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Don't Be Cruel

Of all the artists to pick for an antiviolence fund-raiser theme, Elvis Presley should be on the short list of "don't"s. But the folks at TLC Counseling and Training Center may have had one too many fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches when it came time to choose a face to put on their fund-raiser. The second annual "Houston Salutes the King of Rock and Roll" will take place this Sunday at Garden in the Heights. Proceeds will go toward TLC, a nonprofit organization, as a handpicked partner of Mayor Brown's Peace Initiative.

The El Orbits, Chadd Thomas & The Crazy Kings, The Fondue Monks, Luxurious Panthers and Shag will perform. Each band will play only Elvis covers and each will get about a half hour at the only outdoor stage. (Though there's another stage inside for rain.) Stephen Boado and Lucky LaRue will emcee.

To boot, the entire event has been approved by Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. And why not? The King never said a cross word to anyone, never raised his fist in anger and never unloaded a revolver at a fuzzy television set.

Well, kinda.

If we trace back over the career of Presley, we see that violence was always integral to his lifestyle. Remember those movies? Charro!, Kissin' Cousins, Clambake? Did Presley ever play a character who didn't know how to throw a roundhouse right? And which King of Rock and Roll was it who was sent to Germany in 1958 as a member of the 750-man 32nd Tank Battalion, Third Armored Division? Wasn't Little Richard.

Violence also was a key element in the King's music. "Jailhouse Rock" went to No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts in 1957. But would Presley have needed to rock up the jailhouse if he weren't there for good reason? Same with "Blue Christmas" in 1965. Very few people know that the original title was "Black and Blue Christmas."

This is not cause for concern, though. At least not according to the Schneider sisters of TLC. Sister Karen, TLC assistant director, rationalizes: "I was watching a show on the King, and there was this scene of him, like, six weeks before died, and he was crying and was depressed. And I thought, 'This [event] would be perfect to do. It all relates to him.'

"He was so angry and miserable with himself that he ended up killing himself. He had everything in the world, but he didn't have inside what he needed to live. And it just hit me," like one of Presley's sucker punches, "that this [theme] would be perfect."

Okay. The connection between Presley's self-loathing and TLC's dedication to combat self-loathing makes a little sense (even though it seems the idea was imposed on the theme, not the other way around).

But when I asked event organizer Patrick Devlin about the connection between the King and antiviolence, I got a more candid response. Says Devlin with a laugh: "I've got no idea."

He laughs again: "I'm just an Elvis fan. I went to Garden in the Heights about six months before last year's event and told them about this Elvis tribute idea I had. They seemed to like it, but they didn't tell me until about a month before the show. I threw it together, and we had a great turnout. But we gotta do some things a little different this year.

"Last year, everything was great, but there was a little something missing."

Stamping King Presley's face on an antiviolence fund-raiser wasn't the problem. It was timing and structure. Last year's event landed on the day of Presley's 1977 death, August 16. So not only was Devlin's show overshadowed by morbidity, it was overshadowed by somethingŠ larger.

"I never realized," says Devlin, "how many people -- people from Houston -- make the trip up to Graceland every year."

And though Devlin says last year's turnout was "great," the inaugural Elvis event raised only about $600, according to Pam Schneider, TLC coordinator. That's hardly enough to cover the $7,500 cost of implementing one TLC program in one HISD school. So this year TLC and Devlin are putting on the show on Sunday, September 19, and are including much more Elvis stuff.

There will be Elvis art cars, Elvis trinkets, Elvis impersonators, Elvis boxing gloves (just kidding) and, of course, Elvis music. Devlin's Celtic rock band, 5 Easy Payments, is also on the list of performers.

Devlin remembers growing up in Ireland, listening to the Presley 45s of his Michigan-born mother, which he could do only once she was out of the house. He has been in the United States for the past 13 years and in Houston the past nine. He says his band, in its many incarnations, has always been -- even if just for a little bit -- "Elvis with a fiddle."

That's pretty funny, huh? Presley with a fiddle across his shoulder? But it isn't. If there's one thing Devlin wants to be sure of, it's that this event is in no way anti-Elvis. Just antiviolence.

"I've just seen how fanatical people get," says Devlin, "and I'm cautious. I want them to know I'm not making fun of Elvis but am having fun with his music." He chuckles. "I'm just hoping he was really antiviolent."

So does TLC. The organization began as a preschool program for troubled kids in 1987 and became a full-service counseling center in 1991. Pam Schneider says she spoke to the mayor's office in January, when she was asked to raise funds for the Peace Initiative independent of the city. "I guess [the city's] just slow at raising funds, so they asked us to do it ourselves."

That's when TLC looked to that great black velvet painting in the sky. TLC knew last year's event had great fund-raising potential but thought that with additional advertising and a little patience the Elvis occasion could grow -- like the King himself -- into something even bigger. A couple hundred people are expected.

Just be leery of anyone in blue suede shoes. You know what'll happen if you step on one.

X Marks the Bard

What better way to turn young people on to classical music than by using a little cross-marketing to get them to listen to it.

Getting twenty- and thirtysomethings to, at least, hear Mendelssohn et al. is the mission of Orchestra X. Generation X's answer to classical music in Houston will come into its third season full of unstuffy, T-shirt-and-jeans programs. First of its offerings is "Shakespeare in Love with Orchestra X," named after the 1998 Oscar-winner for best film. Among others, another is "Amadeus, Madman for the Millennium," and another is "Once Upon a Toon."

Notice anything unusual?

Sure. Even though the music is from the days of carriage-buggies and knickers, the program titles are all in some way tied into the culture of this century and the next. But that's not where the tie-ins stop.

Take this weekend's "Shakespeare in Love with Orchestra X." Orchestra X will be performing at the atrium of the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture on the University of Houston campus. For the two nights of the performance, the atrium will be Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Period design and interior accents will mark the transformation.

Also during performances, UH's theater program actors will play out scenes from some of the songs, which are based in title and composition on Shakespeare's work. There's Otto Nicolai's "Merry Wives of Windsor Overture," Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream Overture," Dvorak's "Othello Overture" and Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture."

So there you have music, most of which attempts to translate Shakespeare's words page by page into something auditory, the setting and the visuals. It's classical timelessness in a youthful wrapper.

That's not to say Orchestra X may not have its naysayers. Some say if you need to use gimmickry to attract an audience, you may not attract the audience you want. To this, Orchestra X founder/conductor/artistic director John Axelrod says: "Anyone who says a young audience doesn't have the attention span has dug a grave for classical music. We have an attention span. We just get things quicker. That's it.

"Traditional purists say, 'We're not giving you the opportunity to educate people in a way they'd appreciate, and you're not willing to appreciate it on our terms.' They won't bend, and classical music's in the middle. Their audiences age, the young ones don't get interested, and it dies.

"We don't want that last option to happen."

Cross-marketing is, in Axelrod's opinion, a great way to get new ears.

"In our generation, with all the information we receive, our processing is made up of context," he says. "We see an image, we associate that image with a word. We see a word, we associate that with a feeling. We get a feeling, we associate that with a smell. It allows for a greater processing of information. We're just trying to be more practical."

"Shakespeare in Love with Orchestra X" will be this Friday and Saturday. UH's School of Theatre and College of Architecture scholarship funds will be featured charities.

E-mail Anthony Mariani.

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