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Elvis is in the building…
I can remember the day Elvis died.
I was a teenager, the most junior reporter at a TV news station in Australia. When the news broke, my boss immediate scheduled the Elvis story as the lead item for that night’s news.
I was confused – the idealistic, university-student me thought news was about politics and world events and ‘important’ things. Not the death of some has-been singer.
Now I have been to Graceland – and I understand a lot more about why Elvis was important.
The Elvis I remembered as a young teenager was Elvis in the latter part of his career, ‘Fat Elvis’ if you will. His drug addiction and lifestyle had taken its toll and he had become almost a caricature of himself.
There are songs of his I have always loved, but it seemed to me people got too carried away with the legend.
Graceland is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the US – and I expected it to be pretty tacky – lots of neon and souvenir stalls etc… It was, and it wasn’t.
You arrive in a parking lot on the other side of the road (called – you guessed it – Elvis Presley Boulevard) from the mansion itself. This is where you buy your ticket for the tour of Graceland itself.
This is also the place where you get your photo taken in front of a painting of the famous gates of Graceland (because there are guards to stop you doing it at the real gates).
This side of the road has the souvenir shops – lots of them, each with a different theme – Elvis at the movies, Elvis at home – and yes – kid’s Elvis. Elvis Presley Enterprises is a big business.
There are the cars…
And not one … but two private planes…
But the tour really starts when you take the shuttle bus across the road – there are traffic lights on the Boulevard just to let the shuttle pass and go in through those gates. Once out of the bus, there’s an introduction from a guide, but you can then walk through the mansion at your own speed – listening to your audio guide as you go.
My first impression was – the mansion is very small. Well, all right, compared to my house it’s huge. But for a superstar like Elvis – it is really quite small.
We were there on a Friday afternoon – so the crowd was fairly small – but I should imagine at certain times of the year, the crowds must be hell.
In places, the decor is – well, not to my taste. Very OTT. But then, Elvis was a bit OTT too. The tour, however, is tastefully done, even when it deals with his later years and the way he died.
The audio guide keeps noise levels down – no-one talks much and the crowd was remarkably respectful. There were many displays – including some of the famous suits he wore.
But the thing that impressed me most – the vast numbers of gold and platinum records that adorned the walls.
It is too easy to forget, amid the glitz and showmanship that surrounds the legend, that it all began with a 19 year old kid who really could sing. Unlike some of today’s so-called celebrities, Elvis earned his place in people’s hearts through talent and hard work.
By this time, my Mississippi road trip had me totally immersed in 1950s America – the civil rights movement was just beginning. Radio and television were helping the spread of social change – and into the middle of it all came this southern boy who could sing like an angel and shake it like the devil.
The music playing as we did the tour was just astounding – it reminded me what all the fuss was about in the first place. A great voice and a musicality that crossed race and gender and social status.
The paintings sent in by fans are scattered liberally around Graceland. Some of them aren’t very good – if you look at them purely as art. But they say a lot about Elvis and his place in musical history.
I remember the day Elvis died. It was the first item on our news bulletin that night. Now I understand why.Share this page...
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