The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National guitar. I was following the river down the highway to the cradle of the Civil War.
Oh, wait. Those are Paul Simon‘s words, not mine, and as you’ll see when you click this link, those words also sound awesome when they’re shared with Willie Nelson. I would like to point out, however, that my traveling companion was my older brother, not the child of my first marriage. Nevertheless, I had a reason to believe we both would be received in Graceland.
Driving. Down to Texas, from New Jersey. You go right through Memphis. As though we had any choice but to stop in Graceland and pay homage to the King of Rock and Roll? Indeed I say, we did not.
Even Jesus drops by to show his respect. But, OK…is this me, or does this Elvis look sort of like the velvet love child of himself and Jack Lord? And Jesus looks a little like Danno…NEW TV CRIME SERIES! Lords of Law: Memphis Beat. Get me a pitch man, because I smell money. Come on, people. It would frigging woooooooork. And I digress.
From the outside, Graceland honestly doesn’t look super-special. It’s quite nice; stately, really. It’s smaller than I expected, especially because the second story is off-limits as it is still used residentially, and it’s on a nice but not gigantic piece of serene, manicured land.
They don’t allow you to take pictures inside (unless that’s changed somehow in the last ten years or so), as they claim the excessive exposure to light from the bajillion flashes from a bajillion tourists could damage the textiles in the house. Whatever, picture nazis. I think they just forbid you from taking pictures so they can sell you more stuff at the gift shop. But I digress.
I mean, this is where Elvis lived, right? This is the guy with the sequinned jumpsuits and the flotilla of cadillacs, who shot his TV so he didn’t have to look at Robert Goulet and got Richard Nixon to officially deputize him into the DEA (that’s right, folks, the D-E-A…just mentally snack that for a while). I know all this is true because I read it in Elvis and Me by Priscilla Presley, and to set the record straight, the fact that I actually read this book? Also true. Get over it, doubters.
So I admit, I drove up to the ample parking lot that was several city blocks large and far enough away that it required shuttle service, expecting to be met with more than a small amount of barking madness. I was having a little bit of a let-down. Couldn’t take pictures, and the house was more tasteful than I expected. Sure, there’s the Jungle Room
But who among the idle rich doesn’t want a room covered in floor-to-ceiling shag carpeting, with hand-carved giraffe armrests for one’s chairs? Or stained glass peacocks flanking the grand piano? Or a billiard room decorated to look like a circus tent? This was the ’70s, people strangled good taste in its sleep and hung its body from the doors of the nearest disco. And this was the King. I wanted more. I wanted “WTF??!?!?!?” I wanted…
Holy shit, is that a porcelain monkey? Sitting in front of a giant lightning bolt?
Oh, what, people. Like you could have stopped yourselves? The tourtroopers were none too pleased with me, and I did try to take the picture surreptitiously, without the flash, but it seemed the crappy little disposable camera I had with me had ideas of its own. Besides, this was what I came there to see! This was the sort of grandiose, drug-addled, TV-shooting sensibility I wanted to see. OK, fine, I know the lightning bolt in the cloud refers back to his TCB motto, which is why this room is also called the TCB room. But the monkey? Mirrored everything? A pre-sports-bar bank of TVs in the wall?
As we were on sort of limited time (I did have to finish driving all my crap down to Texas and starting a new life there), we just took the mansion tour and didn’t tour the planes or the automobile museum, but you know…I’m OK with that. If what we were looking at were hand-drawn sketches Elvis did of his own plane design, then I could have been more interested. DaVinci paintings? I’m there. Woody Guthrie‘s hand-written notebooks? Hours and hours and hours. But what we were looking at, ultimately, were the things someone with a lot of money decided to buy while in the throes of nouveau-riche excess. Meh. Though, admittedly, I will never see another porcelain monkey with quite as much zazz.
The mansion tour included access to the grounds and of course, what does Lisa Marie keep in her back yard? Is it a pool? Is it a swing set? No.
There are no words to describe the frantic melancholy that pervades the Elvis memorial and tomb at Graceland. Flowers. Teddy bears. Notes. Pictures. Wreaths. Sprays. Balloons. It is a vast and ever-changing array of memorials that fans make or design and send in to Graceland for approval and display. Since words fail, here are images.
I can’t help but feel like putting these things out for display just encourages more people to make and/or send this stuff. I was there in 2001, twenty-four years after the man’s unfortunate and untimely death, and still the fans were tragicrafting on more things than black velvet. It’s impressive, really, but unsettling and weird as well. Do they pay that much attention to their own family members?
Anyway. So that’s Graceland. I would go again, if I were in Memphis with someone who’d never visited before. He was the King, after all.
I will leave you with two things: 1) the official Elvis recipe for fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, as sold to the purchasing public on a postcard from the gift shop
And 2) A video of Elvis performing with Ann-Margret in the movie “Viva Las Vegas“. Feast your eyes upon the majesty that is Ann-Margret, who disproves the cultural meme that tights are not pants, though she may have been the only woman in all of Creation that could’ve gotten away with it.