Memphis, TN – late night
Graceland. How do I start with Graceland?
Elvis was always on the periphery of my musical tastes. I was more likely to enjoy an album by someone who was influenced by Elvis then by the real thing. Then again, he was responsible for songs like Suspicious Minds and His Latest Flame and Kentucky Rain and In The Ghetto (Mac Davis wrote that song, did you know that?). CDs may have their downsides, but one definite plus has been the surge of rereleased songs, often remastered from original tapes, occasionally with alternate versions of songs or outtakes, or partial takes (The Beatles Anthologies are probably the highest profile of these efforts). And I’d actually been kicking around which of the Elvis sets to get (there are three, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. And I think I might just have to splurge and get the 50’s _and_ the 60’s first), even before I knew I was coming to Graceland.
So when I realized I was going to be camping near Graceland (remember the Opryland/RV campground connection? Well, Graceland is the next stop on this particular tour, please keep your hands and arms inside the bus at all times), I knew I had to go.
After Nashville, where the attractions in the Opryland suburbs had truly frightened me, and The Hermitage had left me rather flat, I wasn’t on very solid ground here. Also, I had mixed emotions as to how I “should” react. As a snob and a smart-ass, I am required by law to textually pounce upon any perceived weakness, oddity, or abnormality in any group that can be described stereotypically. But as a singer and guitar player, in all seriousness, there’s a certain amount of reverence going on here.
So I what-the-helled it, and got the platinum ticket to see his cars and his planes and his mansion and his socks and underwear.
The mansion itself was not nearly so stand-offish as The Hermitage. Perhaps Andrew Jackson would have been a more inviting host had he penchants for TVs, firearms, and peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches. They didn’t fix the tear in the felt on the pool table, instead they told a story about it. They told you not to touch anything, but they tended to turn the other direction a lot (Velour bedspread on the bed on the plane. And a _really_ long seatbelt). I won’t go so far as to say Elvis decorated as I would have, but I felt a kindred spirit: I could tell _he_ felt it was comfortable. And I was comfortable with that.
The tour wound through the living room, music room, media room, the famous Jungle Room, then out back to Vernon’s office, the horse pastures, then into the trophy room.
The trophy room was where it started. I began to sense what it was all about. The effect one guy could have just singing a song, just doing something he loved to do. I went down a hall lined with gold records. They meant something. I went through display cases filled with jewelled jumpsuits of leather and seude and God-only-knows-what, alongside pictures of the concerts where he wore them, concerts in front of thousands of people. That meant something.
Outside the trophy room, I stopped my little tape player (the tour was on tape, we were all issued a walkman at the tour bus) and struggled with this for a few minutes. It meant something, but I couldn’t tell what.
I started the tape again, and walked toward the racquetball court, the next stop. There were a lot of people there, and my walking was actually a little bit behind what the tape was telling me. The tape was talking about a ceremony that had been held in the racquetball court on the fifteenth, maybe twentieth anniversary of Elvis’ death. Apparently, Elvis had never recieved all the gold record awards he was entitled to. And many records had sold enough to go platinum, or multi-platinum, but had only been recognized as gold. This was just one of those things that sometimes happens to big artists. At any rate RCA had researched all the sales records and determined what gold and platinum records Elvis really deserved, and presented them en masse, posthumously.
Right about then I walked into the racquetball court.
From where I was standing, it looked fifty feet wide and a hundred feet high. Covered with gold records, with platinum records. One hundred and ten, the tape said from somewhere that seemed far away. Some as much as quintuple platinum. Millions of records. Millions and millions of records, of songs, of…
I just stood there. I began to feel the extent, to understand the enormity of what this meant. I was blinking as fast as I could because I knew everyone was going to be looking at that idiot over there, crying at a bunch of sales awards.
But they aren’t sales awards. Those are people. Those are lives he touched
Those are differences he made.
Those are people.
I was kind of foggy walking away. The only remaining stop was the meditation garden, where Elvis and those closest to him rest. This seemed to be one the most popular areas of the mansion and grounds, there were dozens of people lined up several deep stopping around the grave.
I just walked around it.
There’s nothing there, Elvis isn’t there. Elvis is with those people. All those people, reflected in the records on that wall, they all have pieces. Elvis gave them pieces. Elvis gave me a piece.
I got my piece a little late, or at least understood its value a little late.
In recognition, I respectfully offer this piece of me, for what it may be worth to you.