Big Country Little Car Tour, Day 6
Maybe it's not always like that at Graceland. Maybe it was the chilly weather, maybe it was everyone buried in the audio tour and not talking much — I've never visited before, so I can't say, but there was a sadness there that I did not expect. After standing in the endless shuttle line and shuffling obediently onto a short bus to go maybe 400 feet and getting herded from walkway to walkway, I assumed I'd feel let down, but the down beat wasn't disappointment. It was gloom.
I've always considered the pathos of Elvis quite striking. I frankly don't care about his music much one way or the other (although thanks to today's bombardment with it I could happily go a few months without hearing a note), but the pitiable waste of his talent, and the fact that it now seems like it was inevitable from the start, is fascinating — as is the estate's determination to avert its eyes from an unraveling that lasted years, and came to define him. Graceland as a destination wants to give the impression that Elvis just went away, was rightly lifted into heaven in the manner of the Virgin Mary; the only mention of the notorious bathroom even in passing is a stern note on the audio tour that the upstairs is off-limits, out of respect for the family's privacy.
But then, the tour didn't always go through the downstairs kitchen, either, because Elvis's aunt still lived in the house and still used it. And said family is buried in the back yard — 15 feet from the swimming pool. "Private" is not a word that fits here.
Evidently, Lisa Marie sold most of the merchandising and development rights to an entertainment conglomerate that aims to build up the area for miles in every direction and pull more money into Graceland as a tourist destination. At first, this doesn't present as a bad thing — the defunct Graceland Inn property is, literally, a sinkhole — but the very thing that attracts people to Graceland, that the family hasn't touched anything since Elvis's death, that you can touch the carpeted ceiling in the hall beside the Jungle Room, that Elvis's bathos and kitsch made him both a gigantic brand and a manageably-sized member of our family as Americans, that feeling that we go to the place because we already knew the man, that will vanish. It's already nearly out of sight; guests aren't permitted just to walk up and down the driveway, for insurance reasons. They have to take the shuttle to get there, and seriously, it is right there, right across the street. Civilian traffic goes right past.
Isn't this why Elvis is still beloved, still ours? He's the most famous guy in the world, the talent, the icon, but then, with his unfortunate attire and his kooky snacks, he's just folks, fallible, flabby. He liked Match Game. He's right there. When the expansion is complete and they reroute the traffic and it gets its own Starbucks, I don't know if we'll be able to get to him anymore.
All of that said, plus a pro forma objection to the ten-dollar parking, it's totally worth a visit. Walking past the clothes displays, you remember how tall Elvis was, how many bad movies he starred in (I'd forgotten all about this "gem"), how young he still was when he died. Billboards around Memphis are making much of the fact that it's his 75th birthday this year — he would still only have been 75, and he's been dead most of my life. The long slow fall that ended at this necropolis is all most of us know of him.
And what better way to celebrate the man than to eat a giant fried-catfish lunch and take a very long nap? TCB, indeed.
Next stop: Greenville, MS.
Tags: Big Country Little Car Tour Elvis Presley Lisa Marie Presley travel untimely demises