Two years ago, I took my niece on a cross-country roadtrip to celebrate her graduation from college. She was content to let me plan the whole trip, but there was one place she was insistent that we visit: Graceland. I wasn’t enthusiastic.
You see, I’m too young to remember the vibrant, rock ‘n’ roll Elvis. By the time I was listening to popular music, he was a fat, washed up, druggy joke. I did have one brief glimpse at his impact on the day of his death (see this earlier post.) But all in all, he’s not a star I would go out of my way to learn about.
Boy, did Graceland change my mind! Well, in the beginning, it was all that my snarky self expected — weird, tacky and filled with people who were taking it all waaaaay too seriously.
The first odd thing you notice about Graceland, is that everyone who works there is Black. I mean EVERYONE from the ticket taker to the tour guide to the concession stand and gift shop operators to the maintenance people. With the psuedo-Tara facade of the place, it gives it the feeling of a strange plantation.
The next thing you notice is how small and relatively modest everything is. The house is less impressive in size than anything you’d see in a mid-range gated community. And the outbuildings, such as Vern Presley’s office and the guest quarters, are pretty much the architectural equivalent of double-wides.
Then you get inside. Holy gold lame with a cape! This has got to be the apotheosis of White Trash Taste. We’re talking purple shag carpeting ON THE CEILING, ceramic monkeys, gold flecked mirrors on the walls, fake wood paneling. (Our pictures on Flickr can’t even do it justice, but view ‘em anyway here.)
Something happened during the tour — and I think it was due to the excellent self-guided audio tour that features Elvis, Priscilla, Lisa Marie and various famous people talking about Elvis. But it was most certainly the video monitors set up at nearly every point in the tour showing him in performance. In fact, after awhile, I had a hard time concentrating on the tour as I was riveted by his performances. (Luckily you can stop, start and replay any section — and you can take as long as you want on the tour.) I’ll tell you what we learned: Elvis was an amazing performer!
But he was also an incredibly sad individual with a tragic stunted life. Listening to Lisa Marie describe him playing around in go-carts and shooting off fireworks with his friends, you realize, he never really grew up. And Lisa Marie seemed not to have a connection with him as a father, but only as a “presence” who changed the energy in a room when he entered and electrified audiences on stage.
There were points in the tour where Aleana and I were practically in tears.
But the videos pulled us out of it. Now I’m a huge Elvis fan and my next Amazon purchase will be the deluxe special editions of his “68 Comeback Special” and “Aloha From Hawaii”.
It was tough to shake the mood after that, so we headed down Beale Street — and straight into a club featuring the worst Elvis impersonator in the world. I think he was trying to be “The Native American Elvis” as his blue jumpsuit featured turquoise beads and he said he was Chocktaw. He also said he knew Elvis personally, but then everyone in Memphis of a certain age tells you they knew Elvis personally. However, after Graceland, we felt we, too, knew the King.
To quote Paul Simon:
“And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received in Graceland”