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MEMPHIS - If you don’t like Elvis and ribs, don’t ever come here.
For my birthday I finally made the pilgrimage to Graceland. And it truly was a religious experience. Mojo Nixon was right when he talked about the healing power of Elvis. This is the American Holy Land. My feet felt the glow of walking on sacred ground or blessed asphalt as I passed through the gates and arrived at a place that has been a mythical residence since I was a child. Graceland was a Mt. Olympus with shag carpeting on the walls.
Instead of my normal vacation standards of staying at a dumpy motel near the railroad tracks, we went first class and booked a room at Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel which is really at the end of Lonely Street. My married life has changed my overnight accommodation standards. I wasn’t quite sure where the action was in Memphis so it was a safe pick to stay at the Estate’s official hotel. Plus they threw in discount tour tickets. Plus they had a free airport shuttle. Anything that saves me car rental fees is a plus.
We flew Airtran from Raleigh to Memphis. Airtran’s kinda like Southwest Air without the sassy fun. They assign seats so we didn’t have to spend our hours in various airports waiting in the cattle chutes. Airtran can pretty much get you anywhere in the country as long as you don’t mind going through Atlanta. Which for once worked out for me since it was on the way to that city on the Mississippi.
The flight attendants kept pushing a $35 business class upgrade on the flight. But the promise of a few extra inches and free booze wasn’t alluring enough. It’s sad that plane travel has gotten more no frills over the last few years. Whatever happened to getting the full soda can from the refreshment cart? But even the formerly posh airlines have come to resemble the no frills. And with my portable DVD player with a 7 inch flat monitor, I don’t even miss the in-flight movie. Plus I can continue watching the movie while stuck in the airport waiting for my connection. No more Jackie Collins novels for this traveler.
Did I forget to bitch about airport security? They only had one X-ray machine working as the crowd packed up. And they had the whole “take off your shoes” business. Every time I have to take off my shoes, I should be permitted to slap them against that idiot shoe bomber guy. Who said public stoning is a bad thing? It also drove me nuts that I had to unpack all my stuff to get the electronic equipment out for inspection.
Also contrary to the rules, I discovered twice that you can slip a $20 bill to these federal officials and be escorted to the front of the line. Are these TSA guys security or skycaps? You can’t give FBI agents $20 to get a better look at a body. You can’t slide $20 to Park Ranger to get Old Faithful to puke an extra time. And you’d be laughed at giving $20 to a Congressmen. And now these bums no longer have to stop people from bringing scissors and tools onto planes so they can focus on bombs. We’re these guys brought into power because certain foreign nationals brought small blades onto airplanes? I don’t recall any bombs going off in airplanes on Sept. 11. Do I feel safer knowing these goofballs are bribable and don’t have to look as carefully for scissors?
Seeing how it’s been over four years since these new security sections have been made, why do they still use card tables and have the permanent feel of a Christmas tree lot? Well at least the Airtran people were nice to us. Even though they didn’t give me the soda can.
Memphis’ airport is a rather cold place that looks like it hasn’t seen an upgrade since Elvis left for the Army. The baggage claim reminded me of the old Fisher Price Airport. There probably was a crew on the roof turning the handle. It took almost 30 minutes for our luggage to bounce down the conveyor belt. We figured the TSA cops weren’t through rummaging in our suitcases looking for bombs in the shape of cameras and jewelry. During this joke, we saw a TSA Cop sneaking through an Employees Only door holding a bolt cutter. Guess he must have found the suitcase with the laptops.
The true Elvis experience kicked in when we boarded the hotel shuttle. They had Elvis playing on the radio - but not any radio. Turns out that Sirius satellite radio has a 24 hour Elvis station. Every tune that Elvis hummed is being beamed down to us from Outer Space. Strange to think that Elvis and Howard Stern will be sharing space on the same satellite - especially after the wonderful kinky answers Lisa Marie Presley gave Howard on her sex life. Normally I’d be excited about a channel that plays 24 hour Elvis except for one small kink - I already own over 100 Elvis CDs which covers every song that Elvis ever released - I’m still missing a lot of studio outtakes. But as we sat on the shuttle heading into town, it was nice to be greeted by Elvis singing “Welcome to My World” because we were in his world.
