The King Is Dead: Long Live Elvis!

Elvis is alive and well and living - of all places - in the Museum of Musical Culture in Moscow.


His Russian fans have founded a federation-wide club based in the museum boasting over a thousand members. The club holds regular lectures on Elvi's life and musical roots, and plans a temporary Elvis exhibition timed to open in January 1994, the 59th anniversary of Presley's birth.


On Monday, Aug. 16 - the 16th anniversary of Presley's death - the seven members of the club's governing council will gather to mark The King's death in traditional Russian fashion: they will place a glass of vodka and a piece of black bread in front of a photograph of Presley.


The Russian fascination with Elvis is one more manifestation of the international craze for the rock star, but with an approach that is uniquely Russian.


Nadezhda Sevnitskaya, 48, the founder of the club, feels that Americans do not fully understand Elvi's genius. In the United States, all the books about Presley are fixated "on his image", rather than on his musical talent, she said.


Sevnitskaya says she and fellow club members will listen to Presley's music on the 16th and recall his life through books and photographs.


She first heard "Love Me Tender" at a friend's house in 1957, at the age of 12. It was true love. For Sevnitskaya, Elvis is "everything". After the death of both her husband and mother in 1986, Presley's music helped to sustain her, she said.


Presley is a beacon not only for his contemporaries. Grigory Kuzmin, 20, a sound engineer and a founding member of the club, was also smitten with the Presley bug at age 12.


"Elvis is a way of life", he said.


Kuzmin has collected over 400 Elvis recordings. He helped to publish the first two recordings in a series of eight to be put out by the club, including 30 of Presley's early songs.


Kuzmin said the tradition of Elvis impersonators, which is common in the United States, is frowned upon in Russia.


"It is only a cheap imitation and disrespectful", he said.


Sevnitskaya and Kuzmin estimate that there are over 2 million Elvis fans in Russia, judging by the demand for his recordings in Moscow.


The Elvis Presley Fan Club was registered officially in 1990 with the Ministry of Justice, but will begin a formal sign-up of members only this October due to bureaucratic obstacles, Kuzmin said.


"It took us six months just to explain what a 'fan' was", he said. "They thought it was something you dry your hair with".


The club began informally in 1981, when Sevnitskaya started a lecture series on Presley's life, she said. She has developed 21 lectures, which often last as long as four hours each, including material on the history of Rock & Roll, Rhythm & Blues, Country and Soul, as well as five lectures dedicated to Presley's own life, she said.


Arkady Kovalenko, 50, a former fact-checker with the Pravda newspaper, calls himself a "solo" Elvis fan. He prefers to "celebrate Elvis" in his own way, by playing Presley's music every day, rather than by joining the club. On Aug. 16 he will "raise his glass" to the rock star.


Presley "played a very strong role" in Kovalenko's life by leading him to American gospel music and an interest in religion, he said.


"I have a more serious attitude toward Elvis than many young people today", he said.


For Anatoly Panyushkin, 59, director of the Museum of Musical Culture, Elvis Presley "brings back my youth".


"It's too bad his life went badly toward the end", Panyushkin said. "I get tears in my eyes at the sound of 'My Way'".