Friday, June 11, 2010

My Weekend in Memphis (Part 2)

Saturday morning, we woke up early so that we could get started on our day, and boy did we have a day! First we had to drop Jeannie's kid off with her sister, and while we were over in that part of town Jeannie drove me past the locally famous Pink Palace:

the pink palace

The Pink Palace was orignally built as a mansion by the founder of Piggly Wiggly stores, and after a long series of financial setbacks ended up in possession of the city, who made it a museum. That's what the sign says, anyway:

pink palace sign

I saw it on the web when I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go, and I think that they did some retinting or photoshopping or something on the website, because it looked a lot pinker online. It might have been more pink up close, but we didn't have time to get up close because we had a goal:

Graceland welcome

Graceland welcomed us with open arms. Actually, maybe with an open hand out more than open arms since the first thing we had to do was pay ten dollars to park there. That was just a drop in the bucket compared to the tours, though. To this day I will always wonder what was on the sixty-four dollar VIP tour, but I'll never know because we took the (comparatively) cheap thirty dollar one.

Our tour did come with some attractive headphones and radio equipment, though:

jeannie in headphones

tour controls

Only one of Jeannie's headphones worked. When she tried to report this at the end of the tour as we handed them back over, the tour guide response was, "Uh huh," followed by hanging it back up on the rack with all the others. This was the general attitude of all of the Graceland staff, actually, which was kind of sad. Since we talk about customer service a lot at work, Jeannie and I both noticed that the Graceland staff is universally surly, unhappy, and untintentionally hilarious. At one point, when we were in the basement, the tour guide at the bottom of the stairs was yelling up the stairs to the foyer guide about how her Friday not had gone and how she couldn't believe it was only ten in the morning and they had to be there the whole rest of the damn day just standing around and watching people.

They don't really have anything else to do because the tour headphones do all the talking. As we approached the house:


my headphones explained that Elvis purchased Graceland from someone and kept the name because he liked it so much, but I have to admit right now that I was only half paying attention because the headphones were making my ears hot. We had to shut it off for a moment before entering, so that one of the tour guides could yell at us:

graceland tour guide

"There is no flash photography, because it will act like sunlight and fade the artifacts. Myself or any of the staff will be happy to help you turn off your flash if you don't know how."

Really? Because the impression that I got was more that they'd be happy to punch us in the gut and then shove our cameras up our asses, but your opinion may vary. Anyway, fully bullied into submission, we proceeded into the house, which is smaller than it seemed like it should be but perfectly preserved:

graceland living room

elvis' parents' bedroom

I know that parts of those rooms are a little dated, but they'd also look good in most homes today. Minus the stained glass in the living room, both rooms seemed surprisingly minimal and subdued, but all of the crazy over the top decor that was missing from them was piled up in spades by the time we got to the dining room.

Before that, though, there was the staircase, where I took off my headphones and never put them back on again:

peek at the upstairs

The tour narration includes a generic narrator, Priscilla Presley, radio and television clips, some music, and Lisa Marie, and that's what killed the tour for me. While I said yesterday that I have no particular feelings toward Elvis, I hate Lisa Marie because she married Nicholas Cage and convinced him to sell off his comic book collection.

The woman is a monster.

As we were looking up the stairs, Lisa Marie explained, "My dad used to make guests wait... by the door... and then he'd come down the stairs... with all his jewelry... and he'd be jingling... and it was just awesome," and that was it for me. The headphones came off and I never put them back on.

And then there was the dining room:

graceland dining room tabletop

Holy gold-veined coke mirror, Batman! The worst part, which I didn't take a picture of, was that the walls on one side of the room were also covered with gold-veined mirrors that matched the tabletop. It was overdone, bordering on vulgar, and this is the real tragedy of Graceland and how it distorts Elvis: Elvis died before he got to redecorate. All of the rooms, even the Jungle Room:

the jungle room

were hot and trendy when they were designed. If MTV and "Cribs" had existed back then (or still existed today; wow, I'm old) they would have been all over this, and kids all over America would be trying to figure out how to copy the TV room:

graceland tv room

or the bar:

tv room bar

or the pool room:

graceland pool room

They might not have copied that spooky monkey in the TV room, because really, what the hell is up with that thing?

the tv room monkey

Does that eat souls?

But anyway, my point was that other people at the time who had vinyl sofas and tapestry fabrics on their ceilings got to graduate to fake mission furniture and wood paneled dining rooms, while Elvis had the tragic misfortune of dying and having his house preserved as a shrine, so now everybody remembers him as this guy with weird outlandish taste when it really only looks horrible by modern standards.

Once you get out of the house, the rest of the tour is kind of fun, if a little heavy on rules.

keep off graceland's grass

please ignore graceland's horses

no throwing coins

I love that they have Elvis' signature on the corner of each admonishment, as if it's not the Graceland staff but instead is Elvis Presley himself who wants you to stay off the grass or ignore the horses. Do they think that someone with a handful of change is going to think, "No, wait, Elvis wouldn't want me to throw these in the pool" and instead spend them in one of the many gift shops? It wouldn't work on me, anyway, because even though I didn't throw any money in the fountains I was too filled with rage to buy anything at the gift shops:

shunned at graceland

There's a name between Joe and Joey, Graceland marketers. A very popular name which belongs to thousands of people across the world.

Before I got to get mad at that, though, there were a lot of awards and costumes to walk through:

elvis' gold lame suit

gold records (1)

gold records (2)

This one, a television that RCA awarded to Elvis:

elvis' rca tv

was particularly awesome to me because we had a big, huge television like this when I was very small, except the speakers on the sides of ours were red velvet instead of whatever that gold is.

While we were finishing this part of the tour, though, something nagged at the back of my mind: In the same way that the house is locked in time, so is Elvis. As far as Graceland is concerned, old fat Elvis doesn't exist. Instead, there is only the ideal:

elvis painting

Even the costumes from the fat Elvis period are cut to thin Elvis size:

sahara jumpsuit

which is especially jarring when you see the random concert footage near them:

more gold records and awards (2)

As impressive as Elvis' achievements are:

more gold records and awards (1)

it seems disingenuous that the narrative that Graceland chooses to tell is that Elvis went from young and hot straight to dead:

elvis rests

I'm not saying they need a display of pill bottles or a photo of the fatal bathroom, but other things happened to Elvis between his movie heyday and his death, and there are lessons to be learned from that.

Graceland isn't about lessons, though, or even really about Elvis. It's about making money, whether it's from the parking fee or the tour or the vaguely asiatic Pez dispensers:

elvis pez

or the Graceland Christmas ornaments:

graceland christmas ornament

or the plastic guitars filled with popcorn:

elvis aloha popcorn

or the peanut butter and banana sandwich recipe potholders:

peanut butter and banana sandwiches

"A whole stick of butter for one sandwich?"

"That's why Elvis is dead, Jeannie."

What I'm trying to say, in the end, is that Graceland has been made into a place with no soul. Elvis the artist and person has been transformed entirely into Elvis the commodity. This could just as easily have been a tour of Roxy Carmichael's house. The only thing we saw during the entire experience with any sense of meaning were the signatures left by fans along the outside walls around the estate:

graceland's wall (1)

graceland's wall (3)

graceland's wall (2)

That last one is my favorite.


strong cookie. said...

she made him sell his comic collection?!?!?!?!?

Joel said...

Like I said, she's a MONSTER.