I recently saw “Elvis”; the movie by Baz Luhrmann. I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it because I’ve been such a big Elvis fan my whole life. No one can really be that good. There is nothing worse than watching someone trying to capture the unattainable. Sitting through over two hours of a bad impersonation. I’ve got to say this movie surprised me. As it went along, I settled into the gloss of it all, and began to let go of the idea that Austin Butler doesn’t look like Elvis. No one looks like Elvis. Something incredible happened though. Despite this, by the end of the movie, I couldn’t tell if I was watching the actor or the real Elvis. He had managed to capture his magic, his persona, his electrical energy, his combustable sexuality and his dancing The dancing and singing is incredible. Elvis was the music. Every cell of his body vibrated with each song. I don’t think he thought about how he was moving. He just moved. Somehow Austin Butler nailed it. I highly recommend it for anyone who has loved Elvis.
This brings me to another Elvis. When I was growing up in the 1970’s there was a kid who started impersonating Elvis in the Subway stations in Toronto. He was 16 years old in 1970 and his name is Mike McTaggert. Later he would become “Subway Elvis”. I was too young to see him perform, and didn’t live downtown, but I’d heard about him from baby sitters and older relatives. One day my mum took my sister and I to the Canadian National Exhibition and we rode the Subway. I was 8 years old. The train screeched into the station and the packed cars spewed its passengers onto the platform where a sweaty guy with jet black hair wailed ” You ain’t nothing but a hound dog!” He was twitching and thrashing with his guitar and a massive group of people surrounded him and danced along. I was mesmerized. I had never witnessed anything so wild. My mum was laughing saying ” It’s young Elvis. My sister wanted a candy floss so I was dragged away but I never forgot seeing him
A few years later, in the summer, I went over to my friends apartment, which was exciting because I didn’t know anyone that lived in a big towering building like this, with elevators, a swimming pool and a gym. I was 11 years old. We played in her room for awhile trying to ditch her 6 year old sister but she was sticking to us like glue. Eventually the talk moved onto my encounter on the platform that one day with Subway Elvis. Now everyone knew who he was. There was a pause and then my friend told me that, none other than Michel McTaggert, lived in her building! We went down to the lobby and read the occupants names. We saw his apartment number and proceeded to go up to the 15th floor. We nervously lined up in the hallway in front of his door and eventually got the nerve up to knock. An older woman came and opened the door. It was Subway’s mum. We sheepishly said, “Is Subway home?” She smiled and said that Subway was down at the swimming pool but would be back in a little bit. We hung our heads and said thank you. I was devastated because I wanted to see him up close and personal. We got onto the elevator to head back up to her apartment and as our elevator door was closing the one opposite us opened to reveal a tall man with wet, jet black hair flipping it out of his eyes. He had a towel wrapped around his waist and a white robe with the collar turned up. He didn’t notice us as our door closed immediately. We started squealing and went back to her apartment waiting an agonizing fifteen minutes before we hopped back on the elevator up to the 15th floor. Once again we stood nervously in front of his door and knocked. We heard footsteps and suddenly the door was flung open. We stood there gasping for air. He was dressed in a black shirt with white stars on the lapels. He had on black slacks and black leather boots. He sneered a smile at us.
“Are you Subway?”, we asked. “Well, yes…. yes I am. Do you wanna come in?” We giggled and came into the apartment. It was a normal looking place with family photos on tables and little miniature dog statues amongst a display of fancy tea cups. There were floral paintings on the walls and it smelled like cookies. Subway told us to sit on the couch and we lined up quietly.
“How about a song or two?” We said, yes please, and he went to grab his guitar. He swaggered back in wielding his acoustic.
His mother yelled out from the kitchen, “Subway”… she called him Subway…. “play that song I love so much; when you walk through a storm”.
“Ahhhhh…. I”m not playing that! Mind your own business!” I was hoping he’d play Hound dog because it was my favourite. He started strumming and then wailed, “Since my baby left me! I found a new place to dwell…..” Heartbreak Hotel wasn’t exactly what we wanted but we sat quietly and clapped when he finished. He sounded so much like Elvis. His mum came in the living room and put a plate of cookies on the table for us and we all took one. Subway looked a little peeved but he shoved a cookie down anyway.
“OK girls… one more song. ” He started plucking slowly and started singing “love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go.” His lip was twitching and the 6 year old started to laugh. She couldn’t help it. We all started giggling in hysterics. I tried to hold it in and my eyes started watering. I have to give him credit for continuing on and leaning in to each and everyone of us doing his most sincere and best Elvis. When he finished we clapped again and then stood up.
He escorted us to the door and said, “Thank you …. thank you very much.”
We tore into the hallway screaming. It was the funniest thing we’d ever seen and it was torture sitting there when he was so serious, giving his all to these little goofy girls. What a nice man… or boy I guess.
It doesn’t end there. Subway upgraded to having a full band and playing in clubs around the city, so on my 25th birthday, I declared that I wanted to spend it with a bunch of screaming girls watching our favourite Elvis. We put on our best duds and headed out to sing along with the King of the impersonators. He didn’t disappoint and did his best to pull off some fancy foot work will reaching a hand to the sky, dropping down on one knee, sweat pouring off of him. He was into the jump suit phase. I never did see the real Elvis but thanks to Mike McTaggert I saw someone that looked nothing like him but sounded an awful lot like him. It was enough for me. I don’t know what happened to him and I imagine he doesn’t perform anymore. He must be in his mid 70’s by now, far out living his hero. I was at a show once with my in-laws, and partner, who are all musicians. It was a big show around Christmas. My father in law suddenly said , “Hey we should get Subway Elvis down here to do some songs!” We all thought that was an amazing idea. He called Mike and Mike hummed and hawed and said he didn’t have a car and couldn’t make it… we looked at each and said, if only there was some form of transportation he could take.
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