How Perkins Paste and an Elvis obsession saved me

How Perkins Paste and an Elvis obsession saved me

Were you a fan? I mean a one-eyed, overly-enthusiastic fan – maybe even a fan of someone who wasn’t that popular at the time? Were you the kid who’d write the name of their hero on their school shirt with biro, or ink the hessian weave of their school backpack with a portrait of the one you loved?

Or maybe, with your mum’s help, you put Contact plastic on all your school exercise books, but only as a way of sealing in the goodness that was contained in the photos of ABBA or David Bowie or Prince or Peter Brock which you’d already stuck on the cover before allowing your mother to approach with the sticky plastic? (Fair play, you had to acknowledge her superior skills with Contact.)

Fandom is often portrayed as ridiculous. I prefer to think that it’s a brave heart that can show so much love.Credit:Kathleen Adele

These photos, depending on your age, were affixed using Perkins Paste, or Clag Glue, or – we’re coming into the ’90s here – a glue stick. Whatever the generation, the glue gave off a mesmerising, narcotic odour which only intensified the experience of staring into the eyes of your idol. With Perkins Paste, you could even eat a spoonful of the stuff just to complete the experience.

This week, talking to Baz Luhrmann about his Elvis movie, I thought I’d jump rank with the other interviewers by showing him the Elvis Presley scrapbook I created when I was 12 years old.

He was impressed, and why wouldn’t he be? A newsagent’s son, I’d assiduously – a cruel person would say “obsessively” – collected every single mention of Elvis that appeared in an Australian newspaper or magazine during the year 1971.

Austin Butler in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis.Credit:Hugh Stewart/Warner Bros

There was not a publication in my father’s shop that was safe from my scissors. If Modern Motor or Best Bets or Women’s Own thought to give The King a mention, I’d be there, Perkins Paste at the ready.

Into my scrapbook it would go, with an accurate annotation of the date, publication, and page. I was operating a 1971 version of the Great Library of Alexandria, if the Great Library of Alexandria had only collected Elvis-related papyrus and had decorated every item with brightly coloured Texta.

At the time, Elvis wasn’t popular with my peers. The world had moved on. But for me, he was it.

My scrapbook, I’m sure, looks pathetic to some people. It makes it look like I had nothing else in my life. But here’s the thing: that’s accurate.

In 1971, my family moved from Sydney to Canberra. My parents were fighting. They sent me ahead to live with some friends of theirs for a few months, and then we rented a house in which there was a separate wing, probably built for a grandparent, and connected to the main building by a long corridor. This was where I lived, with a two-way radio so I could be told it was time to go to school.

Maybe they were trying to keep me away from the fighting, but it was a strange house to choose. That’s when Elvis swooped in and saved me. He became the loving figure in my life. I’m still grateful.

Soon my mother left. And then my father. I’ve written a book about this, should you wish to know more, but my account did not contain enough about Elvis, my love for him, and how fandom is a force for good.

The Australian writer Tabitha Carvan has recently written an excellent account of her own passion for a particular British actor. It’s called, This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch.

Carvan describes her all-consuming affair, conducted with someone she’s never met. There’s her day-dreaming obsession, her pleasure in staring at his photo in a magazine, tracing the shape of his nose, or her delight in watching an episode of Sherlock for the hundredth time.

At first, she’s embarrassed to tell us all this, but the book charts her trip to self-acceptance. It’s not really about Benedict, she concludes. It’s about opening yourself to life, about treasuring your own tender heart. It’s about the right, in an over-burdened world, to indulge a pointless passion.

There’s a similar idea in the novel How to Be Famous by the British writer Caitlin Moran. “You can’t meet your heroes”, she writes at one point, “because they are, in the end, just an idea that lives inside you”.

What seems like obsession with a famous face can sometimes be more about defining yourself in relation to the world. For some it’s a football team, for others a racing car driver, a boy band, Elvis. What matters is the love, not the object to which it attaches.

And if only Perkins Paste were still available for purchase – in the hot pink pot with the white lid and built-in applicator – I’m sure I’d be transported back to that strange but happy bedroom, an Elvis tape playing, and a fresh pile of clippings to paste into my book.

Fandom is often portrayed as ridiculous. I prefer to think that it’s a brave heart that can show so much love.

Read more by Richard Glover

  • The perks (and minor pitfalls) of being a grandfather
  • The biggest hurdle that the new government faces? Shrinkflation
  • The perfect Mother’s Day gift – just add a ribbon
  • How many undies do you need? 16 tips to make travelling a breeze
  • I’m pleased we’re ditching the honorifics, and I’m an esquire
  • The meaning of life, the universe, and everything? Prawns

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