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Elvis is in the building…

The King - but when I first saw him, he was a totally  different person.

The King – but when I first saw him, he was a totally different person.

 

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).

I didn't want a photo in front of the fake Graceland gates - so instead, here I am at the tourist entrance.

I didn’t want a photo in front of the fake Graceland gates – so instead, here I am at the tourist entrance.

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.

You can buy replica costumes for $2,000. I guess they must get a few Elvis impersonators through the door.

You can buy replica costumes for $2,000. I guess they must get a few Elvis impersonators through the door.

There are the cars…

This is the iconic pink Cadillac that he gave to his mother.

This is the iconic pink Cadillac that he gave to his mother.

And not one … but two private planes…

The larger plane had a comfortable living area and yes - the bathroom was gold.

The larger plane had a comfortable living area and yes – the bathroom was gold.

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.

The front of the house is quite unassuming.

The front of the house is quite unassuming.

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.

I could easily picture Elvis playing the piano.

I could easily picture Elvis playing the piano.

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.

The walls AND ceiling of the billiard room were covered with fan-folded fabric.

The walls AND ceiling of the billiard room were covered with fan-folded fabric.

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 stairs lead to Elvis' bedroom - but tourists are not permitted in the upper floor of the house. Officially is is out of respect, but I suspect crowd control problems  may have something to do with it.

The stairs lead to Elvis’ bedroom – but tourists are not permitted in the upper floor of the house. Officially it is out of respect, but I suspect crowd control problems may have something to do with it.

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.

It was sad to see how the costumes got so much larger in the last years of his life.

It was sad to see how the costumes got so much larger in the last years of his life.

But the thing that impressed me most – the vast numbers of gold and platinum records that adorned the walls.

The walls of what was the squash court are covered with gold records.

The walls of what was the squash court are covered with gold records.

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.

Millions of fan letters and gifts passed through this modest office at the read of the house.

Millions of fan letters and gifts passed through this modest office at the rear of the house.

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.

It's quite a personal tour - and ends at the place where Elvis and his parents are buried.

It’s quite a personal tour – and ends at the place where Elvis and his parents are buried.

I remember the day Elvis died. It was the first item on our news bulletin that night. Now I understand why.

Just a working class kid from Tupelo, Mississippi.

Just a working class kid from Tupelo, Mississippi.

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24 Responses to Elvis is in the building…

  • A great post. I remember the day he died too. I was fifteen and my friend Dawn and I just blubbed for ages. I loved to watch his films as a kid and thought he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. I remember being so jealous when he married, as I had hoped it would be me! He had an incredible voice and more charisma than you could shake a stick at. Of course it was incredibly sad to see him in decline towards the end, but I will always remember him as he was in Jailhouse Rock.

    • The wedding dress Priscilla wore was on display – as was Elvis’s wedding suit. The suit was far more fancy than the dress. It was just so simple and elegant. Not at all what I expected.

  • Happy sigh. Loved this post, Janet!

  • Fantastic post, Janet. V. interesting that the crowds were respectful. I find that touching.

    The day his death was reported I was in Mexico City. I remember seeing the headline and thinking: murio can’t mean what I think it means. Though, of course, I knew it did, really. But it did really seem impossible at the time.

    Still think Jailhouse Rock is one of the coolest songs ever.

    • They were playing the Jailhouse Rock video at one part of the tour, Jenny. It made me realise just how good he really was – groundbreaking in a way few acts are.

  • A great post w very good pix. I’m not a massive Elvis fan but Graceland looks like an interesting place to visit. Nice to see how respectful ppl were too. Liam 🙂

    • We went there mostly because we were in the area anyway – on our musical trip up the Mississippi, so it seemed an obvious stop. I enjoyed it immensely – far more than I expected. And yes – it was great how respectful visitors were – although I imagine it gets a bit fraught around the anniversary of his death.

  • Really absorbing post Janet – I’ve never been and I’d love to go but seeing your photos and descriptions is the next best thing!

  • This was a great read, Janet, about a place I have wanted to visit for a long time. Your report and photos really brought it alive for me and have made me want to visit more than ever. I remember the day he died too and still love his music as much as I ever did. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Hi Julie. Glad you enjoyed the post. I had some of his music playing as I wrote it. There are a few of his songs that even now give me goose-bumps. J X

  • Wonderful article Janet. I was gutted when Elvis died, always a huge fan of his, and still am. I was 31 when he died. Couldn’t quite believe it, and still can’t.
    Thank you for writing such a wonderful article about Graceland. I love it there. To me it is a home. Shame Elvis still isn’t there .. Rosy

    • You have caught it in one word Rosy – it was a home. It is easy to see Elvis living there… Some of the décor was not to my taste – but some parts of it were just lovely. The white music room with the peacock glass was beautiful.

  • Thanks for sharing another great blog about your trip, Janet. Have really enjoyed reading about all the lovely places you’ve visited.

    • So glad you’ve been enjoying the posts Kate. It was a wonderful trip – we had such a good time. It’s great to share it with friends. J X

  • I was a devastated fan the day he died. Loved him from the off. Still love his work. He was an amazing singer with a huge range, and the legend (which started well before his death) was just too big for him to wear.

    Great blog, really want to go myself now! Thank you for the tour.

  • I loved reading about Graceland, Janet. Thanks for sharing it and the photos, especially as I’m unlikely ever to visit it now. I can’t actually remember the day Elvis died, my memories are all from his early days. I was a teenager in the mid-1950s when he came on the scene and I can’t begin to describe the impact he had on the music scene at the time. Prior to that came Bill Haley and the Comets but as a sex symbol Bill Haley didn’t measure up! The young Elvis was gorgeous!

    • The young Elvis was totally gorgeous Anne – and I can only imagine the impact he made at the time. Artists like that are so very rare. J.

  • I’ve never been to Graceland. I’ve never been interested before now. Thanks for sharing your pictures and memories. 🙂

    • It was never high on my list of places to go Chanpreet – but as I was heading north from New Orleans – it seemed like a good idea to stop in. I am so glad I did. It was really interesting.

  • I’ve always thought I wouldn’t be interesting in visiting Graceland but you, and some other friends who’ve been there are making me wonder!

    • Angela – think of it as a museum – because that’s what it is. A museum about a musical legend… and a really interesting glimpse into the times as well. You’d enjoy it… but try for a mid-week visit when it’s not quite so crowded. We were very lucky to visit at a quiet time.

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