Today I visited Graceland. Yes, as in home of Elvis in Memphis, TN.
Visitors park at a large parking lot across the street (next to the Elvis RV Park) and are taken to Graceland by shuttle. The place where you buy tickets has the sensationalized feel of a wax museum attached to a row of gimmicky gift shops. It is also a place woefully lacking in signs.
From the moment you buy your ticket, the game to get your money is on. Your picture is taken before you get on the shuttle, then later attempted to be sold back to you for about $20. The small detail about the $20 is revealed only after you find your picture in a heap of other smiling tourists (again, where was the sign? One of maybe 25 such examples).
With the ticket came a headset for a self-guided tour. I wasn’t sure how I felt about having a headset barking commands, telling me where to walk and what to look at.
But Graceland itself is a majestic American icon. Because of the overt commercial aspect, touring it felt like being on a date with someone who just wants to fuck you, but you go along to get a free dinner and drinks because you know you’re going to call it a night before you have to put out. This, by the way, has never happened to me, but it seems like an accurate simile. If you can relate, shame on you.
Elvis lived large. He bought Graceland at (I think) 22 – he remains the most sold artist ever (over 1 billion records sold the tour claims). He became famous at such a young age, and you can see that he decided to live up to it (and die by it).
Every lavishely decorated room creates an intense mood, or perhaps EXPECTATION. Every room has a theme that seems to say, “We will do THIS now”. And whatever “this” is, it is turned up to 11.
There are bars in nearly every room, televisions everywhere (Lisa Marie said it was on all the time), glass chandeliers, in fact, glass everything (you’d think he was a coke head). There is a pool room, a pool, a shooting gallery, a piano room, a jam room, and on and on. Then of course are his planes, his cars, his horses, his toys (guns, karate, golf-carts) and enormous wardrobe.
In one room, Elvis had three televisions mounted on the wall so he could watch “all three” networks at the same time.
Seeing all the photos and videos of Elvis, you’re reminded of his charisma and looks. But I kept thinking, “but you know, I never really liked his music that much”. I mean, when was the last time I put on Elvis?
I always thought Elvis spent his life having sex. When you see those suits he wore with his chest hanging out, women screaming, saw his dance moves (“Elvis the Pelvis” was what they called him), then saw the decadent mansion, you’d think his pelvis was moving like it was drilling for oil.
But I found this on Wikipedia: “Peggy Lipton claims that he was “virtually impotent” with her (She attributed this to his drug misuse)…Priscilla Presley and biographer Suzanne Finstad also claim that the singer wasn’t overly active sexually.”
Maybe too much of a good thing and you lose interest? Or were the pills giving him stage fright? Imagine becoming the world’s greatest sex symbol and then screwing it all up by making yourself impotent.
The tour makes you feel your life is too pedestrian. A sparkling mansion designed for constant rock star partying makes you question your social agenda and the social utilization of your own space.
Or that’s how I felt when the tour dumped me off in the gift shop, where I decided to materialistically anaesthetize my sense of apartment bling inadequacy by purchasing two Elvis ash trays.
While paying for the ash trays, the salesguy asked if I wanted a discount card. He pointed out I would get 10% off. I immediately thought of the Safeway one they give you. The only problem with those is the paperwork.
“How long will it take?” I asked.
“Um, it’s immediate”.
Then I saw him grab a “discount” card. They sell for $25. I told him I didn’t want it.
“You thought these were free?” he asked with enough attitude that I decided to give it right back at him.
“It’s ironic you’re SELLING discount cards” I pointed out. “Think of the Safeway card, or buy 10 Jamba juices and get the 11th free, or rewards cards.”
He finally came around and said, lamely: “well, look who I work for. Elvis is trying to make money even from the great beyond.” (Um – Elvis is not making money dude, he’s dead. And he certainly wasn’t alive when the memorial gift shop was being built).
Every single person who worked there not only had a dispassion for their job, but they almost pretended like they were somewhere else, which is what I guess what you would do if you had to work day after day at an over-commercialized, holy destination for the world’s first mega rock sex symbol.
The tour kicked off on this note when, standing in front of the front door of Graceland, a woman who was probably 18 and carrying the air of someone chewing gum and looking up and to the left, recounted the story of Elvis’ purchase of Graceland for $100k at the age of 22.
After she let us in, I was glad that it was a self-guided tour with headphones.