Full disclosure: I am not a rabid fan. When I was maybe 8 or 9 years old, I thought Elvis (the young Elvis) was really, really cute, and that's the extent of it. I always thought Graceland would be one of those fun, wacky, campy, and tacky things to do on a road trip, just to say I'd been there and to take a picture in the jungle room.
But I was not prepared for the emotional wallop a visit to his house actually packs to an attentive visitor. To say that knowing the basics of Elvis' life story adds to the experience is putting it lightly-I knew nothing other than he was skinny and rich, sang a few great songs, and then he got fat and killed himself, leaving poor Lisa Marie to marry Michael Jackson. Thankfully, my friend (and catalyst for the visit) Emma knows heaps about him, his career, and his family, so she told me bits throughout the weekend and while we were walking through the grounds. Hello--we were there for 4 hours!! We got on the bus that takes us over with these two very cute guys, but they immediately outpaced us and left us in the dust. Once they were gone, I was forced to really observe and think about Elvis' home since Emma spent minutes on the minutia, which left me with time to kill.
Anyway, back to the emotional wallop. Obviously the Presley estate presents a very one-sided account of his life through the excellent audio tour you all get; however, if you've half a brain and a grain of salt you can guess at what else was going on.
Yes, it was amazing to see the jungle room, to see his mirrored basement ceilings, and to see the seemingly miles of gold and platinum records and awards that fill rooms of his estate. And the planes and cars-give me one of them and I'll say goodnight. It was interesting to note that some of the pieces were hopelessly tacky, but others, like the 18-foot white couch, was surprisingly modern and worthy of imitation.
But, you can't deny the poignancy of Graceland. The sense of lost potential, of a greatness that would have continued unabated, is palpable. Lisa Marie's swing set, left where it was set up on the lawn, even after Elvis' separation from Priscilla, broke my heart to bits. The video of Elvis demonstrating karate-badly-also broke my heart. Did he really get his black belt, or was it awarded to his vanity?
I left Graceland with a greater appreciation for Elvis's life, his values (which seem to be very Southern and American values to me), and his music. You don't have to spend 4 hours there, but it's definitely one of those places you should see thoughtfully, not at a gallop and not with a snicker, before you die.