Music flows through Memphis as deep as the mighty Mississippi. As the de facto capital of the delta region, The Blues made its way into town, settled in, and is still hanging around today. I suppose we could mark the official entry at just over one hundred years ago, when W. C. Handy arrived and started playing in the clubs on Beale Street.
The clubs along the famous street had been a hot spot for traveling bands since just after the Civil War, but Handy was the first to preserve the music by writing it down. Those published works went on to be hits all over the country, and Beale Street was on the musical map. Soon legends like Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, and B. B. King were regulars on the little stretch of road.
The Beale Street we found was drastically different from home of the funky nightclubs and juke joints that gave birth to the Memphis Blues, but the history lives on. We could feel it all around us, it practically hangs in the air. A new generation grew up breathing in that sound, added a dash of hillbilly twang and a backbeat, and Rock & Roll was born.
It was the unique blend of cultures in the Bluff City that spawned Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and The King himself, Elvis Presley. Elvis became synonymous with Memphis, and to be perfectly honest, he was our main reason for coming to town. We wanted to make a pilgrimage to Graceland.
We were married on Elvis’ birthday. Don’t go jumping to any conclusions, we’re not crazy, it was just a coincidence. We didn’t even realize it until later, but maybe it has given us a cosmic connection with The King. So we took a drive out Elvis Presley Boulevard and pulled up to those famous gates.
We had heard all the stories about the royal residence, and inside was all that we had expected, and more. Every bit is covered in classic 1960s tacky opulence.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a deep appreciation for all things Elvis, first and foremost his music, but we also appreciate good kitsch when we see it.
Stepping into the living room was like, let’s see… what if Liberace decorated the inside of I Dream of Jeannie’s bottle? Across the entry hall, the dining room decor could best be described as early Southern grandma but, hands down, the highlight of these first few rooms had to be Mama’s purple poodle bathroom.
Headed down the hall, past the conventional kitchen, into the heart of The King’s lair, the feel of the house shifted from southern comfort to Hillbilly Cat.
Every living area has a bar — Elvis liked to entertain. The groovy, mod style TV room, all yellow and black with mirrored ceilings, set the tempo, and the Indian-inspired billiard room had us clapping along.
Finally, we couldn’t help falling in love with The Jungle Room. The King went completely Blue Hawaii tiki-tacky, green shag carpet native – even on the ceiling. Rock-A Hula! Let’s call it Paradise, Hawaiian Style.
We finished up in the Meditation Garden that Elvis built for quiet reflection back in the sixties; it now serves as the Presley family private cemetery. This is the final resting place for daddy Vernon, mother Gladys, grandmother Minnie May, and of course, Elvis, along with a memorial to his twin brother Jessie Garon, who died at birth.
From that solemn spot we headed back across Elvis Presley Boulevard to check out the King’s collection of cars and airplanes. Whatever we may have thought about his decorating choices in Graceland, Elvis certainly had good taste in cars.
As Rock & Roll royalty The King had to have a couple of Cadillacs and Rolls Royce Silver Clouds, but he also had a 1971 Stutz Blackhawk (the first Stutz ever brought into the United States), a 1975 Ferrari Dino, and two Mercedes, a limo and convertible 280 SL, bought before most Americans knew what a Mercedes was.
Next we passed through a faux airport gate and “Elvis Fan Detector” security checkpoint, and up the jetway to board The King’s “Flying Graceland” the Lisa Marie.
The interior is less gaudy than the ground-based home, with a lounge area and corporate style meeting room. Even with the mandatory wet bars, things seemed pretty tame, but Elvis’ private quarters stepped things up a notch. The bathroom sports twenty-four karat gold-plated fixtures, and then we realized that gold plating is sort of a theme running throughout the aircraft, right down to the seatbelt buckles and sink basins. Even the required belt across the… wait for it… king-sized bed.
Thank you, thank you very much.