Eco Elvis aka Matt Riggs entertains audiences with environmental messages. (Courtesy of Matt Riggs)
Eco Elvis is alive and well in Kansas City, Missouri. He’s recycled a dozen of his favorite songs to address environmental issues and performs for audiences of all ages. His alter ego, Matt Riggs, talks with host Bruce Gellerman.
GELLERMAN: The king is alive, well – and recycled – in Kansas City, MO.
[MUSIC: Eco-Elvis "Earth Day Rock" from 'Burnin' Globe' (Matt Riggs – 2006)]
GELLERMAN: Eco-Elvis – green sequin jumpsuit, sideburns and shades – is Matt Riggs, and this is one of the cuts off his CD 'Burnin' Globe.'
[MUSIC: Eco-Elvis "Earth Day Rock" from 'Burnin' Globe' (Matt Riggs – 2006)]
GELLERMAN: Eco Elvis's disc includes a dozen tunes from the King's collection of smash hits, retooled with environmental messages. Matt Riggs has entered the building at the studio of KCUR in Kansas City. Matt, it is a real thrill.
RIGGS: (imitating Elvis' voice) Well thank you very much for having me, man.
GELLERMAN: (laughs) How'd you come up with the inspiration for Eco-Elvis?
RIGGS: Eco-Elvis came about eleven years ago. I was working at a non-profit group here in Kansas City, Missouri, and we were kicking off a recycling program in an office building. And my coworker friend and I were there – we were basically giving out recycling bins, and it was really, really getting boring. And I was thinking, you know, we really need something to make these things more fun and more exciting and interesting.
It was August 16th, the day of Elvis's death, and in walked an Elvis impersonator, and I saw that Elvis impersonator and it just clicked, and I said, that's what we need – we need an Eco-Elvis – or back then I was calling myself Green Elvis, but now I'm Eco-Elvis, but regardless, that's how it came into being.
GELLERMAN: So from those humble origins, a king was born.
RIGGS: That's right.
[MUSIC: Eco-Elvis "Viva Las Vegans" from 'Burnin' Globe' (Matt Riggs – 2006)]
GELLERMAN: Where do the words come from? Is it hard to make up the words to the tunes?
RIGGS: Actually, it's – well like with the song "I Reduce, I Reuse, I Recycle," it's kind of a, a phrasing thing. You know it's like, "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" is the song it's based on, and I just was thinking, 'hmm, that's got three words and "reduce, reuse, recycle" is three words,' and it just – it went from there. The rest of it kind of wrote itself, as it were.
GELLERMAN: Well, let's listen to a little bit of "I Reduce, I Reuse, and I Recycle."
[MUSIC: Eco-Elvis "I Reduce, I Reuse and I Recycle" from 'Burnin' Globe' (Matt Riggs – 2006): "I use less energy, buy less stuff, use less water, yes it's tough, I walk or bike instead of taking the car, I reduce, I reuse, I recycle, with all my heart. I eat only what I need, on the food chain's where I feed, baby..."]
GELLERMAN: (laughing) Matt, I'm in tears.
[MUSIC: Eco-Elvis "I Reduce, I Reuse and I Recycle" from 'Burnin' Globe' (Matt Riggs – 2006):
"...I reduce, I reuse, I recycle, more and more, hear me talkin', baby, hear me talkin'. Well I thought that..."]
GELLERMAN: Your, your outfit – what is it made out of? It looks like an Elvis outfit.
RIGGS: Well, yeah. I try to kind of strike a balance between ecological principles and the need for flash. So part of it's recycled, like the belt is recycled – it's an old weight belt turned around, painted green, uh, then I got bottle caps on there, and then I have pop tabs running up and down the seams of the suit. Without the costume I'm about 6'3", and with – between the hair and the heels on my boots – it's going, it's pushin' seven feet. So it can be quite an intimidating character to enter the room.
