Baby Boomers: Elvis remembered 36 years later
By Ray Hanania
“Elvis is in the building” is such a common phrase used to describe the presence of someone important being someplace and playing on the fact that the rock-n-roll icon is one of the best known people in the world.
I was lucky to actually visit Elvis’ building, his home in Graceland in Memphis Tennessee, which has been turned into a pure profit enterprises generating as much for the musician’s successors as he did for him when he was alive.
Elvis died on August 16, 1977 ending a tumultuous year in which his career was on a slide, his personal life after his divorce was a disaster and his father intervened to control his estate, firing three bodyguards accused of provoking lawsuits filed by injured fans.
The three bodyguards, who previously enjoyed Elvis’ high profile life, went on to write a revenge book against Elvis that caused his to turn to more medication. His death was believed caused by excessive medications and drugs.
But despite the tragic ending, Elvis is best remembered as the smooth singing crooner who pushed open the door to rock and roll in the 1950s and 1960s. His songs left a lasting impression on every baby boomer at the time and spark a rise in rock music sales and fans.
You can’t drive through Tennessee without seeing some evidence of Elvis’ life. But Elvis was actually born in Tupelo, Mississippi on Jan. 8, 1935. His twin brother, Jesse, was still born. Imagine, two Elvis Presley’s? Chances are had his brother lived he might never have become the music icon and who knows what we would be listening to today?
He was Scottish and German ancestry with a little Native American Cherokee on his mother’s side.
After moving around nearly homeless, Elvis and his family moved to Memphis in 1948 when he was 13 and lived in a cramped little public housing unit. And he started to hang out during high school at Beale Street, which today is the Blues Capitol of America if you count Elvis, BB King and so many others who performed there.
Graceland has been turned into a massive monument. I traveled there the week before his anniversary, so it wasn’t as crowded. But every year around the anniversary of his death, hundreds of thousands throng to the Elvis Mecca to pay their respects.
Elvis is buried at Graceland along with his mother, father and other relatives.
The home is on one side of the main road. Across the street is the Elvis museum and plane and a huge parking lot for the visitors.
You will spend a fortune there to see everything and a small fortune just to see a few things.
Graceland is a southern mansion on a large area of farm and horse lands. Many of the rooms have been turned into museum displays.
What’s remarkable about the mansion is that it is a reminder of life in the 1960s, more than a symbol of wealthy decadence.
Elvis generated maybe billions in profits for himself and his entourage, but what you see is what a typical rich person might have lived in during a past that has been long gone. He loved Gold and had Gold plated everywhere. But the furniture and settings look like grandma’s house, even though he sang to my generation.
You walk room-to-room and you lose some of the shine that the name Elvis had in my mind before I went to Graceland. He was just a normal guy with the same problems a lot of wealthy people faced. Extravagance. Excesses. Tragedy.
The bathroom where he died is closed to the public. There are so many diehard Elvis fans out there that you can’t put it past one of them to want to commit suicide in the same spot where their music God died.
After leaving Graceland and realizing it’s not as great as you might have thought, you are taken back by shuttle to the museum buildings where each one soaks more money out of your pocket.
I did purchase an Elvis cigarette lighter, the old style stainless steel box type that the mobsters in the James Cagney Movies would flick open and light with a snap of their fingers.
And, I bought my musician-inclined son drum sticks with Graceland and Elvis emblazoned on them. Oh, and I bought postcards, too.
Now, you can go through the throngs of people and the sweating crowds. Memphis in August is humid and very hot, despite global warming.
Or, you can just it back and enjoy these picture I was able to take.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. Reach him at http://www.TheMediaOasis.com or follow him on Twitter at @RayHanania.)