed to Elvis Aaron Presley in 1995. His sideburns are real, and he wears his Elvis eagle outfit wherever he goes. His sunglasses are a permanent fixture. If you ask him why he wears his funny outfit all the time, he'll say, "That's when I feel the best in this world."

It's Sunday afternoon and Elvis and I are sitting outside the Cafe Gallery.

Someone interrupts us to ask for a photo. He obligingly strikes a pose, sings a few stanzas and drawls that famous "Thankya, thankya very much."

"You love that," I say, when he returns to his seat.

"No, I'm used to it," he counters.

"No, you love it," I say.

"Okay, I love it. I love it because I experience the love from people."

Earlier I'd asked him what's so great about being Elvis.

He'd answered: "You see how people, for that split second they come into my life, all their problems and negativity are instantly lifted? They experience an absolute calm and peace -- happiness."

Maybe comic relief would be a better description for the reaction he provokes, but it's something. People smile to watch him break into song on the sidewalk or in the grocery store. They smile when they see him in performance, a jumble of enthusiasm belting out a tune off key. He doesn't mind. He's a public spectacle.r

Until 1986, he was a relatively normal guy. Born Gilbert Norman Nelles in Whitehorse, July 28, 1956. Elvis was the second in a family of four siblings. He says he never got along with his mother and is convinced she never loved him.

When he was 14, he left home. He hitchhiked across the country several times, lived in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia, learned to be a cook, taught himself to paint, went to college for a while but quit before he graduated, married and divorced twice, and then moved to Tagish in his late 20s to built himself a cabin which has since become a tourist attraction

Flying saucers and aliens

Then, he'll tell you, one day in 1986, he had an encounter with aliens. That's when he knew he and Elvis Presley were one and the same.

That story, involving your run-of-the-mill flying saucer with flashing lights and short aliens with big shiny eyes, is posted on his Web site at www.elvis-a-presley-graceland.com.

After the encounter, he could suddenly sing.

Strange not crazy

It's easy to write the man off as another village nutbar, suffering from delusions of grandeur. But after hanging out with him for the better part of the weekend, it was clear to me that Elvis is eccentric, but not crazy.

He's all about negative and positive energies, karma, dreams and omens. He comes across as almost holy, in a goofy kind of way.

"Elvis Presley and I are of one conscious awareness," he says. "Just like the whole world is of the conscious awareness of God."

His performances in Inuvik are the first time he's been on a stage with a band in years. He's planning to do a new album, called Armageddon Angel, and he's going to be the subject of a rock documentary during a five-stop all-Yukon tour with drummer Charlie Rose and the Moir Brothers, a guitar-playing duo out of Whitehorse. A Whitehorse businessman, Adam Green, is financing the project.

To prepare for the movie, Elvis is going to add a cape to his outfit.

Zen attitude overcomes all

Being Elvis all the time is not all fun. When he arrived here, some young punks called him names and kicked him, and then busted an angel and a leg off the giant plastic eagle on his car. It seems to happen to him in every new town he visits.

The way he sees it, he's a conduit for negative energy when he first arrives in a town, but by the time he leaves, he experiences only positive energy.

"You can kick me, steal from me, abuse me, and defame me," he says. "I've had it all before. But you can't take anything away from me. And I'll still sing for you. Maybe I'll sing a few sad ones first, but I'll still sing for you."

That's the Zen of Elvis of the North.