If he were still among us, Elvis Presley would have celebrated his 72nd birthday on 8 January. And if for the great majority of the Portuguese people the king is dead, for another part he is very much alive. Elvis 100% Fan Club dedicates itself to the preservation of the Elvis memory in our country.
“The first time I looked at him, I was 9 years old and I thought: this man is my friend! And he remained my special friend every since.” Célia Carvalho is 36 years old, two years had been gone after Elvis’s death when her first visual contact with the artist occurred and, on that moment, her only thought was: “I can’t believe he’s dead, why haven’t I heard about him sooner?” She laughs when she recalls the episode of the little girl who soon realizes she will never have the chance to meet a recent loved idol. On the contrary to what might be expected, the admiration grew with time and age. Elvis does not need to be alive to keep on having the magnetic effect that he always had over people. On the contrary, his untimely disappearance only served to reanimate the flame of old fans and to create new generations of admirers. We only have to look at Graceland during celebrating times, such as the birth and death dates of the singer. Events that Célia shares with us in first hand. She already went to Memphis, Tennessee twice, the first time in 1997, during the 20th Anniversary over Elvis’ death, and the second time in 2002: “It was raining and I didn’t think that it would be the same. Before I went there, I thought that those people were crazy.” Célia refers to the thousands of people that each year go to Memphis to pay homage to their idol during the night that is now known as the Candle Light Vigil, where all the fans get together around Graceland gates, each one of them carrying a candle, to pay their tribute to the singer on the day that marks his passing. “I don’t know what I feel, I can’t explain it, I just know I cried and cried. They say, ‘Let us sing the song that Elvis sang to all of us during his lifetime, let us sing him his song, let us show the world we love him.’” And everyone sings Can’t Help Falling In Love in one voice, the song with which he ended most of his concerts and that Elvis dedicated to his audience. Célia says that this was, without any doubt, one of the most marking moments of her life: “When all those people started singing Can’t Help Falling In Love… many of them didn’t even speak English, but they knew how to sing Can’t Help Falling In Love.”
But, in the end, what did this man had of so special to keep on moving millions of people throughout the world? It is best to reformulate the question: What does this man have of so special? – When we speak about a myth that fills such great proportions, it is almost compulsory to use the present tense, whether he is dead or alive. Célia ensures that far from being the king that everyone claimed him to be – “Elvis himself denied that denomination: I am not the king, the king is up in heaven and is Jesus Christ, I’m just a singer.” Elvis Presley was, above all, a man. A man behind that persona created by the media, by the fans and, in the end, by himself, even if in a subconscious or, even, innocent way. “He was a gentleman, he was humble and he genuinely loved people. When groups of lots of hysterical fans gathered around his house, unlike the others, Elvis didn’t call the police, he didn’t keep them away, he only said: “’Let these people be, this isn’t my house, it’s their house as well, because if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t even have this place to live.’” Therefore, we are talking about a man that behind all that exuberance, he left for others any star mannerisms. A Southern man, with strong religious believes and well defined family values. He was respectful for everybody and he liked to help others. The great part of charity work that he did or charity institutions with which he collaborated were done anonymously, since when he did so, he did it for the pleasure of helping others, not to call the media’s attention. Besides he did not need that type of demonstration to call media’s attention. Beyond his human qualities, Célia highlights the versatility as an entertainer: “He was the king of rock, but he did not sing only rock, he sang the blues, he sang gospel. He could sing anything he liked and he always did it well.” At the same time that she explains to us that her musical preferences go much beyond Elvis Presley, Célia makes sure to tell us that many of the discoveries that she did music wise were also done because of Elvis.
We are at Célia Carvalho and José João Simões’s house, two of the founding members of Elvis 100% Fan Club. Don’t let be fooled by thinking that at this moment I am before two physically demarked typifications of their own tastes. No. Celia is not wearing a round skirt, just like Zé João is not exhibiting a big pompadour over his forehead. As much a vague description this must sound like, they are, simply two normal people: “People usually expect us to be some sort of bunch of crazy people who only think about Elvis. They always expect us to have something physically similar to Elvis, big pompadours and similar stuff. Then they look at us and get disappointed, because we’re just two regular people,” Célia tells us so. A tireless communicator. She immediately offered to welcome me at her place and, just as I walked in, she started making me questions: “I always loved journalism very much, I wouldn’t mind to be a journalist myself.” Célia works as a personal secretary and translator. She is the Public Relations of the Fan Club: she establishes contacts, organizes events.
