By Richard White, January 28, 2014
Graceland has never been on my bucket list. But when in Memphis, it seems like the thing one ought to do and we got caught up in the hype. We, along with thousands of others, including bus loads of elementary school kids (shouldn't they be in school to learn real important things anymore?) arrived at the same time we did, which made for a long line up to get in. In Disneyesque fashion, we were channelled into holding pens where we waited our turn be herded through like cattle - 20 or so at a time on to shuttle buses. Not a good start!
Poor Boy's Taste
The mansion was not as grand as I expected. In fact, it isn’t as grand as many acreages or mansion in many cities in North America including Memphis. I was expecting some extravagant and futuristic home like something from a James Bond movie or a Jetsons cartoon. It is a stark reminder of just how our lifestyles have changed. What was luxurious 50 years ago is commonplace or even archaic today. As well, I need to keep in mind the house and décor reflected the tastes of a poor boy’s rapid rise to fame and fortune.
The Jungle room was tacky, the kitchen was primitive and the bedroom would not be considered extravagant by today’s standards. It certainly lacked the castle-like sense of scale or opulence of a real King.
How many gold records can you look at or how many outfits with flashy buttons/sequins with deep V-neck shirts and bell-bottom pants do you need to take pictures of?
Waste of time
Once out of Elvis’ Graceland homestead you are invited to view his Car Museum, Tupelo (his actual birthplace) History Gallery, two planes and several (surprise, surprise) gift shops at your leisure. There is also a diner which serves Elvis’ favourite sandwich - grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich, which I must admit, is very tasty.
The Car Museum is good for a 10-minute walk through – what is it about rock and roll stars and their cars, especially Cadillac. The museum also has golf carts and a tractor - boy toys! The planes are a waste of time in my mind and in that of several others who we befriended on and after the tour.
Seems like you really should be an Elvis fan if you go to Graceland. One Chicago woman who was part of our tour, a self confessed Elvis worshipper, said she was moved to tears a couple of times. A friend who had done the tour a couple of days earlier and who is also a BIG Elvis fan was gaga about the experience.
There were some surprises. Like I didn’t know he had a twin brother Jessie who died at childbirth and I wasn’t alone in this gap in my Elvis trivia knowledge. I was also not aware of the extent of his philanthropy. And who knew he had his own racquetball court?
As a former museum/art gallery professional, it struck me strange there are no real hands-on or interactive experiences. Where is the Elvis impersonator (or Elvis tribute artist as they like to be called) performing for you? What about a place to listen to his music and maybe a dance floor? What about “dance like Elvis” lessons? What about a karaoke opportunity to make you own video?
What about a pink Cadillac with Elvis in the driver’s seat where you can sit next to him and get your picture taken? Maybe a place to dress like Elvis and take pictures? There is a tacky mural you can get your picture taken, as you line-up waiting for the shuttle but really, this is the 21st century.
Interestingly, the tour also doesn’t tell the tragic story of the last years of Elvis’ life, which, while sad, should be part of the story.
I wouldn’t recommend the Graceland Tour unless you are a diehard Elvis fan and that is not just me talking, I heard this same comment from several others. Take another look at the images in this blog and you have pretty much taken the tour.
If you really want to understand the evolution of music in the 20th century the Sun Studio, Stax Museum and Rock and Soul Museum tours are well worth the investment of time and money. You will even get a good appreciation of Elvis' role in the shaping modern music and see lots of Elvis artifacts.
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CW writes: You made it to Memphis and face to face with the Elvis Conundrum - the beauty of rock and roll and the mess of his home are all the same piece. I believe the way into both is through his relationship to his mother, which you hint at when you mention his twin. Congrats on the visit. I hope to do it someday.
I'm surprised that you were surprised by your visit. I think you were victim to the dictum: if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. Tell me, were they selling the Guralnick bio volumes there?
FYI, a really fun essay on the tackiness of Graceland and Elvis memorabilia is found in the book the Elvis Reader, where the author visits people digging through a metaphorical mountain of the stuff. Of course it's the people who are significant, not the stuff - just like the real Graceland.