This week marks the 34th anniversary of Elvis's death.
Four years ago, on a cross-country road trip, my brother Joe kept telling me (in my frequent calls to him) that I should really visit Elvis's former home. So I broke my usual avoid-crowds-like-the-plague rule, stopped in Memphis, and visited Graceland, which turned out to be sandwiched in between strip malls, mom-and-pop stores, and body shops on the graceless commercial thoroughfare known as Elvis Presley Boulevard.
In the lobby, I bought my ticket, watched some of the videos playing on monitors all around the room, and realized at once that I had either insufficiently remembered or in my alcohol-induced oblivion from approximately 1966 to 1986 never noticed Elvis’s almost unbelievable, superhuman charisma. I became a groupie on the spot, mad to see the home where he had lived, breathed, sang, had sex with Priscilla, eaten grilled peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, and died on the toilet.
The rest of an Elvis-addled throng and I were bused across the street, proceeded through a sweeping front lawn, and pulled up before a two-story limestone mansion (smaller than I’d expected) with green shutters and white Corinthian pillars. Here, we herded ourselves through the living room (15-foot long white sofa, gold drapes, peacock stained glass windows); the kitchen (vintage Waring blender; fake fruit in a tiered wire basket), the Jungle Room (walls covered in green shag rug, actual waterfall), and the basement media room (hepped-up yellow and black with a mirrored ceiling) where The King sometimes watched three TVs at once. The off-limits second floor supposedly hadn’t been touched since the day Elvis died, but in one room were displayed some of his “personal belongings”: ostrich pillows, a tiger statue, and a big round white fur bed—long fur, like on a polar bear—with a radio built into the canopy.
In the Trophy Room, its walls lined with silver and gold records, I learned that even Elvis, making his ’68 comeback in Vegas, had been worried about how the audience would react. Even Elvis, maybe especially Elvis, was afraid of not being loved.
The Racquetball Building housed the piano that, while hanging out with a few friends, Elvis had played on the last morning of his life. Like the hundreds of thousands who’d come before me, and the hundreds of thousands who would come after, I stopped and gazed with reverence upon this relic, imbued like the Shroud of Turin with immortal life. “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain,” the legend went, was the last song he’d sung, and the whole crowd fell silent, as if straining to hear a voice that had sung its last note thirty years before.
I checked out the fountain, the colored floodlights, the kidney-shaped swimming pool, the gravestones beneath which Gladys and Elvis were all buried, then, thoroughly Elvised out, staggered past the commemorative wreaths that lined the fence and back to the waiting bus.
Almost lost among the jumble of other geegaws in a glass case; dwarfed by more prominently displayed artifacts--the TV with a bullet hole in the screen that Elvis had shot out one whimsical evening, the blue and yellow dashboard lights with which Elvis sometimes played cop, the photo of Elvis in a red leather trenchcoat the time he pulled over near Graceland to see if he could lend a hand with a traffic accident--what caught my eye instead was the foot-high Jesus statue that, I was touched to discover, Elvis had apparently kept in his bedroom.
There He modestly stood, pointing to the sacred heart, surrounded by golden rays, that pulsed in His noble plaster chest. I could only pray that--one King to another--He’d been watching over the man who’d given so many beautiful songs to the world every day of his life, the night Elvis died, and ever since. I snapped a pic on my phone and promptly set it as my wallpaper where it remains to this day (and of course it later also came to grace the masthead of my blog).