In the same room, sitting in the couch, a little farther away, is Zé João. More reserved than Célia, he lets her take charge of the conversations. Once in a while he makes a comment or two. When the subject excites him a bit more, he dares to speak: “If this was for television he wouldn’t even be here, he dies with shame.” He shyly laughs. Together they make a perfect balance. Only after a while did he start to intervene, more with gestures than with words. It is with an almost childish pleasure that he shows us his DVDs and vinyl collection. He is a dedicated collector. Some of the items are just as they were when they were bought, so they won’t lose their collection value. Célia does not understand the point of “having all this if we can’t listen to it”, to which Zé replies: “All the things that are still in mint conditions I have them in other formats, I can listen to them whenever I want. But these I have them just for the simple pleasure of acquisition, by their collection value.” They have around 150 books on Elvis, the discography is likewise impressive, not mentioning the DVDs and other items related to the singer.
The idea to create the Fan Club was born right in the same room where we are now standing. It was January 2001. Célia tells us: “We were here, the 4 of us: me, Zé João, and another couple of friends of ours, who are also Elvis fans and we had the idea to create an Elvis Fan Club. We did a raffle and the Number One fan member was attributed to me! Then we gathered the mother of the girl friend that was here and the girls and we were already 7!” The girls are Zé João’s daughters. The oldest is really an Elvis fan, she liked him from the beginning, she listens to his music and knows how to sing his songs. The youngest, although she enjoys Elvis, is not as an enthusiast as her sister. Both are free to stop liking Elvis whenever they want.
The Fan Club gained more notoriety after the publication of an article on Correio da Manhã newspaper, in 2001, shortly after its creation. “Our goal was to reach the 100 members mark, which was already a big goal for an Elvis Presley Fan Club in Portugal. There was a time when we reached the 115 mark!” Presently they are 58 members. Some people stop paying their membership fees and they’re out from that moment onwards. The Fan Club survives strictly from the annual membership fee the members pay, which costs € 14,00, has a bimonthly magazine, also produced by Célia, which is the base for everything: many of the members are members just because of the magazine. The Fan Club does not have fixed headquarters and its members usually meet around commemorative dates, such as Elvis’s birthday date. They also meet around the date of the singer’s death, but they don’t do it with the intention to celebrate the date, but to celebrate him. On these occasions they organize celebration lunches where they gather the maximum possible number of people, whereas gathering everybody is impossible. The Fan Club has members not just in Portugal, but also in different countries such as Brasil, Romania, Norway, France and England. “Many of these people came to us through the publication of an article of two pages in the magazine of the biggest Elvis Presley Fan Club in the world, which is in England,” Célia explains.
The Fan Club has already organized events that deserve to be highlighted, such as a movie cycle dedicated to Elvis, jointly organized with Cinemateca Portuguesa (Portuguese Museum of Cinema), a screening of a concert at the auditorium of Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Discoveries Monument in Lisbon), a weekend dedicated to the artist around his birthday date two years ago with FNAC at Almada and an art exhibition, a biennial of plastic arts in Lisbon. They have also been contacted by schools and a theatre group to help them promoting and giving suggestions for a theatre play having per basis Elvis’s life.
One of the main goals of the Fan Club is to help other causes through collected donations for charity. Just like Elvis did when he was alive, the members of the Fan Club intend to revert their collected donations to those who need it the most. Curiously enough, it was through one of these demonstrations that they got more publicity. In 2002, they have helped Casa de Betânia, a house that welcomes handicapped youngsters and adults, in Queijas. The news was out on Jornal da Região newspaper and shortly after they were contacted by SIC TV channel, who wanted to make a report on the institution. “The interest by the media always helps, it calls other admirers’ attention to our existence.” Presently, the main divulgation for the Fan Club is done through their website, created by Célia. There all information on the Fan Club is available, as well as biographical data on the singer.
Célia regrets the lack of availability that comes with time as life takes other contours: “I wish I had more free time to dedicate myself to the Fan Club’s activities, so we could be more active, but it is impossible, mainly because I have to do practically everything by myself.” The other founders have been more absent themselves, for personal reasons. “We do what we can, having the availability and economic restrictions in mind.”
In spite of all the difficulties, the pleasure that Célia and Zé João show while they speak about Elvis and the Fan Club itself cannot be hidden. It is reflected not just in Célia’s speech, but in the way they both look at the images of one of the last concerts that the singer performed, screened on TV. His image is the one associated with his latter years: white jumpsuit, fat, more than that, bloated by the medication, sweaty face. His voice, that, is unshakable and he sings with a vigour that he did not possess at 20, a version of Sinatra’s My Way. They both get silent and attentively follow the movements before their eyes.
Célia says: “I don’t feel sorry for him anymore when I look at him looking this way. I just feel like squeezing those cheeks!”