Unfortunately instead of a gleaming Disney production, Memphis is a rather gloomy town. Sure it didn’t help that we arrived on a chilly November night. But it didn’t sparkle as we looked through the windows. Instead of taking in the sights, I was looking to make sure the door was locked. Even though this city his the home to FedEx, Holiday Inn and AutoZone, it didn’t seem to be a city on the move.
I did get excited when we arrived on Elvis Presley Boulevard. I remember seeing the footage of Elvis’ funeral procession as he made the trip down this roadway in his white hearse. Instead of being a happening address, this street was covered in ratty strip malls. There was nothing that reflected the glory of the King of Rock n Roll - except that all the businesses tried to work in Graceland or Elvis Presley Blvd into their names in order to claim the king without fear of trademark infringement. Sure there was a Krispy Kreme and a Piggly Wiggly, but they were surrounded by used car lots and dollar stores. When we cut down Lonely Street to the Heartbreak Hotel, it just didn’t seem like I was near the kind of neighborhood that would have Graceland at its core. This might as well been a trip to Leisure Suit Larry’s Sansabelt Hall of Fame. But in the daylight, I knew we’d see the rockin’ gates of Graceland.
If you are going to immerse yourself in Elvis, this is the best place to lay your head. The folks from the Presley estate have gone the extra mile to make sure the place isn’t full of crying guests. The color schemes look like shirts Elvis would have bought at Lasky brothers. The furniture in the lobby had that retro styling, but were still comfortable to sit in. And like the shuttle, the lobby was filled with Elvis music from Sirius. Oddly enough the one place that didn’t have Elvis playing was the elevator. It was a silent ride that allowed passengers to focus on the numerous posters advertising the V.I.P. tours of Graceland.
They have an AAA discount. Also they provide a breakfast in the morning Unfortunately it wasn’t quite the feast that Elvis used to devour with 2 pounds of bacon and 18 eggs. It was cereal, bagels, donuts, yogurt and pineapple juice. I found myself downing lots of pineapple juice thinking about Elvis in Hawaii.
Even though it was the off-season, the hotel was filled with an international assortment of guests. We met folks from all over Europe and Australia. I was taken back that there weren’t any Japanese tourists. I was told by the desk clerk that the Japanese fans come during the major weeks (Elvis’s birth and death).
We had a room with two double beds. All the rooms have mini-kitchens with small fridges and microwaves. So you don’t have to worry about what to do with leftovers. The rooms were large enough for us to spread suitcases all over the floor without tripping. And the bathroom wasn’t creepy. So it was beyond my usual standards.
But with two giant portraits of Elvis over the beds, I felt like I had finally found the hotel that understood me.
ALL ELVIS TV
Perhaps the most amazing thing about staying at the Heartbreak Hotel is channel 17 on the room’s TV. It was all Elvis movies. All 31 of his features, both of his concert films (including both versions of “That’s the Way It Is”), “Aloha From Hawaii,” the “Comeback Special” and a few other specials. It was the most amazing cable channel ever. I was in bliss.
Critics have always dismissed a majority of his films as mindless fluff. While they’ll admit his pre-Army films have merit - especially “King Creole,” they’ll never concede the greatness of “Girls! Girls! Girls!” That’s a shame. Because I really get a kick out of Elvis breaking into song without much effort. A simple tap on a washing machine turns into a musical number. And while constantly checking back on this channel, I noticed that Elvis was always believable in his character’s shoes. You could buy him as a G.I. since he wasn’t supposed to be Rambo. He was a fisherman or a helicopter pilot or even a raceway demon. Even as a doctor in “Change of Habit,” Elvis didn’t seem out of his league. He didn’t give off cheap laughs with miscastings like when we’re supposed to believe that Steven Segal is a human being.
And getting glimpses of Elvis’ movies over the 5 days spent at the Heartbreak Hotel, I found joy in his light weight cinematic efforts. The one film that got me hooked was “Live A Little, Love A Little” from 1968. This was a strange film since it was a chaste sex farce. Elvis plays a photographer who gets laid off by his paper after sleeping for a couple days at Michele Carey’s beach house. But were not supposed to believe Elvis was having a drug and sex orgy with the flakey gal. The movie does have one of his best fight scenes when he’s fired in the printing room of the newspaper.
