Graceland, Memphis, December 2013
One movie that always provides me with enduring entertainment is This Is Spinal Tap, the 1984 mockumentary movie that follows the haphazard musical journey of the fictional hard rock band Spinal Tap. Some of my favourite moments are about a previous drummer who died from choking on vomit, but it wasn’t his own; the explanation by Nigel Tufnel of his beautiful musical trilogy in D Minor , the saddest of all keys; the guitar amplifier that goes all the way up to eleven; and their visit to Elvis’ home in Memphis, Graceland.
To be honest with you, I had never been a big fan of Elvis. However, I came away from the Graceland tour with a great respect for the guy – he was generous and appeared to have a longing for making those around him happy. The pressure cooker life isolated him from normality and his decadence allowed him such luxuries as having a private jet airliner that he once used to take his sick dog to Boston for treatment.
Across the road from Graceland there are further museums and shops that are testament to the man who changed the style of popular music and popular culture forever. While my wife Heather sampled a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich in the diner, my older son logged on to the internet to find out his VCE score. Not far away is accommodation that is aptly named Heartbreak Hotel.
Before entering the tour I explained to my sons that we are about to enter holy ground, that there are some people who worship Elvis and that the memories of some people we will be amongst are unique, special and strong. “In other words,” I said, “ Show some respect.”
I was surprised that Graceland wasn’t too opulent, and not too big. The displayed rows of gold records and encased rows of Elvis’ white jump suits used in Las Vegas were unforgettable.
After the tour of the home, the tour group is free to wander between the other buildings, including the racquetball court building, where Elvis’ life ended. Right by the pool is his grave, where he rests alongside his parents.
As I stood in front of his grave I quickly understood why this is a sacred site and that Elvis was a hero to millions of people. However, I also recalled Spinal Tap standing exactly where I was, and that they were desperately trying to blend some three part harmonies to Heartbreak Hotel – and badly. Very badly.
Perhaps I was overwhelmed with emotion, but I put my finger to my ear and sang, in a not too melodious voice, ‘Well since my baby left me …. I found a new place to dwell….’ By now I was having a good laugh to myself. Ouch, sudden elbow to the ribs from Heather. Apparently I had seriously offended some real pilgrims. “Don’t you remember the words you spoke to the boys about having respect for this place and the people here?” rebuked Heather. I guess I just forgot.
As we climbed back onto the small bus that would return us to the starting point across the road I avoided eye contact with those true Elvis fans and pondered the reindeer models, Christmas trees and a giant sign that said ‘Elvis wishes you a merry Christmas’.
Not bad, coming from a man who had passed away years ago. ‘I’m so lonely I could die…’
©David Oke. More stories by David Oke