There’s No Place Like Home
The most visited home in America after the White House (when the latter is open for tours, that is), Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion is hokey and something of a hoot, but it’s also intriguing, entertaining, and at times very moving.
From the day he moved in with his mama and daddy in 1957, Graceland was Elvis’s escape and refuge, a place where he could kick back in an atmosphere that to him said “home” – crystal chandeliers, shag carpets, gilt mirrors, stained-glass windows, peacock-blue and gold curtains and all.
The spirit of one of the 20th century’s most musically and culturally influential figures is everywhere present, and as nostalgia trips go, it’s an essential stop: Times have changed, but Graceland hasn’t, remaining frozen in 1977, the year when Elvis was laid to rest in the Meditation Garden outside.
Highlights of the tour include Elvis’s famous 1955 pink Cadillac Fleetwood (among twenty-one other vehicles), displays of his flashy stagewear, the incredible Jungle Room (just as over-the-top as you might guess from the name), and the 80-foot Hall of Gold, lined with gold and platinum albums and singles that represent more than 1 billion records sold worldwide – more than any other entertainer or group in the history of the recorded voice. Across from Graceland’s gates is the Heartbreak Hotel, a shrine to kitsch.
A side trip to the Sun Records studio is also obligatory on the Memphis go-round. Elvis cut his first record, That’s All Right, here in 1954. A spirited tour of the studio brings alive the day when Elvis – influenced by the mid-South’s mix of black blues, white country, and gospel and spiritual music – crossed over and gave birth to rock ’n’ roll.
This was only the latest musical innovation to come out of Memphis, where in 1909 the young trumpeter W. C. Handy, “Father of the Blues,” introduced his version of Delta blues to the Beale Street music scene, and from there to the world. Today, a few blocks of Beale are neon-lit with clubs and juke joints that stay hopping with generally good music until the wee hours.