I was never a big fan of Elvis. I associated him with the cheesy movies my little sister watched on Saturday morning or the guy in the tubby white jumpsuit that played the Hampton Coliseum. Then I visited Graceland and realized that Elvis Aaron Presley was the Original Rock Star. Graceland was the home base for the Elvis Empire, just a few miles from Sun Studios where the history of modern music was written. While Graceland from the outside looks staid and conservative, the inside marks it as the lair of a legend. He lived the lifestyle that modern rock and rap stars can only dream of emulating.
A shuttle van takes tours up to the front of the house which looks like any McMansion in a reasonably affluent suburb. The living room and dining room which are the most tastefully decorated places in the entire place have stained glass and crystal. The kitchen, where all those peanut butter and banana sandwiches were fried, is a gold tone that doesn’t exist in the most well preserved relic of the sixties.
Then the real eye-popping part of tour begins. The media room has as a centerpiece three vacuum tube era televisions lined up in a custom cabinet so he could watch all three networks at once. The walls and ceiling in the basement pool room matches the furniture. And pictures cannot due justice to the Jungle Room. Dark green carpeting covers the wall and all the furniture is carved from wood. A waterfall is along one wall and weird figurines decorate the furniture.
Graceland is the original celebrity crib. Part of his entourage lived in mobile homes right on the grounds. Elvis had a fleet of golf carts including a converted snowmobile for racing around with his buddies. He built a private racquetball court that now houses hundreds of his gold records and his 70s-era stage costumes.
Beyond the house and grounds, several smaller exhibit areas show off different facets of the Elvis experience. His private jet, named Lisa Marie, has gold plated bathroom fixtures, a board room, and a bed with lap belts to comply with FAA regulations. An entire museum in its own right has lots of his cars, including a Ferrari, a Rolls Royce, and, of course, a pink Cadillac.
The off-site exhibits are a little scattershot and some seem designed just to lure guests into yet another gift shop. Several restaurants serve food, none of it good. I went with the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich from the 50s-style diner. You could even stay at the adjacent Graceland-run Heartbreak Hotel.
I came away with a newfound respect for The King who created the modern myth of the Rock Star, with both the way he lived and the way he tragically died. Graceland is a musical Mecca that all fans of rock-n-roll and its descendants should visit once in their life.
Blatant Comment Whoring™: What is your connection with the American tragedy that was the life and music of Elvis?
For close-ups and descriptions of the pictures used in the movie as well as many others, see the Flickr set.
Update (8/21/06): The Washington Post reviewed two new Elvis bios this weekend. One is by Jerry Schilling who spent a lot of time at Graceland with Elvis. From the review, it seems he has a lot of stories about the place.