GELLERMAN: I like the green Hawaiian lei. That adds a very nice touch.
RIGGS: Yeah (laughs), that classes it up a lot I think.
[MUSIC: Eco-Elvis "Compost Hotel" from 'Burnin' Globe' (Matt Riggs – 2006): "Well...since the landfills are fillin' up, and yard waste isn't allowed, a place that used to waste a lot is now compost hotel, well, it's more friendly baby, it's more friendly, it gives that garbage a second life, well..."]
GELLERMAN: One of my favorites on the CD is your cover of "Heartbreak Hotel."
RIGGS: Have you ever visited the compost hotel?
RIGGS: That's a question I always ask my audiences (laughs).
[MUSIC: Eco-Elvis "Compost Hotel" from 'Burnin' Globe' (Matt Riggs – 2006): "Well the kitchen staff started recycling the bread and vegetable scraps, even the paper towels and coffee filters ladies and gentleman – can go to that compost bin out back, well, it's more friendly, baby..."]
RIGGS: I do, strangely enough (laughs), I mean. I don't actually think that I am Elvis – there are some people out there that think that I am, and that kind of scares me sometimes, but I – it's kind of weird, I put that on, and it kind of – you feel that, the power of Elvis kind of come over me – and the confidence he has and the showmanship, and it's a whole different manner of speaking and acting, and I just kind of totally morph into that character while the costume's on, so.
GELLERMAN: If the king were alive today, you think he would like it? Or would he roll over in his grave? (laughs)
RIGGS: (laughs) I think he would probably like it...is my guess. You know he had a lot of problems, but underneath it he was a humanitarian, he was a good person, and I think given today's dire environmental situation he would probably understand and, you know, say (in Elvis voice) 'go for it, man!'
GELLERMAN: Well, I want to take it down a notch. Let's listen to your version of 'Can't Help Falling In Love.'
[MUSIC: Eco-Elvis "I Can't Help Recycling It All" from 'Burnin' Globe' (Matt Riggs – 2006): "...but I can't help recycling it all, it's true. All creeds say, it is wrong to waste, that's why I can't help recycling it all, it's true. Tiny bits of foil, lids and bottle caps, even post-it notes, I recycle the price-tags off my clothes – yes I do darlin'!"]
GELLERMAN: (laughs) I love that line!
GELLERMAN: (laughing) 'I recycle the price tags off my clothes.'
[MUSIC: Eco-Elvis "I Can't Help Recycling It All" from 'Burnin' Globe' (Matt Riggs – 2006)]
GELLERMAN: You know, Matt, it really does have a message.
RIGGS: Mm-hmm. When I started doing Eco-Elvis, it was more to kind of bring excitement to what I thought were kind of dull events. Doesn't really do much for the cause when people are falling asleep. So I thought, well, Eco-Elvis, you know it's like, if the flashy costume doesn't get 'em the music will, and if the music doesn't get 'em the jokes I crack will, and the antics will. So, you know and if that doesn't get 'em then the message and the words will get 'em. So it's kind of like a, you know, four or five tier punch – if I can't get 'em one way, I'll get 'em another.
GELLERMAN: Well I've always wanted to say this. Matt, (impersonating Elvis' voice) thank ya, thank ya very much! (laughs)
RIGGS: (in Elvis' voice) You're welcome, man. Stop by Graceland sometime. I'll show ya around baby.
[MUSIC: Eco-Elvis "Let's Go Organic" from 'Burnin' Globe' (Matt Riggs – 2006): "Let's go organic, let's do what's right, say no to poisons with all your might. In action we'll seal our fate, let's go organic, the Earth can't wait. Few people realize that our health is in danger, our food is tainted by poisons we pay for. They damage our bodies and can even be fatal, farm workers are killed, our children grow ill, so I say...."]
GELLERMAN: Matt Riggs aka Eco-Elvis has left the building. But you can catch a video of the recycled king at our website, loe.org.
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