Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Elvisland!

When we woke in the morning I was more than happy that we had decided to bring our winter coats on this trip. Memphis was cold – really cold. Even with sweaters and a winter coat, the wind was what did you in.

Driving back to Graceland I was shocked at how seedy the area was that surrounded Elvis’ home. The night before, in the lights and the neon, everything sparkled - but reality was a whole different ball game. What I had envisioned was nothing like what I was seeing. Trailer parks and lower income houses and tenement buildings lined Elvis Presley Boulevard. While I gawped at the surroundings, The Man was rechecking his GPS and then suddenly we were turning into the parking lot for Graceland.

The lady that took our money for the parking smiled broadly at us. She was the only person in the whole place that did. Everyone else was sullen. They stood there freezing in their huge winter jackets that were part of their uniform – unsmiling – almost unfriendly. Now I know that almost 1 million people visit Graceland a year and I bet you get tired of seeing that amount of people coming to ooh and ah over Elvis. Still – a little friendliness would have made a big difference to me.

I’m not a big Elvis fan and neither is The Man. But Elvis is such a huge part of (musical) history that it is just something that you have to do if you’re ever near Memphis. And we did it for my Mom (another story another time).

The parking lot for Graceland (Elvis’ home) is across the street from the house, along with the jets that Elvis owned and the ‘museums’ – car, clothing, Elvis in the army. Once you decide on what tour you’ll be taking – just the mansion, or the museums as well – you are given headphones and you get on a shuttle that will take you across the streets and through the gates and up to the mansion. Before you board the shuttle they force you to have your picture taken so they can try to sell it to you later. (Everyone knows I hate having my picture taken).

Putting on those headphones isolates you in your own little world. It forces you to have a private experience as you tour the mansion. Sure they provide you with history that you might not hear if you were in a tour group and that you would definitely miss if you were on your own. But the headphones keep you from experiencing the Elvis mystique with whoever you are with.

Graceland is not what you think it’s going to be. It is small compared to what you think a giant in musical history would live in. It might be an ‘outbuilding’ if it was located on Britney Spear’s estate. And it’s stuck in the 70’s. They’ve kept Graceland just the way it was when Elvis died at his piano. With those garish yellows and greens that defy description and yet were so popular during that time and that Elvis loved! Then there’s the room that’s completely decorated with material – walls – ceiling. And let’s not forget the famous Jungle Room!

What kept going through my head were not any Elvis songs but a song written by Marc Cohn called ‘Walking in Memphis’. It played like a loop in my head as we wandered through the ‘mansion’.

Walls and walls of gold and platinum records were mindboggling. The long hallway with the wall completely filled with canceled checks that Elvis had written to charities – that impressed me. Yet when I got to the gravesite I felt nothing but the bitter wind biting at my ears. The tributes his father had written were sweet and the everlasting flame was lovely - but wandering the site listening to those headphones and trying to imagine what it was like to live at Graceland with ‘The King’? I couldn’t. I think Elvis would have bought more property if he had known that his precious Graceland was going to be surrounded by such dingy dreariness.

Once we caught our shuttle back across the street we toured the rest of the museums. There was the car museum with that famous pink Cadillac that led directly into the store where you could buy anything and everything with an Elvis on it. Then there was the clothing museum that housed all of his jumpsuits that led directly into a store where you could buy clothing with Elvis on it. Then there was the museum that housed the war years for Private Presley that led directly into the store where you could buy anything and everything with Elvis on it. Then of course there were just Elvis stores in case you weren’t taking the museum tours – they too had everything and anything you wanted with an Elvis on it. No wonder the guy is still raking in more than any other artist! It’s merchandising taken to the extreme!

The tours of the two jets that Elvis owned were more impressive than the mansion for me. To see the gold plated seat belts and sink and faucet – on a jet! The queensize bed with the gold plated seat belt and the telephone that could call anywhere in the world – like a president! (remember this is the 60’s and 70’s) Then there’s the conference table on the jet and Elvis’ private bathroom in purple (and gold). That jet was the Lisa Marie. The little jet – The Hound Dog Two - was almost as impressive – you could just imagine how fast it was. It was in Elvis’ favourite colors as well – lime green and yellow.

It took us almost five hours to see everything there was to see. In the mansion you only listened to a few clips of Elvis singing, but an Elvis radio station played Elvis nonstop while you toured around the museums. Still – Marc Cohn sang on and on as we drove out of Memphis and headed farther south to New Orleans – six hours away.


(here's a little Cher for you doing Walking in Memphis)

27 comments:

The Finely Tuned Woman said...

Well Aims, after that well done and intricate description, I have no desire to go there. I didn't in the first place, but now I really don't. It doesn't at all sound like the place everybody makes it out to be. I'm glad you went there go give us a report about it, sorry it was so cold for you. I hope you have a hell of a better time in New Orleans. I can't wait to hear about it.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Brilliant post Aims. I too am not a fan of Elvis but my first husband was a freak for him and cried buckets when he died. I found that incredibaly odd - crying for a celebrity that he had never met and now that kind of behanviour is rife in the moddern world.

It was a good detailed tour and the photo's are great but what a garish house that is and the whole thing seems really tacky.

I do like a few ballads that Elvis did but I don't understand the fascination people still have with him today. I realise he is iconic but all those people that have conspiracy theories about him and have a shrine in their home to him or dress like him are just weird!

