Saturday, August 26, 2006

Elvis lives on

You can’t go to Memphis without visiting Graceland. At least, that’s what our voters said today.

So, where were you when you heard The King was dead? I was popping popcorn for minimum wage at a movie theater in Raleigh, N.C., where my step father, Sandy Jordan, manages a group of theaters. I don’t remember what feature was playing. But it was about half-way through the film when the phone in the box office started ringing off the wall with people trying to be the first to break the news to their spouses.

By then, he was Fat 1970’s Elvis, which wasn’t a great fashion moment for anybody, and certainly not for the side-burned King. But then, how could anybody so gorgeous and sweet-faced age well?

Graceland doesn’t dwell much on Elvis’s unflattering moments; this is, after all, a family-owned tribute for his fans. I can’t say I’m one of them, but it didn’t take long to be captivated by the unmatchable tenor of his voice and the magic of the innocence that stayed with him throughout his fame.

He was, as the museum reminds us, only 42 when he died.

You know the story: Poor family from Tupelo, first in his family to graduate from high school, singer turned superstar turned soldier, so dedicated to his parents that he brought them to Graceland to live with him. The handsome, polite, sloe-eyed, honey-voiced Elvis the Pelvis.

He bought Graceland and its 14 acres when he was 22 for $100,000. He died in the master suite bathroom of a heart attack brought on by use of prescription drugs on Aug. 16, 1977. The second floor where he died is closed to visitors.

Graceland turns out to be a comfortable South Colonial house, but not grand. It’s also not tacky … just a time-warp of fashion in the 1970s. Here is the purple bedroom for his parents, the 15-foot-long white sofa in the living room, the kitchen that always had food aplenty for friends and family. The TV room in the basement, with it’s three screens, and the Jungle Room, with this whimsical carved furniture and green snag carpeting on floors and ceiling.

Many spaces – including a one-time car racing track and another bi-level racquetball court – hold memorabilia, furniture and exhibits: a white fur Barbarella-style bed, a recreation of his office (books included Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha), his Army gear, countless gold records and other awards, and his Vegas costumes. An audio tour describes many in depth, incorporating interviews and soundtracks; videos are also included in the exhibit.

The tour ends at his gravesite, moved to Graceland after security problems in his original resting place. His mother, grandmother and father are also buried here, around a fountain. Fans send tributes, and in this week after the 29th anniversary of his death, wreaths and memorials surrounded the grave.

Who knows what would have happened had Elvis lived. If you’re a fan, he still does.


Photos by Jane Wooldridge: Top, the TV room at Graceland; bottom, tributes at Elvis' gravesite.

1 comment:

Mark Bisbing said...

"The TV room in the basement, with it’s three screens, and the Jungle Room, with this whimsical carved furniture and green snag carpeting on floors and ceiling."

What's that apostrophe doing in there Jane?