Small World

The King is alive

You gotta have a gimmick, as the song goes, and musician Robert Lopez found a great one. Proclaiming himself "the cross-cultural caped crusader for truth, justice, and the Mexican-American way," he's been saving the world as El Vez, putting a Chicano twist on the myth of Elvis. An outsider might wonder when Lopez's15 minutes will be up, noting songs like "Immigration Time"—set to the tune of "Suspicious Minds"—and clever PR that describes his character as "the love child of Charo and The King."

"It's a pencil-thin mustache of a joke," he laughs humbly. "And it went around the world and looped it three different times."

The thing about El Vez is that it's not a joke, not in the dismissive sense of the word, anyway. Lopez's creation is founded on honest musicianship—made with real effort, sly craft, and, yeah, a wink or two. Long a popular Seattle draw, the L.A.-based performer is in town, and in character, as part of Teatro ZinZanni, the plush gourmet- dinner-and-quirky-cabaret affair taking place under an elegant tent downtown starting next week.

But back to the act.

"It involves all of Elvis mythology, Mexican mythology, and current events, and rock 'n' roll," he says, in a calm, thoughtful manner light-years away from the flash and kitsch of his alter ego. "I mean, one song can have references to five other songs, from Oasis to the Beatles to the Rolling Stones."

Lopez, who still looks like a clever kid, has had time to hone his skills. He was in a couple of punk rock bands on the California scene in the '70s (his first record, made with the Zeros, can be heard at EMP), and he ran a hip gallery in L.A. in the '80s. A mediocre impersonator at an Elvis-themed show there, and what Lopez calls "the punk rock do-it-yourself idea," inspired him to become his own King.

"I didn't care if I made a fool of myself—that was part of the challenge," he says. "I had only intended to do it once, and the first year I felt like a con artist—how much can I get away with? [I felt like] Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis at the same time. And I guess it kind of backfired, because this August will be 15 years later."

El Vez should suit Seattle and the eclectic ZinZanni just fine. And Lopez is pretty clear on what makes El Vez work. "It's acting globally but thinking Elvis-ly," he explains, grinning at his own sound bite. "It's kind of a great bumper sticker."

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