An employee of Graceland told me that Quentin Tarantino has been getting tight with Lisa Marie Presley in hopes of making the 32nd Elvis feature. Tarantino want to use Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City” toys to create a CGI Elvis movie. Tarantino said that he wanted Bill in “Kill Bill” to be played by Elvis. It’ll be interesting to see if this project ever touches a projector.
People are quick to dismiss Elvis’ Hollywood career as a joke that ruined his music. But I think these movies helped make him the mega-star he is. When I was a kid, Elvis was part of the cinematic Trinity with Godzilla and Jerry Lewis. It was a treat when he appeared as the nightly movie on the indie station out of Charlotte. His Paramount output was perhaps his finest genre. It’s a damned shame those guys on Melrose won’t put out a proper boxset.
Even now, weeks after staying in the hotel, I turn to channel 17 in hopes of catching “Viva Las Vegas.” Why can’t cable give us the channels we really need?
LEAVE THE DRIVING TO THEM
If you have a fear of driving in Memphis where that second to last wrong instruction on Mapquest will lead you to a location used in “Hustle and Flow,” we recommend the Heartbreak Hotel. It’s shuttle central.
The hotel will pick you up at the airport. They also run a nightly shuttle service down to Beale Street. It lets you off right next to the empty building that once housed Elvis Presley’s Memphis restaurant. It’s kinda sad that after 2 years, the place is still empty although the windows had various souvenirs that you can still nab at Graceland. The only bad part is that the shuttle’s last pick up is at 10:30 p.m. This is probably done to prevent guests who’ve enjoyed the “Call the Cab” frozen booze at Wet Willies from Technicolor puking all over the mini-bus.
And a little bit of warning. If it’s 38 degrees on the street don’t get the frozen drink. Frostbite, brain freeze and the hard liquor air suck at once. And I write that from experience. They had to drip wax on my forehead to bring me back from a Ted Williams fate.
While you might complain that you’d have to rent a car if you want to party like a madman on Beale Street till last call, you’d still be better off hailing a cab. No need to get busted for drunk driving in a strange city. Do you really need to explain to the kids why pop is now staying in the Johnny Cash suite at a Tennessee prison?
During the day you can catch a shuttle sponsored by Sun Studio. The shuttle drops you off at the legendary studio that first laid down the King of rock ‘n roll on vinyl. Plus you can visit the Rock and Soul Museum. This museum is part of the Smithsonian. It’s also right next to Beale Street which is great if you want to get an afternoon cocktail at B.B. King’s club after seeing the Al Green exhibit. Who said the thrill is gone?
Until a few months ago, the van also made a swing by the legendary Stax Studio. I was very interested in seeing the studio that gave us that amazing soul sound. Even Elvis recorded a few tunes there. Sam our Sun shuttle driver told us that Stax was under new management and they didn’t want to chip in on the shuttle. He also said that his last customer who went over there didn’t get a real tour. There was a person there to take money and the tourists were left to read the exhibit cases. I’m not paying nearly $10 for a ticket and $40 on a cab ride for that. It did hurt that one night Peter Guralnick was having a signing party at Stax for his latest book, “Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke.” Guralnick wrote the two volume biography on Elvis (”Last Train to Memphis” and “Careless Love”) that helped get people to view Elvis not as a bloated “he’s alive” joke on the cover of the Weekly World News.
I feel bad about skipping Stax, but that’s what they get to refusing to drop me off at their doorstep.
On our way to Sun Studios, our driver pointed out the original graveyard that Elvis was buried in before he was moved to Graceland. We also saw the destruction that once was Baptist hospital where Elvis was declared dead. I wondered if amongst the twisted metal and concrete was any of the foil that the Memphis Mafia taped to the windows when Elvis checked into the building to be examined.
SUN RISES AGAIN
While Sun Studio is a small place to visit, it’s got a big heart.
This is the studio that launched the careers of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Rufus Thomas. There are major labels today that don’t have rosters with as much talent as Sam Phillips recorded.
