Graceland, Memphis TN
I have been possessed by the notion of going to Graceland for the past several years. Why, I’m not sure. I like Elvis’ music and I can certainly appreciate the immensity of his accomplishments and successes. But I wouldn’t label myself ‘an Elvis fan,’ nor would anyone else who knows me. Having never been, I felt like I was missing out on a piece of American culture. My Girl Scout sash was missing the Graceland badge.
So, on a particularly blistering July day, I claimed my missing culture badge and paid a visit to Graceland. It was just as I imagined; throngs of hot and sweaty sightseers shuffling from line to line, and then from room to room. Honestly, I think I would’ve been let down if it was 75 and breezy with only a smattering of visitors to compete with for photos. I envisioned that grit, that shuffle, and that competition as all part of the experience. Lucky for me, my chosen visit was High Season at Graceland.
Ok, so I did my tour of duty. I saw the mansion, I saw the planes, I saw the cars, and credit goes to my intrepid travel partner, Pearl, for pushing me to see the lesser-visited stops like Elvis’ Hawaii. After a while, I couldn’t tell the difference between an exhibit and a gift shop. Let’s just say I saw it all. I almost saw more than ‘all‘ when I turned a door handle and walked into a ‘bonus room,’ only to be quickly ushered back out.
But I did it. I went. I shuffled. I took pics. I bought a cup.
Is that all there is to Graceland? That can’t be it. There must be more! Well technically, there is more, but we weren’t allowed into the ‘bonus room.’
I can’t believe that thousands of people would travel daily to Graceland for that. And by ‘that,‘ I mean a headset-guided tour through a tacky house devoid of the personal effects of a larger-than-life character, who lived life larger than most ever will. I looked around and wondered, “Why is everyone here?” Not in the cranky-old-woman-yelling-for-kids-to-get-off-my-lawn sorta way. Were they all Elvis fans, or were they also possessed by a notion? Was visiting Graceland an obligation for them, too?
It’s not that I didn’t like Graceland, but I went to scratch an itch and left feeling unsatisfied. I went to see something that you can’t see anywhere else. I’d had hopes of walking away feeling like I had a better understanding of who Elvis was, and how he lived his life.
A friend described to me his perspective on Graceland as a display of the American Dream realized. I like that description. In one sense, Graceland is an example of the rewards of ambition and success, promised in the American Dream and attained, in all their gaudy glory. In another sense, you have the darker side of the American Dream in Elvis’ misguided and uncontrolled excess. Excesses that were often initiated and manipulated, not by those who were personally connected, but by those outsiders who were just looking for their slice. It’s beautiful, exciting, and tragic all at once.
Maybe that is why I left feeling empty. Maybe I left Graceland feeling like I had missed out on those personal connections because Elvis had, too, perpetually shut out of his own ‘bonus room’ and quickly ushered back into the ‘jungle room.’ Maybe Graceland is exactly what it should be, a shrine to a man turned into an icon, who lived his life trapped in Tupperware and technicolor.