"For reasons I cannot explain there's some part of me wants to see Graceland." - Paul Simon
That puts it nicely. Neither Rick nor I have ever been Elvis fans, so what are we doing here? Who knows. But we were going to be in Memphis, and thought, why not? Elvis Presley and his home are cultural phenomena, so perhaps we better witness it and see what we see.
Admission to Graceland is not cheap. With a senior and AAA discount the basic tour for two came to $57. We maintained hopes for the best. We were directed to a line for the shuttle, passing the first of many souvenir shops along the way, and given our headsets for the guided audio tour.
The shuttle bus delivered us on the front porch of the "mansion," which is only a mansion by the standards of a young man born and raised in Tupelo, Mississippi. It's about the size of a larger home in a northern suburb, maybe comparable to one of the McMansions that are going up all over the country - maybe smaller. I believe he bought the home in 1957, when the property was out in the country south of Memphis.
We were directed into the front hallway by a guide, and then we were on our own with the audio tour. First room - the living room - and right away we were transported back to the sixties and seventies. This house is how someone from that era, who came in to a lot of money, but had no history of privilege, power and class, would decorate their home. The rooms are of typical size and the decor is, well, how can I say this, ghastly? no, garish? no, gaudy maybe? I give up. What it triggers is a whole set of classist, judgmental descriptors that are out of place and time. It is what it is.
The staircase up to Elvis's private floor, which remains private.
Maybe Lisa Marie, his daughter, and current owner, still lives up there? I doubt it.
A guest bedroom...
The dining room. Very simple china, gaudy chandelier. Oops, there I go again.
When we entered the kitchen, it all hit home. Literally. This could have been my family's kitchen when I was growing up, just a little bigger. Passing through the kitchen, we began to feel like we were really in someone's home. A real person, who lived much like we did.
Down the stairs to the basement. Here the fantasy house begins.
Think disco and psychedelics. The stairs are completely lined with mirrors and lights.
The TV room is also mirrored on the ceiling, and all done in yellow and purple.
Eek! (by today's standards.) Bold, exotic, "modern."
Funny little pool table room here. The walls and ceiling are lined with fabric that matches the sofa, and there is a small Picasso on one wall.
Now up the stairs, lined with green shag carpet as a foreshadowing of interior indulgences to come...
..in the "Jungle Room" (today I think it would qualify as a man cave).
(Just looking at this snapshot of his life provoked so many questions. Was Elvis a typical man of his times? Was this how rock and roll culture looked in the homes of his contemporaries? It reminded me of Michael Jackson [who Elvis's daughter married! Double Eek!] - an icon of his time too, gifted, promoted, wrung out and strung out.)
Back to the jungle room. Rick kept rolling his eyes. But I was actually feeling a little teary. It's so...so...I give up again.
Well here's the kicker. Exit out the back, cross through the modest car port and there is Lisa Marie's swing set. Once again, it all comes home. This is just a guy, just a family home. He had enough money to do whatever he wanted with this home, probably hired big deal interior decorators to do whatever was hottest at the moment. But a swing set is a swing set. It could have been a three story tree house, or a child sized railroad, but it was just a swing set. How sweet.
We walked along the back of the house - very normal...
...and into the "Trophy" hall, which is basically a museum filled with memorabilia
of Elvis's music and movie career. A loooong hall with his gold records.
The final exhibit room used to be the racquetball court, but is now a display of his last years, complete with more gold and platinum records and about 8 of the very flashy outfits he was known for in the seventies. Sequins, capes, bell-bottoms. The best part of this room, and really most of the museum spaces is the film footage of his performances. They were absolutely stunning. It's true, he was a remarkable performer. Not doubt about it. I unfortunately did not appreciate his musical style when he was alive. I was in college, and Elvis was not cool among the "intelligentsia" of academia and the hippies like me. Rick was at sea and not so tuned in to US modern culture. So we missed most of Elvis's music. But I get it now.
Elvis's and his family's graves are in his meditation garden.
I am SO glad we went. Although it's hard to find the right words to describe Elvis's home, it doesn't feel so hard to find words for him. He was clearly a gifted performer, but I also came away feeling like he was sweet. A sweet man. I guess I'm not alone in feeling that, and that's one reason why he has been so loved.
I also came away appreciating that this amazing moment in time has been preserved for us to see now. Not so different from Andrew Jackson's Hermitage. Elvis was just from a different era, a representative of the "creative class" rather than the political gentry, but just as powerful in his own way.