Geat post Aims - I was truly very interested in it. X

Leatherdykeuk said...

Excellent post, Aims. Utterly fascinating to see a 'real' person's account of the experience.

grandmamargie said...

While I'm not one of the greatest Elvis fans, I do love his music and his voice. Especially the gospel music. It gives me chills when I hear some of it. Thanks for the description of Graceland. I always thought I would like to go but I don't think so now. On to New Orleans. :)

Polergirl said...

Excellent post. If I ever head to that part of the country, I think I will give Graceland a miss. Some things are better kept the way you imagine them.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I'm not an Elvis fan but that was fascinating. I would definitely go to see Graceland if I was ever in that area. I can imagine it being a let down however, as we always get an image in our heads and we are usually disappointed.

CJ xx

Mickle in NZ said...

I guess you were "All Elvised out".Amazing to learn what has been done with it, though not at all my thing. I do remember where I was in 1977 when the news came through - I was 12 years old, in the final year of primary school before High School. May T from the next classroom came in and told us. We were all really suprised.

I'm really looking forward to "Aims and The Man's reaction to and fun in New Orleans".

Huggles and care (and warmth for you too) Michelle and Zebbycat

Lane said...

What a great post Aims. Completely fascinating. I had no idea it was like that. It all seems a bit sad and it sounds like it's even got to the people who work there.

I dislike those headphone things too. They disconnect you from the experience.

Love the Marc Cohen song.

Mean Mom said...

Very sad to hear about the area surrounding Graceland and the miserable staff. I would still love to go there, though. If I ever manage it, at least I will be prepared, after your descriptions.

I find the young Elvis fascinating, but the later Elvis leaves me cold. Those jumpsuits were such a bad idea. ;0)

Sorry it was a bit disappointing for you. I'm sure that the cold weather didn't help. Hope New Orleans was better for you!

travelling, but not in love said...

Aims, I also hate those headphones - like you say, it stops you enjoying the experience as a couple or as a group. It just becomes a solitary thing - no chance to nod and laugh at the same things or to stop and gaze in wonder at Elvis' pants together...

And as for the song - great track, but give me the Cher version any day (you could have guessed that, no?)

TSannie said...

What a great tour you've given me. Having not ever been there, it was wonderful! Ames - I bet they used at least 2000 yards of material in that one room! How the heck do you keep all those pleats clean???

I always fixate on ONE and ONLY ONE song when I'm doing something and not listening to music (walking, playing golf, etc.) I'm not computering with no music on...except the Walking in Memphis loop now going through my head. Glad to hear someone else does this to. (The last song I did this with was "If I Only Had a Brain.")

david mcmahon said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this post - and like you I am am left wondering why only one person smiled.

Junebug said...

Thanks for the post on Memphis. I have never been there and I was very interested in your photos. I didn't realize that Elvis was born in 1916. Gosh! My husband's dad was born in 1914 and his mother in 1916. Surprising to me.

Junebug said...

oops! I guess that was his father born in 1916. Elvis was born in 1935?

Biddie said...

I had no idea that the area surrounding Graceland was so bleak now. Not what I imagined at all.
I am not a huge Elvis fan either, but I would have loved the tour, I think.
This was the next best thing!

Brett said...

Great post, almost felt i had been there.

sexy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
lisaschaos said...

Glad you were able to share some photos, I've never been. We drove by it when I was 13 but we decided not to stop, that we'd do it later. That jet sounds awesome!!

Louise said...

Great post! Very thorough description of what is to be found there,and your point-of-view seemsto be what mine would be.

I visited there not long after he died. I was in elementary school, and we were passing through town, so my parents decided it was something we should do, though none of of were giant Elvis fans. At the time there were no tours; we could just stand on the sidewalk and look at the house. And I remember my young mind even then thinking how small the place was. I'm glad it wasn't open for touring then. 5 hours would have done me in!

Over from Authorblog.

BT said...

I feel exactly the same as The Finely Tuned Woman. I have no desire to visit Graceland either.

I hope New Orleans is better! Can't wait to read all about it.

Maggie May said...

I'm not an Elvis fan but found this account of your visit fascinating.
Was disappointed to know that the surroundings of his property was so shabby. I wonder if that was a fairly recent thing?
Yellow and lime..... OK for a fizzy sweet (candy) but not for anything else. Yuk!
Great, informative post.

Melanie said...

Thanks for the trip Aims. I grew up with the music and a father who looked similar. I was sad when I heard he had died as my father told me tales of his impetuous generosity and politeness. To a kid he sounded like a nice guy.

Yes the 70s were a bit of a "time that taste forgot". LOL

My sister visited Graceland a few years ago when she was exploring. She was disappointed too. I think when somewhere is so over exposed it is hard to get a sense of the real place.

Dr.John said...

I enjoyed your tour and have decided not to go to Graceland.
It just sounds too commercial and too depressing.

Akelamalu said...

Oh WOW I've always wanted to see Gracelands, now I have through your great tour! From what you describe it's not what I have imagined either but I would still like to go and see it. :)

Debra in France said...

Hi Aims, Great description. I am quite glad that I never got to see it. I guess in the 60's and 70's that house would have been palatial, but these compated with the house that celebs have now there is no comparison. I wonder if Elvis would have actually stayed there had he still been alive. Looking forward to reading about New Orleans. Debra x

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