MEMPHIS, AUG. 13 -- Elvis is a first-person phenomenon. People want to dance like Fred Astaire or sleep with the Beatles, but in Memphis, his fans want to be Elvis.

More than two dozen Elvis impersonators are strutting their sultry stuff at Bad Bob's-Vapors Club all week, and several others are performing at hotel nightclubs and at the Libertyland amusement park near the airport.

Every day, dozens line up at the souvenir mall across the street from the Graceland mansion and pay $9.95 to record any of 50 Presley hits over a prerecorded instrumental track. For $49.95, they can rent the original Sun Studio, where Elvis made his first recordings for producer Sam Phillips, for 30 minutes, engineer included.

But talent is not a prerequisite. A lip-synching contest, held early in the week before the biggest crowds had arrived for Elvis International Tribute Week, was jampacked with entrants.

One in 10 men here has dyed black hair ("velvet black" is the canonical color) and steel-rimmed sunglasses with "Elvis" written in script on the temple. Many wear shirts that to the initiated recall specific times in the Elvis era: " 'Blue Hawaii' is my favorite, too," says a woman fan, without preamble, to a paunchy, pompadoured man in an aqua island shirt.

For some, emulation leads to identification. Artie Mentz, who has been performing as "Dubuque's own Elvis" for almost 20 years, says his ambition is to be just part of what authors Jane and Michael Stern call "Elvis World" -- the solar system of the Sun King. Mentz drives a gold Lincoln Continental like his idol's, wears stud-drunk white jump suits customized by his wife and even includes his son Aron Elvis in his show.

This is sympathetic magic -- the conjuring of a potent spirit by the re-creation of his face and voice and sexuality -- and its effect on the fans can be just as intense as if Elvis had literally returned.

At Bad Bob's, when a sweaty Artie Mentz dabbed his forehead and then handed his soiled scarf to a fan at stageside, she began weeping uncontrollably, her eyes fixed on the gesticulating Mentz.

"This is the biggest thrill of my life," sobbed Marilyn Carentz of Long Island.

Most professional Elvis impersonators, like Mentz, Nashvillian Paul Presley, who claims to be Uncle Vester Presley's illegitimate son, and Michael (Little Elvis) Myers, a 21-year veteran imitator who is performing down the street at the Magnum Inn, are middle-aged men who affect the garish white jump suits and the frankly expansive girdle area of the later Las Vegas engagements.

(The average fan, according to a survey commissioned by RCA, Elvis' longtime label, is a woman between 35 and 50, a resident of the South and the wife of a blue-collar worker, who listens to "contemporary" radio.)

But this week, with the combined psychic force of tens of thousands of true believers, anyone can be Elvis, including a 7-year-old boy and a high-wired, slightly new wave 14-year-old; a black shipyard worker; and two women.

Even before he discovered Elvis, Sam Phillips used to say that if he could just find "a white man who sings black," he could make a fortune. And Elvis did sing black -- so black that local deejay Dewey Phillips had to trick the novice Elvis into saying on the air that he attended the then all-white Humes High School. In a turnabout that Presley would certainly have enjoyed, one of the best amateur impersonators of the week has been 28-year-old Robert Washington, a black, who says that Elvis' music "crossed all barriers, racial and musical."

Washington, who turns 29 on Sunday, the 10th anniversary of Presley's death, is one of the rare second-generation Elvis fans who heard his first Presley recording only in 1974.

"I was working in Cape Giradeau when 'Jailhouse Rock' came on the radio, and I thought it was a new release -- I didn't know who it was. I asked my friend and he said, 'You don't know who that is?' And the next day, he went out and bought me an Elvis album."

Like his idol, Washington went from high school into the service, which eventually led him to Maine, where he now lives. About three years ago, he began performing his Presley act for friends, at first lip-synching, then actually singing either over an Elvis tape or occasionally in front of a live band.

"If they know any Elvis," shrugs Washington. "I know a lot of bands that don't play any."

Washington says he thinks he is the only black Elvis impersonator and says "some people make comments about it, but it doesn't matter to me."

Clad in mink-brown leather, his hair pomaded and a TCB lightning bolt -- a primary Elvis hieroglyph -- on a chain around his neck, Washington tears through the rockier Presley rave-ups, "Jailhouse Rock," "Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound Dog," with an almost cruel sensual conviction that has the fans breathless.

At a dance early in the week, Washington won as a door prize a four-inch-wide white leather belt, studded, gold-chained and belted with an eagle, made and signed by Elvis' own anointed belt maker, Michael McGregor.

"This," Washington said, "is one of the greatest moments in my life."

Listening to the impersonators, and reading the list of Presley hits that can be recorded at Graceland's mini-studios, one is forcibly reminded of the impact Presley had on the then-fledgling popular music recording industry.

The numbers are staggering: Elvis sold more than a billion records in his lifetime, and continues to sell an estimated 7 million records, tapes and, now, compact discs a year.

This massive week-long tribute has garnered national and even international attention: There are, Graceland officials say, more than a thousand media representatives here, perhaps more who haven't bothered to check in officially.

In this context, it is worth noting that despite Elvis' incredible sales and the attraction of his movie and television appearances (which as early as 1956 forced Ed Sullivan to offer him $50,000 for three telecasts), Elvis Presley was alternately castigated and ignored by the establishment until the last years of his life.

