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)