A rhinestone encrusted Elvis stop.
10.07.2013 - 10.07.2013
I wouldn't say I'm an Elvis fan, I didn't even think I knew many songs until I got to Memphis and our Graceland campground where Elvis FM was pumped throughout the speaker system and they got ingrained in my brain. I had arrived in Memphis, Tennessee eager to see some great music and historical sites and the first stop was of course the greatest pop culture home in history, the home of the King, Graceland.
Despite the time lapse and new generations of music icons, Graceland is evidently as popular as ever. We arrived ten minutes after opening time and got on the 7th tour already for the morning. I joined the large line that had already formed and went through the obligatory pre-entry photo stop. For only $45 you can pick up the print of that delightful snap of you looking like an idiot in front of a badly painted mural of the gates of Graceland. Hey Elvis fans, do you know what would be a better souvenir photo? A photo outside the actual gates!
Then I stood in the shuttle bus line and waited to be taken to Graceland itself. I was only in Elvis purgatory - the land of souvenir shops and 50s diners. Now I'm not exactly a fan, it was more a bucket list thing and I was far more interested in getting into Memphis itself, so I watched the clock tick by as I waited in line. I searched the queue for Elvis fans, hoping to see a look-alike or at least someone wearing an Elvis hat to entertain me while Graceland stole precious vacation minutes from me.
The line was slow moving as small mini buses came by at intervals to take away only 15 or so passengers each time. I was getting impatient. As I neared the front of the line I realised the road was just in front of us and there was a large property obscured by trees just opposite.
Elvis lived across the road from where we were standing.
His gates were some 25 metres away.
We were lining up to get a bus to take us what was possibly 50 metres, at a stretch. Across the road, in the gates and up a drive way.
Well, this is America.
Maybe it’s a long driveway I thought?… nope, the shuttle took 15 seconds. With no chance of getting any of those 45 minutes of queuing up life-minutes back I will just say, they could probably divert some of the funds from the high entrance fees to the construction of a walkway over the road and save everyone the hassle. They could add some pictures and perhaps a chronological timeline of events to jazz it up.
Within sheer seconds I was standing outside a modest, but large white home with a pillared front. Maybe something a wealthy businessman or family would own, certainly not a patch on what today’s superstars have, whole city blocks and a wing of the house for their dogs.
It is entirely as it stood when Elvis lived there, but with the addition of 100 slow-walking idiots wearing head sets milling about his personal belongings. It’s very 70s and more like a time warp of 70s design than anything grand and expensive; sleek lines, shag pile rugs, Venetian glass and white leather. Lots of orange and brown and yellow with a dash of cobalt blue every now and then.
While 20 slow moving, vacationing couples from Florida crowded the lobby trying to work their audio guides I pushed my way through the house.
The front room was where the business was conducted, a few family portraits, a piano, a couch and some odd retro furnishings.
His parents room has a bed in it to be expected and that was all there is to say on that.
Not being a super fan worked in my favour, I had no real desire to really scrutinise where he sat and where he kept his teacups. I was making good time, the audio guide couldn't keep up with me. I went back through the lobby, back passed the same vacationing couples who were speaking to each other over their headsets wondering how to skip it back to the start because they've missed a bit.
The main staircase was roped off. You cannot go upstairs at all, so you don’t even get to see where Elvis lived, you get to see where he hung out and watched TV. It is blocked off for privacy. That must be in the fine print. Really though, if you are going let people walk everywhere else, why leave a room private? Out of everything I would actually be curious what was on his bedside table and to look in his underwear drawer or see what kind of shampoo he used, instead it's, "this is where he probably talked on the phone".
I went through another lounge room and in to the kitchen. It was like a regular 70s house. I was waiting for more tacky splashes of grandeur and there wasn't any. I was speeding along the one way trail through the house waiting to see something that made this house different to half the old people’s houses I deliver medication to in my day job. I was waiting to have to look through some old bowling medals or newspaper cut outs like the oldies show me. The most extravagant and it seems the crowd favourite was the jungle room, it had green shag carpet and ceilings and all the furniture was made from tree-like unshapen wood. It was hideously cool. I will give him that.
