EL SEGUNDO, CA. The Elvis subculture is a diverse population of fans, producers/managers, and entertainers. These are people, individuals, whose varying degrees of admiration for Elvis Presley seek to take part in his legacy. Mike Leahy is one of those individuals who has carved out his niche in the Elvis subculture as Clownvis the King of Clowns.
It is easy to make a quick judgment about Leahy’s alter ego. Is it tribute? Is it just an act? Is it disrespectful? I had my reservations about Clownvis the King of Clowns when I met him at the Is Elvis in El Segundo? contest at the Rock & Brews restaurant. I asked him if he was an Elvis fan and he said, yes, then stated his upper left arm adorns a large Elvis tattoo I didn’t ask to see. He would have had to strip down his jumpsuit. So, I dug a little deeper and googled him in order to form a better opinion beyond the make up.
Mike Leahy is a musician, songwriter, and front man for the psychobilly band, 7 Shot Screamers, and has released three albums: I Was A Teenage 7 Shot Screamer (2001), Keep The Flame Alive (2004), and 7 Shot Screamers In Wonderland (2006). (Wikipedia (n.d.); 7 Shot Screamers. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7_Shot_Screamers). He appeared on America’s Got Talent as Clownvis and was rejected immediately after singing the first lyrics to Old MacDonald had a Farm. The rejection was followed by an argumentative bevy of insults by Clownvis directed at each of the judges (video). The one directed at Howie Mandel was kind of funny. The audience hated him too.
Leahy is also the grandson of the late Earl Sydney Weaver. Weaver was the Baltimore Orioles manager and is inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Earl Weaver managed the Orioles with intensity, flair, and acerbic wit for 17 seasons. He fashioned an impressive .583 winning percentage bolstered by five 100-win seasons (1969-1971 and 1979-1980). Known for his innovative managerial style and his colorful confrontations with the men in blue, the Earl of Baltimore won 1,480 games, six American League East titles, four pennants and the 1970 World Series (Hall of Famers (1996); Weaver, Earl. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from http://baseballhall.org/hof/weaver-earl).
One trivia fact noted on the Hall of Fame website is in 1975 Weaver pioneered the use of radar guns in professional baseball to track the speed of pitches.
Weaver passed away on January 19, 2013 and Leahy spoke at his funeral service and shared his Grandpa Earl’s feelings about his band and Clownvis.
When I grew up, he loved the 7 Shot Screamers and Clownvis. He always kept up with how I was doing, where I was going, and how much money I was getting paid for these gigs. He wasn’t too happy with Clownvis on America’s Got Talent, one of his favorite shows. But when I talked to him about it, I explained that when I was up there arguing with those judges, I was evoking HIM! I could tell he got it, although I also realized old people don’t necessarily understand a punk rock attitude. He ended that conversation by saying, “Well, if you’re happy with it, I trust ya.”.
In my rebellious, young adult days I probably would have embraced Leahy’s pyschobilly/punkabilly genre of loud, raw music, but it no longer appeals to me in my 40s. I guess that’s just maturity, but I am not the demographic audience Clownvis appeals to. The music and videos of his raucous act often include strippers, vulgar language, and lots of parodies. I particularly liked his Barack O’s Tacos video, but for the most part I think the show and videos are chintzy.
To reiterate, I am not the key demographic for Leahy’s genre and act. His audience are the anarchists, non-conformist youth and young adults of America. It’s all part of the punk rock attitude that spits in the face of authority, religion, morality, social/political norms, and conformity. In terms of Elvis, conformity would be paying tribute to him in the form the majority of Elvis fans expect and in the way ETAs do. That’s not Clownvis. That’s not punk.
Is Clownvis a tribute to Elvis? Yes, in the subculture of punkers, and to Leahy, it is tribute to Elvis in their interpretation of the King of Rock and Roll. It is Leahy’s way of expressing his admiration for Elvis to the punkers. The tribute is more towards Elvis’ accidental rebellion of the norm for music and subsequent rejection by the social status quo in his era. If anything, Elvis set the foundation for the droves of youthful, rebellious music ever since and still thrives in the music underground. Punkers can relate to this type of tribute.
Traditional Elvis fans will probably be offended by Clownvis or write it off as a joke, for lack of understanding punk rock. Nevertheless, it’s still tribute to the underground subculture of punkers. Admittedly, I was offended when I first saw Clownvis until I walked in his shoes, in a matter of speaking, through a bit of research. I don’t particularly like the Clownvis act, but respect Leahy’s interpretative method of Elvis for Clownvis fans.
I would like to see Leahy wash off the clown make up and do an accurate, authentic tribute to Elvis in the traditional sense of tribute. After watching and listening to him sing during the contest I think he could pull it off. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see him competing in an ETA contest in the near future without Clownvis.