I was so excited about touring Graceland.
In fact, it’s one of the reasons to visit Memphis that really drew me in.
My friend had given me a Buddy Pass on Southwest Airlines to visit her in Florida, but since she had a bundle of them that was expiring, I ended up with an extra that I needed to use within two weeks.
I thought to myself, “Where can I go alone that’s a direct flight from Houston?” When I thought of touring Graceland, the glorious home of Elvis Presley, as well as paying my respects at the National Civil Rights Museum, I knew I wanted to visit Memphis.
But when I arrived at Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, TN 38116, I didn’t expect to feel so sad. But I did anyway. Here’s why:
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Why Touring Graceland Made Me Sad
I’m not an Elvis super fan.
He died 15 years, 364 days before I was born, so I grew up seeing him as a cultural moment, rather than a musician to invest time and interest in. Sure, I like his songs and know his general story, but my parents were born a little too late to appreciate him, and my grandmothers didn’t have the time to be fangirls, so I didn’t know much more than Jail House Rock.
Before touring Graceland, I only knew of Elvis the phenomenon, not Elvis the person, so I was excited to learn more about his brand of rock n’ roll and the impact he had on a generation.
Seeing his home really shifted my perspective.
From Phenom to Friend
Before visiting, I didn’t know Elvis’ life started in tragedy; that his twin brother Jessie Garon Presley was stillborn in a tiny shotgun home in Tupelo, Mississippi, an event that caused the Presley family to cling together and love each other more fiercely than before.
I knew vaguely of Elvis’ religious background, but the exhibits throughout Graceland painted the picture of a man of great faith with a heart for the nations.
I heard mention after mention of Elvis’ generosity towards his community and fellow man, coupled with his intense desire that his philanthropy be anonymous.
As much as Elvis was “the voice of a generation” or “the king of rock n’ roll,” it really just seemed like he was boy with a voice trying to do a little good. It made me sad to think he was ever portrayed otherwise.
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Too Much Too Fast
It was the little things at Graceland that made the biggest impact.
Like when I learned that Elvis, nervous for his first day on set of his first motion picture, memorized everyone’s lines instead of just his own, just in case, indicating how naive about, and yet wholeheartedly committed to, Hollywood he was. Elvis went on to star in 27 films in the 1960’s. 27. And that’s in addition to all his singing.
It made me sad to hear that his non “teen beach movies” failed, as he wanted to do serious work. The public just didn’t want to buy “off brand Elvis,” so he had to stick to the formula…27 times.
His pompadoured black hair. His guitar. His bedazzled jumpsuits. Even his “thank ya, thank ya very much.” Those weren’t Elvis. Those were his brand; trademarks assigned to him, then taken from him, and exaggerated into something that would sell.
When I went to Guest Services at Graceland to ask a question, there were two women ahead of me in line, both in their late 60s. They were little girls when Elvis was at the top of his game, but they still loooooved him. One of them was even wearing blue suede shoes.
Their enthusiasm was infectious and reminded me of how I speak about literally ever boyband member ever, but it also reminded me of the voyeuristic relationship that the public often has with our favorite celebrities. We feel like we know them, but we only know their persona. It’s totally one-sided.
While we (the public) were giddy in love with Elvis, he was working himself to death, turning to substances in the process to comfort himself.
Gone Too Soon
The Meditation Garden at Graceland is what really got to me.
I had to sit down for a moment I was so overwhelmed. Elvis is resting there, along with the family he loved so dearly. His parents, Vernon and Gladys Presley, as well as his grandmother, Minnie Mae. There’s even a memorial for his twin brother, Aaron.
I say resting emphatically, because while touring Graceland, I learned resting is something Elvis never really got to while living. 42 years. 27 movies. 19 albums. Countless concerts.
He was tired.
We, the public, took from Elvis. A once poor boy with an extraordinary voice and charismatic smile. A generous man who was overwhelmed by the needs of the world. We could never get enough of him. And eventually we took too much.