Downstairs, along a mirror lined staircase (a bit of the flashiness I was expecting) was a TV room with three screens which is probably what I would have spent my money on too. Decorated in yellow and blue it appears it was cutting edge design at the time. His personal logo emblazoned on the wall, TCB, Taking Care of Business. Off to the other side of the stairs is a pool room that is one large curtain that everything blends in to, a camouflage of 70s colours and patterns. Like someone ate the 70s and regurgitated it on a wall; splashes of orange, brown, paisley, tassels, velvet, a matching carpet and couch.
Then it was back upstairs and out the back door.
Nothing flash at all. Where is his gold plated toilet seat? Or indoor bowling lane or room full of segways? This guy did not know how to waste his fortunes.
And to make it worse, there was also a severe lack of Elvis nuts around. My only satisfaction was a Elvis t-shirt clad lady on a mobility scooter zipping through the entrance foyer then doing a 12-point turn outside Elvis’ parents room while screeching about upstairs still being closed off.
"I agree, total bullshit", I wanted to say and hope she gave me a high five.
The rest of the Graceland property is add-ons, mostly rooms of trophies, gold records, posters and costumes etc. He did have his own racquet ball room which was pretty bad ass at the time I'm sure. Racquetball has lost a lot of its badass finesse now. He had a pool, just the size of a standard backyard pool but with a small diving board. A few horses down the back. The place certainly lacked the tacky expenditure of today, perhaps a stable and some ponies was super extravagant at the time? His memorial is in a small garden near the pool. The gravestones of his mother, father, grandmother and himself and a plaque honouring his brother.
Elvis came from a poor background, made a lot of money and although young was really quite disappointingly responsible with his fortune. He looked after his parents. He liked motorcycles and cool cars, like his ace pink Cadillac, and had a plane or two but I guess in our day and age we are used to seeing celebrity ridiculous tenfold. People probably thought he was one crazy cat but a room with three TVs now is like 'meh', where is your crack den Elvis? Where is your pool full of drunk bikini-clad whores? Where is your champagne fountain? Though I'm sure he spent a significant amount of money on rhinestones and glitter which is probably the equivalent today of some pimpin’ bling.
I did discover he had a fleet of golf carts and all his mates would cruise around on them and even take them out on the road so that gave him a little more street cred.
Given I live in a time when pop stars shave their heads, are twerking with foam fingers, wearing dresses made of meat to awards shows and are generally being all but committed by 20 years old, it all seems petty tame. Elvis thought a rhinestone jumpsuit was a bit off the hook. So by 21st century standards everything about Elvis and Graceland was all very normal and tasteful with a funky 70s flair. Maybe all the cool junk is upstairs hiding? Didn't he die on the toilet, they need to highlight that more.
Scandal is the only way to sell tickets these days.
There was no one doing their annual Elvis pilgrimage that I could tell, no impersonators, no one weeping opening at his grave or trying to steal his underwear, it was mostly white middle-aged couples paying their respects to a legend. He is still incredibly well loved and clearly hundreds of people see his home every day and all the other exhibits on his film and music career, eat in the nostalgia retro 50s diners and buy rhinestone encrusted pink Elvis t-shirts from the gift shops. His music plays everywhere, like its on a loop throughout the entire region, and videos play in every room.
I do wonder if we will ever have someone of his magnitude again, someone that people will genuinely care about many, many years after they have died. We hate our popstars within a few years, many of them will die in relative obscurity or tragically from an overdose or will retire and sell used cars and talk of the yesteryear. Even the ones who were never even that famous are suddenly on YouTube drunkenly eating a hamburger and still claiming to have single handedly torn town the Berlin Wall. They are all batshit crazy. In 50 years will we be wandering through Lady Gaga’s house and saying, “hmmm, not an overly glamorous mansion” or “a dress made of meat? Please that is so lame” oh and "look, how dumb she has her own McDonalds (that may have been Richie Rich)”
Elvis Presley did die young and tragically like a true pop star but there was only one mention of his passing at 42 from heart problems. I can only assume it’s because to most of these people off the highway outside Memphis, Tennessee, Elvis still lives.