Who wants to waste all those flowers at Elvis’ grave? Not me.
I know the madness of Elvis Presley’s legacy. I have seen the insanity up close, by his grave and in his home.
I was in Memphis, Tennessee, at Elvis’ mini-mansion – Graceland – on Aug. 16, 1985; it was the eighth anniversary of the Mississippi-born King of Rock-and-Roll’s death, and people had flocked to his grave, located naturally behind his home, the entire week.
It was a crazy scene:
Flowered “We LOVE You, Elvis” were everywhere, and aging German tourists and woozy almost fainting grandmothers wandered numbly past Elvis’ grave. Fan clubs, from around the world, daily had thousands of flowers in intricate floral arrangements placed all around Elvis’ grave.
The King’s name is misspelled on his slab tombstone, and, for many, that meant, clearly, the boy from Tupelo that made good was alive and laughing at all of us.
I was 17, traveling with my mother and a school friend of mine, Brian Turner. We were in Memphis, Tennessee for a Home Builders convention. Well, my mother was, Brian and I were there to roam the Memphis streets and sleep late and cause some havoc with the ducks at The Peabody Hotel.
Right off, in Memphis, if you don’t know who Elvis was as a man and as an institution (because there are Urdu speaking people in Pakistan or somewhere who do not, or did not in the mid 80s), then it becomes pretty apparent this Elvis guy was important, revered man.
Elvis spirit is everywhere in Memphis.
Not in a “Elvis slept here and his ghost comes to us” kind of Bed & Breakfast way, but in a “Elvis Memorial Parkway,” “Presley Villa,” “Elvis Steak Platter” and “Elvis Memorial Hot Dog Meal” kind of $25 for a Elvis Memorial Coke and Fries way.
Elvis was spiritually around us, sort of like Star Wars and The Force, except it cost more, and everybody was exchanging cheap stuff for loads of cash in his name.
What do you do when you mother was a big Elvis fan and it is the day of his death? You go out to Graceland early in the morning, wait around for hours to take a tour and pay your respects to “the King.”
Graceland is a mid 20th Century ranch house hole in Memphis. It is really one of the smallest “mansions” I have ever seen. Elvis bought it in the late 50s and added on to it, and added on to it and added on to it.
He had a jungle room that was pretty cool – for 1965 about the time it was added on to his “mansion.” He had a billiard room that looked liked scraped vomit from the alley out back of a downtown Memphis bar. The look of it made you dizzy.
(Ugh, I gotta go take some Dramamine pills now. Thanks Elvis, thanks a lot.)
He had a “TV Room,” with three console type television sets, each tuned to one of the “Big Three Networks” of the era – ABC, CBS and NBC. Elvis wasn’t much on remote controls and this was before cable television.
The best thing about Graceland was the automobile and aircraft exhibit that was at the trolley/ticket area where people wait to get on a bus that will take them to Graceland. Arranged in a parking lot were a jet aircraft, several cars and a pinkish-gold glitter painted Cadillac that people said was Elvis’ favorite car – EVER. You could climb all over the thing and have your picture taken in the driver’s side, back then.
I liked his jet plane. I am not a Caddie kind of guy.
Today, I think the environment is more controlled for the Graceland tour – you know with terrorists and everything roaming the Earth there could be some “up-to-no goodnicks” ready to do some nogoodness on the cars.
After a few hours, we finally boarded a bus for Graceland. And about 15 minutes after you get there, the tour is pretty much over, having seen a living room, a recording studio, the already mentioned vomit inducing billiard room, Elvis’ grave and a garage. In 1985, people lived upstairs, so I could not see the vaunted toilet where Elvis slipped from this life to the next (for those who believe he actually died on Aug. 16, 1977.)
The lack of a John tour disappointed me greatly.
Elvis was a great entertainer. He was beloved, worshiped even, by a couple of generations of people from around the world. The Germans love Elvis to this day, rating him higher than “Knight Rider’s David Hasselhoff” and that is a high honor. I make light and fun of the insanity and the money spent on a tribute of a dead singer, but I do respect Elvis.
I always feel a bit sad about Elvis. He came from a small, Southern town and he trusted people. He trusted his business manager, Col. Tom Parker (who was a colonel of juggling accounting books), and he trusted his doctors. One of Elvis’ doctors was called Dr. Feelgood by the Secret Service when he treated President John F. Kennedy with a mixture of meth and steroids turning patients into addicts, and another prescribed pretty much whatever a celebrity wanted to ingest. All got paid heft fees.
I can’t help think what Elvis would have become, what he could have done for the entertainment industry, if he had straightened out his mind and body in the 1980s. CI can picture a healthy, lean 50-something Elvis, ala Howard Hughes vs. Sen. Owen Brewster, shutting down those silly Congressional hearing of 1988 that led to music ratings?
“Thank you, thank you very much, Senator Gore, for the invitation, but parents should police their own kids. Now, I have to go take care of business over at the Drug Enforcement Agency. Just say NO.”
In the reality of 1985, Elvis was dead, and I was a bigger Duran Duran and Billy Idol fan. I came away from Elvis’ home thinking that the King of Rock-and-Roll died a loon, a crazy man – he had a collection of 3,000 badges, hundreds of guns and, the photos were on display, in full cape dragging Sonny and Red along, popped in on President Richard Nixon once to volunteer to give up his singing career and become a full time, crime fighting drug agent for the Government (presumably on Saturday night, as well as every night).
The other thought, which I said pretty loudly at Elvis’ grave, was “Man, if I worked here, my girlfriend would NEVER go without flowers.”
The Colonel (not Tom Parker).