Few places attract quite so many music lovers as does Memphis. From Beale Street, the self-professed ‘Home of the Blues’ to Sun Studio, where Elvis and Johnny Cash made their first recordings, Memphis is blessed with an inordinate number of legendary destinations.
But as great as these attractions may be, it’s not for them that Memphis is seen as the Mecca for music fans the world over. Of all Memphis’ attractions, only one really matters… That would be Graceland.
If you didn’t know its significance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Elvis Presley’s former home isn’t all that. Large for its time but if anything, dwarfed by modern standards, Graceland does seem somewhat modest at first, more like a large house than a full blown mansion. But any notion of feeling underwhelmed is washed away the moment you step over the threshold.
Entering the second-most-visited home in America (the White House takes top spot), it immediately becomes apparent that this is far from any ordinary abode. Most striking about Graceland is it feels as if the clock stopped and time has stood still ever since August 16, 1977. What with the unchanged décor, the old Sony televisions and the peacock-decorated stained-glass windows, it really does feel like stepping back in time.
Let your imagination go and it’s easy the King himself strolling around the corner, all smiles as he goes to join his friends at one of his famous nightly dinner parties.
The top floor of the home is of course, off limits to visitors, just as it was back when Elvis was alive. Even so, downstairs has more than enough to satisfy the appetite of even Elvis’s staunchest of followers.
As stories from Lisa Marie, Priscilla and Elvis fill their heads (via the audio tour), visitors get to admire the famous television room, where the King famously used to watch three TV sets at once, as well as the billiards room and the bar. Then comes Elvis’s personal favorite – the Jungle Room.
The story goes that Elvis turned up at a Memphis furniture store one day and picked up everything that looked, felt or smelt like Hawaii. One can only imagine the look on Priscilla’s face as it turned up at the front door. Featuring a waterfall, animal-head armrests and green shag carpets sprawled out on the floor and the ceiling, the Jungle Room is an adventure in interior decorating, to put it mildly.
Leaving the main house, visitors are reminded of just how many movies Elvis starred in at his old Trophy Room, followed by a visit to the stables, a new addition to the tour that was only opened in 2009.
Throughout the tour, the audio commentary is punctuated by moments of excited chatter and laughter, but things become rather more poignant at the end with a visit to Elvis’s final resting place, what has to be one of the most photographed gravestones the world has ever known. Here, everybody falls silent.
The tour does have its negatives of course. While optional highlights such as the Graceland Automobile Museum and Elvis’s private jet, the Lisa Marie, are pretty extraordinary, Graceland is a classic tourist trap. Crowded, with overprice tickets ($10 just for parking!), the upkeep of the grounds leaves a lot to be desired, and for the most part, the staff don’t seem to care in quite the same way as they did thirty years ago.
Even so, if you can look past the faults, Graceland is well worth a visit. To this day, Elvis remains one of the biggest influences on American cultural history. There are few better places to learn more about the man and his music, and gain an insight into how the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll lived his life.