Friday, July 17, 2015


Elvis was loved by everyone, and loved everyone, and one day he just died, leaving behind a fantastic musical legacy, plus a nice southern mansion home, some cars, a couple of airplanes, and multiple gift shops offering everything Elvis.   He never got fat or sloppy, never had substance issues, was benignly managed by the colonel and could launch a comeback concert any time he needed to.

That’s the message of Graceland.  Not explicit, but implicit in its choice of only showing the positive, heartwarming, affirmative and affirming parts of the Elvis story.  And why not?  It’s all part of the story and when you’ve visiting a shrine you’re looking for a hero.  Graceland delivers.  It’s not cheap, and you’ll stand in lines, and you’ll be shown many many ways to spend your money.  But that’s why you came, right?  You drove down Elvis Presley Boulevard (which bore that name when he still lived there) and paid $10 to park and selected your ticket package and visited the gift shop while waiting to board the bus to take you across the street to the house where Elvis lived.

We’ve been conditioned to think that Graceland is way over the top, a heritage of flamboyant bad taste.  Sorry.  It’s not.  This is a comfortable home, furnished richly in the style of the 60s and 70s, owned by a young man (he was 22 when he bought it) who could afford every creature comfort and indulgence.  Does it have mirrors on the ceiling of the TV room?  Sure.  Shag carpet on the floor and ceiling of a jungle-themed rec room?  Why not?  Gold flecked sink bowl and imported brass faucet in the guest bath of the airplane?  Yup.  But these things don’t seem outrageous compared to the homes and toys of very rich people today.   It’s not furnished to our modern taste, but remember, time stopped at Graceland in 1977, when it was no longer a home and became a pilgrimage destination.  Had Elvis lived longer, who knows how he’d have adapted his surroundings to the digital world?

The whole enterprise is managed well, from the multilingual signs over the ticket windows to the bar code scanners to the iPod and headphones given to each person who takes the tour of the mansion.  A narration takes you through each room and outbuilding, and the screen offers the opportunity to see a
panorama of the room you’re in, plus more photos, videos, etc. to add context.  Parts of the building have been made into museum space for gold and platinum records, stage costumes, posters, videos  and artifacts that take you through Elvis history.   What you don’t see is  much about Elvis at home, other than brief clips and photos of him riding his palomino, diving into the pool, hanging with friends in the pool room, etc.  The living space upstairs is not part of the tour, so you’re effectively shut off from any part of Elvis that wasn’t on stage or screen.

But then again, what business is that of ours?  He’s not a figure out of history, but an entertainer.  Knowing how Elvis lived (and died), what he ate and drank, where he bathed, doesn’t add to our understanding of his times.  People who want to know about Elvis at home have plenty of places to look.  So bravo to Graceland for being selective, for keeping the flame, for being a place where Elvis is forever young and smiling, singing and shaking.  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

Notes:  This is not a casual visit; to see Graceland, you have to devote some time.  There are other
tour offerings in addition to the house – the airplanes, cars, museums of Elvis in Tupelo and Hawaii – at different ticket levels.  It’s hot in Memphis these days, so pack some water.  No dogs, but the Raines Road Animal Hospital just off Elvis Presley Boulevard welcomes transients and is very reasonable.  Cheap, actually.  Avon had a fine stay at the dog spa.

To many visitors, the tube televisions in the house are probably as remote and quaint as log cabins or dial telephones.   Anyone you see there under age 40 has no memory of Elvis being alive.  To many, he’s a figure on a Las Vegas stage in a silly jumpsuit with a giant collar, a model for thousands of impersonators.  Who can buy their authentic replica stage costumes at Graceland.  You gotta love it.

No comments:

Post a Comment