I stayed at the Artisan Hotel, a garish and run down hotel that probably never has seen better days. Bt it was cheap and had parking, so it served it’s purpose. It’s location was extremely convenient for short drives (around 5-10 minutes) to Graceland, the Stax museum and Sun Records.
I started at Graceland. I booked the VIP tour the night before. It’s more expensive, but give that I’m only really likely to do Graceland once, I thought I’d go for it. My tour was supposed to be at 10:30am, but due to a miscalculation on my part over travel time, I got there at 9:30am. But, that was ok, I could start straight away.
A bus took me across the road and up the driveway to the house. The gateposts are covered with graffiti. The first thing I thought of the house was that it was small. And it is. I have alwaqys thought that Elvis had the house built, so I thought he would have had it made a bit bigger. In actual fact, he bought the house and the 14 acre grounds for $100,000 in 1957. It was called Graceland after the original owner’s daughter.
Arriving at the house’s front door and the famous white columns, I was given a headset and given the lowdown on how to conduct the tour. It’s a self guided tour, so you can spend as long as you want studying the finer details of the decor or pressing corresponding numbers into the headset keypad for more in depth information.
I have to say that I think Elvis is cool as fuck. It’s easy to pick on constituent parts of Elvis like the terrible movies, but the whole phenomenon that is Elvis is incredible. I think that anybody with an interest in Elvis generally has a favourite Elvis. Mine is the ’68 comeback special, although I really like the live sound of the jumpsuit era. I asked a couple of people in Graceland and they said young Elvis and Viva Las Vegas Elvis respectively.
So when entering Graceland’s front door I did feel that I was stepping into an important piece of the history of music and pop culture. I was not disappointed. The decor is a little wild, but it was last decorated in the mid-seventies, so shag pile carpet on the ceiling can be forgiven. I’m sure everybody wandering through there tries to imagine Elvis and his cronies, the Memphis Mafia, messing about or Elvis creating music, or playing with his daughter or popping pills, swigging booze and munching on a deep fried peanut butter sandwich.
Speaking of which, the tour does not include upstairs. This is to remain a private area. Which basically means they don’t want people to make taking pictures of the toilet on which Elvis died as the main point of the tour.
Other than the maintained living areas, of which my favourite was the racquetball annex, a lot of the rooms are full of memorabilia; clothes, posters, photos, hundreds of gold records. There are also other parts to tour which include aeroplanes, cars and motorcycles. There are also the graves.
A few interesting insights into what it must have been like for Elvis are:
He always would take time to speak to the fans at the gates and sign autographs, as Elvis said “I don’t mind if they rip the shirt from my back, they put it there”. So much so that he had a mound built up to the wall so he could ride his motorcycle up it and greet the fans.
He also had a secret exit. He would climb into an old pick up and put on a baseball cap and drive out and about.
Of course, there are souvenirs of all kinds which may seem tacky, but there was as much when he was alive. I treated myself and the car with no name to a TCB keyring. I also had a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich…disgusting, by the way. Can’t believe that was his favourite snack, but easy to see how it’d help pile the pounds on.
I then visited both the Stax museum and Sun Records.
The Stax story was incredible. They had a meteoric rise in the music industry and boasted some of the most talented soul artists ever, e.g. Otis Redding, and they also featured people from all races and walks of life working together to make great music. They suffered horribly from the fallout of Dr Martin Luther King’s assassination in Memphis and never recovered. Although, the spirit lives on.
The Stax museum should be a definite stop for anyone who likes music. It carries a lot of detailed stories and videos, so it takes a good couple of hours to do properly.
Sun Studios was packed. I got there just as a coach load of tourists arrived. From what I could see it was pretty cool. The idea that Elvis started here, Jerry Lee Lewis started here and Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash!! No wonder they call it the birthplace of Rock’n’Roll.
Memphis itself has a lot of music bars, but they didn’t seem up to much to me. Almost as though they’ve lost sight of the raw determination to make music that started the tradition and now it’s just latching on to other’s achievements.