Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
Hattie B. Staedtler visits the Kingdom.
I’m going to Graceland, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee – but not because you are, Paul Simon.
Try Googling “Elvis Presley Peace in the Valley” and by the time you get to “Elvis Presley pea” the suggested search is “Elvis Presley Peanut Butter”.
Such is the legacy of the world’s most iconic singer. Some people remember white jumpsuits, or performances sweaty with bad health and snacks packed with fat, salt, sugar and fatty, salty, sugar. Not me, this is the Elvis I remember:
He had the devil in his hips, a head full of hair (and pomade), a boss outfit and that voice: rich, straight from the gut and inappropriately sexy for its time.
Our trip found us staying at the Days Inn, Memphis, Tennessee. It had (probably still does) a guitar-shaped swimming pool, 24 hour Elvis TV and a marquee sign quoting John Lennon: “Before Elvis There Was Nothing”. A ridiculously short walk away a village of Elvis attractions is built in the shadow of 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard, including his car collection, plane collection, epic gift shops (plural!) and a cheesy 50s diner. It’s extensive, exciting and exhausting.
Souvenir tickets in hand and jiggling with anticipation we wait to be bussed from HQ to the house, cameras at the ready and grinning with recognition at our fellow fans and bus buddies. Through the music-note adorned gates, up the drive through lovingly kept grounds, we pull up in front of the famed white colonnades. It feels smaller than I had anticipated; a grand home, but I’ve seen houses in Western Sydney to rival it.
Our King-weary bus driver gives us the drill: no flash photography and Graceland is a one-way tour; take as long as you like to look, but keep moving forward. Luckily I discover that time seems to stand still, in 1977, once you’re inside.
With headphones on and audio tour droning we wander through, careful not to miss a thing. The formal lounge bears the hallmarks of wealth: it’s plush and white and home to a grand piano, peacock motif stained-glass windows and a setting that feels unexpectedly current. We wind on; past the main staircase and the velvet rope that keeps us from his bedroom and the secrets of the second floor, past his parents guest room, through the dining room, the 70s yellow-wood kitchen and into the famed “Jungle Room”. It’s green carpets, stonewall water feature and carved wooden furniture are a tiki-tastic display. One of Lisa-Marie Presley’s stuffed animals sits perched in a chair, where it has sat for thirty years and will most likely sit for thirty more.
We take our time in the canary yellow, mirrored basement media room – complete with a state of the art 70s television wall – pass through the billiard room lined floor to ceiling with endless bolts of patterned fabric. Elvis’ presence is heavy in the air and as I leave the main house I can’t shake the feeling that he left the building (zing!) just a few steps ahead of me. It’s eerie.
Through outbuildings and offices, past stables and down endless halls of gold and platinum records, jumpsuits and memorabilia, the intimacy of his home gives way to his omnipresent superstardom. From the gold Nudie suit and the outfits he and Priscilla were married in, to stuffed toys and statuettes, everything is laid bare behind glass. There is a room filled with floral tributes that still flood in, nearly 35 years after his death. It’s easy to forget he was just a heck of a talented guy who loved his family and his bacon.
With a bowed head and that voice in my ears, the tour ends at Elvis’ grave, in the Meditation Garden. Lying with his mother, father and grandmother it’s melancholic and beautiful at once. He’s at home, with his family, just as I imagine he would want it to be. Though I’d long been desperate to visit, I expected Graceland to resemble the latter years of Elvis’ life: gaudy, tired and massive. What I didn’t expect was for this fabled house to feel quite so much like a family home.