I just started reading Losing Graceland, by Micah Nathan.
The narrator of the book is Ben, a young man who answers a help wanted ad only to discover the person who placed the ad is the not-really-dead Elvis Presley. Elvis needs someone to drive him to Memphis so he can find his kidnapped, illegitimate granddaughter.
I’m only fifty pages in but it’s an interesting premise and pretty good book so far.
The trouble is I keep getting distracted by how freaking cool it would be to not only discover the Elvis is alive, but to be able to spend time with him.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was probably going to write a blog post about Elvis, which means that I would probably end up outing myself.
I’m an Elvis fan.
When I was younger, I liked his early music, the stuff that sounded raw and edgy. The stuff that got his music banned.
But over the years, I’ve grown to like his older music better. Yes, I like the cheesy, white sequin jumpsuit era Elvis.
If I could pick any music related career in the world — a rock star, a Broadway diva or the first chair cellist in the New York Philharmonic — I would choose to be one of Elvis’s backup singers in the seventies
I’m sure he wasn’t a joy to work with by that point. He was on drugs and struggling, but it would have been worth putting up with all that to sing back up on “Suspicious Minds.”
Listen to it for yourself. I dare you to not sing along. It doesn’t get better than that if you’re going to spend your life singing backup.
Being an Elvis fan runs in my family. My grandmother liked him. In fact, the last music she listened to before she died was a tape of Elvis singing hymns.
And my mother has liked him for as long as I can remember.
My first memory of Elvis was August 1977 when he died. I don’t remember any details, just that my mother and grandmother were sad and so I decided to be sad too.
I grew up knowing all the Elvis trivia… his middle name, that he had a twin that died, where he was born. Names like Priscilla, Colonel Parker, Gladys and Lisa Marie were as familiar to me as the names of my family members.
I’m not suggesting that my mother and grandmother were obsessed. They just liked his music and read a lot, so they’d read about Elvis and talk about it. It all rubbed off on me.
Another confession. I’ve been to Graceland. Twice.
The first time was in 1983 during a cross country trip to my brother’s wedding in California. My grandparents, mother and I drove a van (Well, I was only 12, I didn’t drive) out for the festivities. We stopped at the Grand Canyon, Lake Tahoe, the Salt Flats and, on the way back, Graceland.
Since I was twelve, I wasn’t impressed. I remember being more interested by Donner Pass (I had this morbid fascination with the cannibalism story) than Elvis’s home.
I’m doing something unprecedented and posting a picture with this blog. Not only do I not usually post pictures, but I normally destroy all pictures of me as a kid, much less post them on the internet.
But I wanted to post this one because it’s me at Graceland, posed beside the famous pink Cadillac, and you can see how unimpressed I am. Unfortunately, you can also see the super cool, sleeveless t-shirt I got at the Grand Canyon.
My mother and I returned to Graceland after she retired five years ago. The trip was her retirement gift from me and the people she worked with.
This time, being almost twenty five years older, I decided to throw myself into the trip with gusto. If I was going to be a Graceland tourist, I was going to be a whole-hearted Graceland tourist.
Graceland is an odd place to visit. Except for the actual estate, everything else – the souvenir shops, the hotels – is across the road. We stayed at The Heartbreak Hotel (of course), which is set at the end of Lonely Street (again, of course.)
The hotel had a tv station that played Elvis videos 24 hours a day, a heart-shaped pool and a bar called the Jungle Room Lounge.
Surprisingly, the restaurants by Graceland are pretty crappy. They are all cafeteria style. Don’t you think Elvis would have wanted a good steak house?
To get to Graceland, you have to buy a ticket and take a bus across the street, through those famous gates. It seems kind of funny to ride a bus for a block, but I guess it makes sense. They have to control the crowds somehow.
The Graceland tour is self-guided. You have one of those headset thingies and walk around at your own pace. You can’t go in every room, but you see a lot of it, as well as exhibits of costumes, a bunch of his gold records and all his vehicles. I didn’t pose by the Cadillac this time.
The tour ends with his grave. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if he’s actually buried there or not. There’s a big gravestone, so probably.
On both these pilgrimages to Graceland, I remember people crying at the grave. I was struck by how much this man, this musician, touched people.
I heard women around me saying, “He wore that when I saw him in concert” when looking at the costumes. And saw people carrying flowers, just to leave at his graveside. Even thirty five years after his death, people still love and worship him.
I’m not like those fans. I didn’t cry at his grave and I’m not old enough to have experienced his music live, but I’m still a fan because, no matter how he lived his life, the man could sing. Even in a white jumpsuit.