Memphis, Tennessee, where Elvis’s voice seeps through cracks in the pavement and every public TV shows him in action. Hotels have guitar-shaped pools and 24/7 Elvis movies. Pink Cadillacs are the order of the day and sideburns are de rigueur.
You can’t come to Memphis and not go to Graceland. Well, of course you can, but if you do, you’ll never know quite what you missed. What makes it interesting is that, in its own way, it’s very understated. To my mind, Elvis didn’t have a whole lot of taste – but then, just look at his costumes and let me rest my case right there. It’s relatively small, as mansions go, and other than the carpeted walls and the carpet in the kitchen, there’s little that could be branded as ostentatious. Yes, he built a racquet-ball court and had an indoor shooting range, and room for more than a few ponies, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s somewhere I might buy, were I to come into a million or three and wanted to live in Memphis.
So his sofa is 15 feet long – but then if you never let anyone other than immediate family upstairs and did all your entertaining in the living room, you’d probably need that extra ten feet of seating. And if you never particularly cared for alcohol but had a coterie that drank like a school of fish, then you’d need a flash bar. And if you liked to play pool, then why not have a games room with ruffled, pleated material covering the walls instead of wallpaper. It’s certainly not bland. The kaleidoscope of colours wouldn’t be kind to a hangover, but then the King didn’t drink, and therefore didn’t suffer so.
The self-guided tour was quite informative. I hadn’t realised that Elvis had dated Priscilla for nearly seven years before they got married. And that he flew Lisa Marie to Colorado when he realised that she’d never seen snow. It helps to have a couple of private jets parked in the backyard and so what if some thought the gold-plated seat-belt buckles a trifle OTT. His parents hadn’t known that Gladys was having twins so when Jessie was stillborn, Vernon went outside to grieve and saw a blue flash in the sky – and then heard Elvis cry. Some think that perhaps Elvis was so blessed with his voice because he spent his life singing to his twin.
I love Elvis. I remember where I was when he died – Fethard-on-Sea in Co. Wexford. I’d just discovered popsocks. I hadn’t a clue who he was but this girl staying at the B&B was inconsolable. My age. Eleven. She was distraught and I couldn’t fathom why. I lived in bi-channel TV wonderland and wasn’t at all into music. But the fact that she was so upset stuck with me and etched the date forever in my mind.
I first went to Graceland back in 2001 with RB, whose son Shawn was a great fan (and a great singer, too). Back then, the trip was a pilgrimage of sorts. This time, I was a tourist, alongside the hundreds of others that traipsed through the grounds that day. It was a different sort of experience. To see all those awards in the trophy room, to watch the video-taped interviews, to see the old movies, and then to realise that this man died at the age of 42, bloated, fat, and addicted to prescription drugs. What a waste. What a horrible waste of a life.
Why? What could have happened to a man whose dreams, by his own admission, had come through a hundred times? He was married to the love of his life, had a daughter he doted on, had a fan club that spanned the four corners of the world. Yes, he would have preferred to play more dramatic roles but was typecast in light romance and comedy – if that was the worst of it, could it really have been that bad? And he’s not alone. What is it about fame that shortens people’s lives? What is it about notoriety that poses such a challenge to living? Why do so many famous people die so young? And if dying young is the price one pays for fame, why do so many people chase it so?
And for the rest of us, it might be worth taking stock and measuring our riches not in terms of money or success but in terms of friendships and experience. Which would you rather more: a wealth of happy memories or a seven-figure bank balance and no one to share it with? Yes, when money burns a hole in your pocket, you’re never alone at the fire – but is it really all there is? Are fame and fortune the twenty-first century’s answer to the Holy Grail? I hope not.