For all the momentum his career gave to the country, rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues industries (Sam Phillips' sale of Elvis' contract to RCA for $35,000 in 1957 allowed him to discover and record Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash), Elvis never won a Grammy Award except for his gospel work and "special artistic achievement." And Elvis never even made the cover of either Time or Newsweek until this month.

Even in Memphis, Presley was not much honored in his own time, with one exception: The stretch of U.S. Highway 51, onto which Graceland faced, from the suburbs to the state line, was renamed Elvis Presley Boulevard in 1971. "It's the only thing they managed to do while he could still enjoy it," as Memphian Bill Seale put it.

For all its grandiose title, the "boulevard" looks less like a memorial plaza and more like Rte. 1 or the Rockville Pike of 10 years ago. Running down from town through what is called Whitehaven to the Memphis southside, Elvis Presley Boulevard is a procession of mobile home lots, auto sales parks, fast-food franchises and two- or three-story motels.

Just a gas station lot off the boulevard on Brooks Road is Hernando's Hideaway, an old warehouse-cum-roadhouse with its windows bricked up and painted black, where Jerry Lee Lewis still beats the boogie-woogie piano.

There is an active drive-in theater and an exterminator shop with a 10-foot rat on the roof nibbling on a car-size piece of cheese.

In fact, the only stretch of Elvis Presley Boulevard that looks to have been renovated at all is the area just across the street from Graceland, where the corporate headquarters, the half-dozen souvenir shops, the "Elvis Up Close" museum and the Heartbreak Hotel restaurant have all been linked together in an awning-fronted concrete strip.

But then, renovation comes hard to Memphis. Downtown Beale Street, home of the "birth of the blues," was left to fall into such severe dilapidation that not until a couple of years ago, when national preservation authorities threatened to withdraw Beale Street's historic site designation, was it restored. Nowadays, the strip from the river to Fourth Street, and especially the area right around W.C. Handy Park, is filled with music clubs and restaurants.

Thereis an Elvis Presley memorial downtown now, too, but it's a few careful blocks away from Beale Street. Elvis' music, for all its prototypical Memphis roots -- part rhythm and blues, part country, part poor white trash and a lot Bible Belt revival abandon -- remains a sore spot with the adherents of Memphis' Stax-and-sax tradition who feel Elvis traded in his sass for respectability.

"We don't like Elvis too much around here," says Harry Chapman, bartender at the Rum Boogie Cafe on Beale Street.

A group of Elvis tourists, walking past the Blue Suede Saloon, asks the outdoor band for a Presley number and is refused. And even at Bad Bob's-Vapors club, where the impersonators are filling cocktail hour for a week, the house band plays "real" Memphis rock 'n' roll, music from the "Soul Man" and "Knock on Wood" era.

"Well, that's only fitting," says Memphis guitar legend Donald (Duck) Dunn of the Beale Street attitude. "That's where the blues are from, and that's what they ought to play. Let 'em build some clubs down on Elvis Presley Boulevard" if they want to hear Elvis.

Sam Phillips is still busy in his own studio on Madison, only three blocks from the old Sun spot.

ChipsMoman, Sam Phillips' engineer during the Presley sessions and later a hugely successful country music producer in Nashville, has recently returned to Memphis, building a state-of-the-art digital recording studio in a Front Street firehouse given to him for restoration by the city (and named Three-Alarm in honor of its origins). Ringo Starr, who recorded an underestimated country blues album in Nashville in the early '70s, has just finished another with Moman, cutting two of the tracks at the newly reopened Sun Studios.

Ardent Studios, perhaps the city's busiest and which offers both analog and digital equipment, is where the Fabulous Thunderbirds and ZZ Top record. Tony Joe White is one of the Cotton Row clients, and there is a small 24-track custom studio called Daily Planet, part-owned by former Stax sessions musician Bobby Manuel, where Dunn and his new band are putting down songs.

Dunn and his band spend three nights a week playing "Memphis rock 'n' roll and R&B" on the roof of the Peabody Hotel. "That's the Memphis sound now, if there is one," Dunn says, "but I'm not doing a nostalgia thing. That's the seniors' tour, I hope.

"We do 'Green Onions' and a couple of old Booker {T and the M.G.s} instrumentals, and from there on, it's us. We're out to get a new recording contract. Every once in a while someone will yell, 'How 'bout some "Soul Man!" ' but that's just not where we're at now."

The "new" Memphis sounds include Drama, a local club favorite that just recorded a debut album; and new Memphis resident Joe Walsh, former James Gang bad boy who is partly responsible for moving the Eagles' focus from the vanished Wild West to the fast-lane Los Angeles Westwood. Walsh too has just completed an album here.

Far uptown, at the opposite cultural pole from Graceland, is the Memphis Cooke Convention Center, where the artifacts of Ramesses the Great, the 13th-century B.C. pharaoh, are on display.

Next to such near-immortality, a decade seems rather insignificant. But as Presley adherents say, "Ten years ... and forever."

"After all," Graceland communications manager Todd Morgan likes to point out, "thousands of people visit Stephen Foster's home, and he hasn't had a hit in 100 years."