John Lennon had a black-and-white view of stardom: Either you were a rocker of integrity or you were an Engelbert Humperdinck (read: cabaret-crooning sellout). When Brian Epstein sanitized the Beatles’ stage appearance? “They wanted us to be Engelbert Humperdinck.” Douchey labelmates like Billy Kramer? Down-market Humperdincks. And when it came to meeting Elvis—Lennon’s hero, his muse—Lennon was appalled enough to invoke his bête noire once again. “It was a load of rubbish,” he said afterwards. “It was like meeting Engelbert Humperdinck.” Those who feel similarly may wish to skip “One Life: Echoes of Elvis” at the National Portrait Gallery, which features, quite intentionally, the requisite tasteless renderings of the King in his various phases (sideburns, surf wax, more sideburns, shiny gold suits, yet more sideburns). But Elvis’ decline was ours too, at least as his devotees have it. Like Lennon, you may resort to irony to mitigate the awkwardness of seeing the NPG turned into Graceland. But with Lady Gaga insistently invoking Warhol at every available opportunity as an excuse for dressing poorly, perhaps we can cut the King some slack and learn to love the coffee-table books and the neon oils on canvas.
THE EXHIBITION IS ON VIEW 11:30 A.M. TO 7 P.M. DAILY TO AUG. 22 AT THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY, 750 9TH ST. NW. FREE. (202) 633-1000.