By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
I am standing in a house at the end of a dirt road within shooting distance of the Superstitions, holding a pair of Elvis Presley's sunglasses in my hand.
They are plated in silver and gold, the glass is tinted a light purple. The letters "EP" are molded between the lenses above the bridge where the King's nose once protruded, and "TCB" is engraved near the hinges of the stems that once led to the ears of the man who was the Boy Who Dared to Rock.
"TCB" means "Taking Care of Business."
I lift the sacred eyewear close to my face and look through the colored glass, seeing the world in the same shade as once did the Hillbilly Cat himself. I move them toward me as if to actually put them on my head.
That's when I see the look of sheer panic erupt across the face of Paul Lichter.
That's Paul Lichter--among other things, self-proclaimed best-selling Elvis author of all time (12 books, 17 million copies, his 13th, EP in Concert, due out next month), a PR man to Presley for some 10 years, a pallbearer at the January funeral of Colonel Tom Parker (who was godfather to Lichter's son Tristan Elvis), and the owner/operator of the 27-year-old Paul Lichter's Elvis Unique Record Club. Unique because it offers for sale arguably the biggest collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia on the planet.
Including the dark glasses fit for the King. Lichter says they are worth roughly $30,000. And, apparently, my head is bigger than Elvis', thus potentially damaging to the shades through which the King perhaps trained his droopy gaze seductively at a bouffanted Priscilla, or picked out glittering jumpsuits, or maybe eyed the contents of his medicine cabinet.
I hand them back to Lichter; he places them carefully back in the case along with an additional five pairs of Elvis glasses. Other things are in that case, too: Elvis' beaded turquoise macrame belt, Elvis' backstage passes, scarves Elvis wore onstage, Elvis' personal movie scripts (with the letter A's and O's hand-colored in with red and blue ink), a Christmas card from Elvis and the Colonel, napkins from Elvis' trash, a button that says "Oy Gevalt Elvis!"
Elvis may well have left the proverbial building that is this mortal coil, but his stuff lives on here in Lichter's spacious home in the middle of the desert. Yet this is no crazed, drooling shrine to the late Pelvis, this is a business, by God. Lichter has sold to fanatics from all walks of life, from unknown, rich Japanese men to simple housewives to John Lennon, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney (their autographed pictures are all over Lichter's office) and others so great that Lichter refuses to reveal their identities.
And, though lists can be tedious, this magnificent trove of Presleyania demands at least a little tallying.
On one wall, carefully sleeved in plastic and shaded from light to avoid fading, are copies of every piece of vinyl Elvis ever recorded, according to Lichter.
There are 45s, 78s, LPs, EPs, pieces from around the world. There are Elvis' personal acetates that he gave to Lichter. Personally. There are numerous signed photos of the King smiling, pouting, scowling, chuckling, flirting. There's Elvis' karate outfit with "Master Tiger" embroidered on it, along with a patch that says "TCB Faith Spirit Discipline." I notice what appear to be sweat stains on the material, and ask Lichter if these are, in fact, the sweat stains of Elvis. He says, "Yes."
Without even thinking, I reach out and touch those sweat stains.
There's Elvis' red shirt displayed on a slightly larger-than-life-size bust of a happily snarling King, complete with drops of perspiration cascading down his fiber-glass face. I touch that shirt, too.
There are thousands of catalogued photos of you-know-who, many of them never seen, that Lichter leases to various publications. There are 4,000 Elvis CDs. There are crates of Russell Stover Elvisª Valentine candies.
"When this stuff came out, we found out too late," laments Lichter. "I had to run around to every Walgreens, and I bought every one I could get my hands on. They thought I was sick, but what do you do? The bottom line is, in five years, you'll be able to double your money on this. Or you'll eat it."
It is this kind of intrepid spirit that has allowed Lichter to become King of the King collectors; in addition to the cache here at his desert compound, there are "three warehouses of this stuff where most of it's kept," he reveals, "and most of the personal belongings are in cement vaults so there can't be fire and there's no elements."
I wonder if anyone else anywhere has this much Elvis.
"Maybe, but I've never heard of 'em," he boasts. "There's people that have big collections, but I guess the answer to that is no. There'd be no way that they could."
Here's how a simple guy from Pennsylvania, a late-'60s teen, gained an audience with Elvis and became all that you just read about.
"I used to manage the Soul Survivors ["Expressway to Your Heart," No. 4, fall of '67], and I was a frustrated rock 'n' roller myself," says the clean-domed Lichter as he fires up the first of many Kools. "Back in those days, it wasn't popular to be an Elvis fan; you had to be a closet freak. Clambake just wasn't holding up to Rubber Soul. I was an Elvis fan, but I was quiet about it.