Thursday, December 6, 2012
Dialysis patient puts on mock Elvis show to ease the mind of fellow recipients
Sometimes a smile really is the best medicine.
PLANO A dialysis patient never feels good. So count it one of life's necessities to have a really good escape valve.
Entertainment is always a good option. Nothing like a good movie, sporting event or concert to take one's mind temporarily off their incessant pain. For many, however, the king of checking out of reality remains a tantalizing live music performance.
Kevin Bode gets that like none other. Following an extraordinary life of adventure and fun, Bode has spent the past six-plus years on dialysis. He's also spent more than 40 years imitating the King of Rock 'n' Roll. Combining the two, Bode figures he's got a tonic straight out of Exam Room No. 1.
Bode grew up thinking like a lot of people - that Elvis was just the coolest. He thought Presley was so cool, in fact, that Bode spent nearly more time indoors on pretty days as outside with his friends.
"I've been a fan of Elvis since I was 9," Bode offered. "I've been standing in front of a mirror singing Elvis songs and emulating his moves since I was about 13. When my brother and my dad were outside hitting a baseball around, I was in the bedroom with the door closed listening to his records and singing his songs."
Bode soon grew up, going on to living a life that most of us could only dream about. He was a federal law enforcement officer and Search and Rescue Specialist with the United States Coast Guard. Then he went into a 13-year hitch in professional rodeo. Following that, he got into performing stunts for such names as Tom Berenger, Sam Shepard, Chuck Norris and Sam Elliott. He even played a lead in the classic "Twelve Angry Men" and served as the first official mascot of the Frisco Rough Riders, where he earned his own baseball card. Life was full and rich.
But he never grew out of his love for the kid from Tupelo, Miss. Good thing, because life threw him a curve the likes of which has never been seen inside Dr Pepper Ballpark. With a diagnosis of kidney failure in 2006 and the subsequent life sentence of dialysis - since he's not a candidate for a transplant - Bode went back to his first love. Now it's a message of hope.
"He says, 'I really think God has given me a mission. I have a message and He wants me to spread it,'" related Bode's caregiver, partner and love of his life, Marilyn Brown. "We have a 90-minute show with quite a few gospel songs in there. You know, the only Grammys Elvis ever won was for his gospel music. That is where his heart was.
"So we want people to feel something special when they're at our show. We want our concert to be full of joy - a break from all the stuff like foreclosure, sickness, you know, all of it, and to be able to take something good from our show with them. The mission is to bring awareness to what people on dialysis go through. And their families. And there is no outside help for people on dialysis. If you notice on TV there's no talk about it."
Bode's message of hope starts with attention to detail. Everything on the set is straight out of Elvis' pinnacle when he ruled the Vegas Strip in the '70s. Elvis had a six-piece band; so does Bode, with the members dressed just like they used to for those epic shows. Since there were no wireless mikes back then, they can't be found on Bode's stage. If some songs required Elvis to employ a 10-piece orchestra, then so does Bode for whatever particular song Elvis used such accompaniment. The famous backup singers Elvis used, the Imperials and the Sweet Inspirations, are all but one and the same.
"My Elvis performance is focused on giving people an opportunity to see what an Elvis show at the height of his best years in the early '70s looked like," Bode said. "So for two hours I suspend an audience in disbelief that I am Elvis. I'm not an Elvis impersonator. I'm not an Elvis tribute artist. I am Elvis.
"This is like theater to me," Bode continued. "I was an actor. I know how to play a part. And that's what I am doing on stage. I'm playing a part. I even address the audience as if I am him. I say, 'I recorded this song back in 1956. I think you'll remember it.' Then I sing, 'Don't Be Cruel.'"
Bode is acutely aware that when people are enjoying an escape, the last thing they want is to have a wet blanket thrown in the mix. So while he is expertly mixing his message of kidney failure awareness in with his show, he will almost bend his mike stand to make sure to not abuse the privilege.
"I don't want people there to have to go through a kidney disease awareness speech. I'm not up there to preach about 'O, poor, pitiful me,'" Bode said. "I'm there to entertain about Elvis because I'm the best there is.
"But I do want to take just a couple of moments to highlight the fact that there are 20 million people in this country suffering from kidney disease who are having to be on dialysis to stay alive like me, and to let people know maybe just a little bit better what their Uncle Joe may be going through.
"Plus, there are also the caregivers. The partner shares in this disease. That person suffers right along with the patient," Bode added. "So maybe with a little bit of awareness from an iconic personality like Elvis, people might begin to be able to help make a difference for others they know like me, but that they didn't even know what a dialysis machine looks like.
"And those two things are what set my show apart from any other Elvis show out there."
There are only 307 seats available for Bode's show Saturday night at the Courtyard Theater in Plano, located at 1509 Avenue H, near downtown. For ticket information, go to courtyardtheater.com, click on "This is Elvis," and follow the link. You can also call 972-941-5601. But get your tickets now, so you won't have to step on anyone's blue suede shoes to get in the door.
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