“I’m tired of staying home all the time,” I proclaimed. “I wanna do something this weekend.”
“Well, what do you want to do?”
“I want to go to Memphis and see Graceland,” I said. “I’ve never been there.” I was halfway joking.
“Okay, let’s go!” said my honey. “We could do it. It’s not that far.”
The previous week was the anniversary of Elvis’ death. Guess that is what gave me the idea. Everybody that wants to go has already been, so it’s a good time – no crowds.
I thought, “Why not?”
Graceland is the final and ultimate exploitation of Elvis Presley. Parking across the street, we are told to follow the red awning to the ticket office offering a variety of Elvis attractions, complete with a mini mall of restaurants and assorted gift shops with Elvis related items from records to coffee mugs, all in a theme-park-like atmosphere.
A shuttle bus transports us across the street to the “mansion.” Actually, Graceland is much smaller than the vast southern mansion I have always envisioned. The old home seems tired and weary as bus after bus pulls up, and load after load of tourists pour through the front door. We are given tape players and head sets for a pre-recorded guided tour.
Graceland décor is frozen in the 50’s, a time when Elvis was at the peak of his popularity. I had heard that Graceland is tacky – Elvis being notorious for his flamboyantly bad taste. Still, the reality is nearly overwhelming. Old and worn, the white furniture of the main living room seems not quite clean. A large gaudy stained glass archway dominates the living room and looks like a relic from an ancient church. This is an Elvis addition, as are the televisions sets located in almost every room of the house.
There are many small rooms, each decorated differently. It must have been crowded when Elvis was at home with his entourage, the “Memphis Mafia.” The game room with it’s faded fabric-covered walls and pleated ceiling has long ago seen its better times. Other rooms in the converted basement are also very unusual. One has a dizzying decor with a bright yellow color scheme and mirrored squares on the ceiling, reminiscent of a pimp palace. Green shag carpets decorate the floor of another room – as well as the ceiling. That was the style in the 50’s the tape recorder told us.
The real shocker, and granddaddy of all bad taste, is the infamous “jungle room” filled with burl oak furniture and carved wood. Elvis supposedly spotted the furniture in a store window and bought it all for Graceland because it reminded him of Hawaii. We are told by the recorded message to take as much time to look as we want. Thing is, we don’t want much time. Gasping for breath, unable to control my urge to laugh, I am more than happy to exit out the back door.
Numerous other buildings are located on the property. One has been turned into a “trophy room.” Another was a racquet ball court during Elvis’ life, but now has its walls covered with gold and platinum records. It is quite awesome. Elvis is buried out in the back yard by the pool along with his beloved mama and his daddy. The graves are covered with floral tributes from the various Elvis fan clubs worldwide.
Shuttled back, we tour the automobile museum and see the pink Cadillac as well as Elvis’ other cars, golf carts, snowmobiles and other assorted wheeled vehicles that were favorite playthings for the filthy rich Elvis. His airplane, the Lisa Marie, named after his daughter and customized to his orders, is on display. Yet another museum holds his famous jeweled jumpsuits and one of the TV sets he shot with a pistol in a fit of rage.
Well, it is an experience I must admit. Graceland is the most visited home in America after the White House. What I will always remember most about it is the sight of all those gold records. Elvis had 149 top hit songs. He sold a billion records. Tasteless, wealthy, eccentric, extravagant, and generous are but a few of the adjectives that describe him. He is a strange man with a strange legacy.
All the gold records, all the platinum records, so many of them. That’s what Graceland is all about and what Elvis was actually all about too, I guess. That is what makes him the biggest recording artist of all time, and forever the King of Rock’n’Roll.
“So, whadda ya want to do next week?” asked my honey.
“I’m hanging up my blue suede shoes after this one,” I replied.