I’m just a singer. Elvis was the embodiment of the whole American culture.
The other thing about Elvis, apart from the whole culture embodiment thing, is that so much has been said about him that there’s quite possibly nothing left to say.
Sweeeeeeet. Shortest post ever.
I don’t remember the exact time Elvis came into my consciousness but I do remember learning the recorder at primary school and having ‘Wooden Heart’ in my first book of sheet music. My mum told me it was an Elvis song and that my uncle used to lock himself in a cupboard with a guitar and play that same song. It stands out as a memory less because of Elvis and more because it was a surprising revelation of a melodramatic side to my usually stoic uncle.
Then like all of us, I couldn’t help but put the pieces of Elvis together from there. The odd snippet of a daytime movie. The barrage of pop culture references to jumpsuits and peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches. The conspiracy theories.
It was this last point – the conspiracy theories – that I think gave me my most enduring impression of the guy. In my mind he must have been the ultimate tortured soul, otherwise why would so many people believe that he elaborately staged his own death simply to escape his life?
It makes sense that I would be preoccupied with this train of thought. Elvis died only 5 years before I was born so I think in the early stages of my life his passing and the circumstances surrounding it were still very much in the minds of the public.
So this was the expectation I took to Graceland. In my mind, it was to be a shrine to a guy who gave so much but was ultimately tortured by the arduous task of trailblazing the very essence of superstardom and celebrity for everybody that would come after him.
Well. Boy, was I wrong. Elvis might well have been a tortured soul but as is made clear from the moment you arrive, Graceland was his happy place and the whole property is a glowing tribute to a guy who loved his home, his family and who knew how to have a good time.
Graceland is a welcome respite from the speculation and the feverish adulation. From the unique approach to interior decorating, to the epic collection of toys – golf carts, horses, a purpose-built squash building – it’s simply the place that the King loved the most and this is evident in the personal touches he left all over the home.
Admittedly, these personal touches include peacock stained glass windows, yellow and navy colour schemes and green shag carpeting – ON THE WALLS – but they were his all the same, so I’m okay with it. Being there, you just get the sense that this was a young guy who thought, you know what, I’ve done okay. I’m going to treat myself. By putting what will surely be a timeless floor covering on my living room walls.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an Elvis fan, it’s a real treat to see a home of this period so well-preserved and so untouched by the trends of the last 30-odd years. There was not a distressed brick wall or exposed beam in sight, I’m happy to report.
Needless to say, it was a big morning. The folks involved in Graceland have done an epic job of preserving and cataloguing anything and everything related to the King. My favourite artefact was a letter from a Miss Hedda Hopper, who ostensibly wrote to thank Elvis for a donation to her School for Visually Handicapped Children (one of a plethora of charitable acts, apparently), but who also informs Elvis that she’s taken up The Twist:
It is the best exercise I have found. I have taken one inch off my waist and two off my fanny. Now I know how you keep so thin.
Picturing Miss Hedda Hopper working up a sweat doing the twist in her living room was quite possibly the best part of the Graceland experience.