The staff at Sun are a fun loving bunch. Imagine the cast of “High Fidelity” when it goes to Broadway. Those are the kind of folks you’ll find giving tours, making milkshakes and selling records. The studio is more of a complex. Back when Sam leased the space for a decade, he only had the studio space. But the new owners now have control over the building on the corner. The downstairs of this space is a soda fountain in the front. I did enjoy their milkshake since I saw them put plenty of scoops of strawberry ice cream into the metal cup. No cheap pre-blended non-dairy stuff here. They have a wide variety of Sun t-shirts on the walls. I eventually bought a t-shirt that sported the Million Dollar Quartet photo. They also had replica work shirts for the companies Elvis and Johnny Cash worked for when they showed up on Sam’s door hoping to make a song that would impress Sun.
In the back of the shop is a record store that sales original Sun singles. The records are gift shop priced. But one title that is a must have is “The Legendary Sun Records Story.” It’s two three CD boxsets with 120 of the finest releases Sam laid down in his tiny studio. Well it should be subtitled “All the Great Singles that Elvis Didn’t Record Here.” But I already have three releases of Elvis’ Sun sessions. His only appearances on the second volume is part of the Million Dollar Quartet - a legendary riff session between Elvis, Carl and Jerry Lee. What about Johnny Cash - who appears in the photo? Johnny once told me that he only showed up for the photo and didn’t stick around for the hour long jam session. That’s why you don’t hear his voice on the CD that documents the moment. But they did have photos when in the mid-80s, Johnny stuck around to record with Carl, Jerry Lee and Roy filling in for Elvis.
The tour was $9 and worth every penny if you care about rock n’ roll. They take you upstairs to a museum exhibit which gives a sense of Sam Phillips life and the Sun Records legacy. You actually get to see the acetate recording machine that is written about in all the good early rock books. Plus they explain how “Bear Cat” by Rufus Thomas was the reason why Sam had to sell Elvis’ contract to RCA. You can only take non-flash photos in the upstairs exhibit area.
The next stop on the tour is the legendary space itself. It’s just like it was 50 years ago when Elvis wandered in eager to make a song for his momma. Sam would record anyone at anytime. And it’s since a welcoming office. Over the top of the front office’s desk, you stare through a window into the studio. There’s no secrets in this space. The space is still covered in the original sound tiles. And you can see what made the Sun Studio so special - the ceilings. Instead of being flat, Sam had it angled to help bounce the sound just right around the space.
What’s even cooler is that Sam’s policy of recording is still in effect for Sun. For $70 an hour you can record in Sun Studio and that includes the fee for the sound engineer. If only I had enough time, I could have recorded my version of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.” Although I did run into one hotel guest who was a children’s entertainer from England. She had brought a CD of her backing tracks with her and was going to head over to Sun to put on her vocals. You can only book the studio after the tour times. Guess this means Axl Rose won’t be doing his latest tracks for “Chinese Democracy” there.
Also they do permit flash photography and video in the studio space. Although because it is a working studio you can’t get into the control room. It’s not much of a loss since it’s been upgraded to record digitally so it’s no longer a mad scientists lab full of knobs and glowing tubes. But all those devices lurk around the tour.
One thing they don’t tell you on the tour, but will talk to you about if you ask them is how Sam Phillips became rich. It was not from Elvis or Sun. It was not from his second venture when he opened up Phillips Recording a few blocks down after his 10 year lease on Sun ran out. He hit paydirt as an original investor in Holiday Inn. How did this happen? Kemmons Wilson, the founder of the hotel chain, was Sam’s college roommate. If Sam had skipped college and gone straight into showbiz, he wouldn’t have made the fat dollars.
WALKIN’ IN MEMPHIS
We headed down Union Avenue in search of the Mississippi. Contrary to the song, this is not a good town to walk in. We seemed to pass a lot of abandoned buildings including quite a few with busted out windows and police tape. There were a lot of posters for “Hustle and Flow” and “Walk the Line” pasted up on these dumps.
Crossed the Danny Thomas Expressway. His legacy lives on through the St. Jude’s Children’s hospital. He was a cultural hero to my family so I made sure to get a photo taken beneath his street sign. Thank goodness nobody hit me because I’m too old for his hospital.
The ducks at the Peabody Hotel were passed out in the indoor water fountain. They slept with their bills beneath their wings. Shouldn’t that be a Bette Midler song? We tried to visit Mud Island, but discovered it was closed. Who knew it was seasonal. Thank goodness Tom Cruise didn’t have to avoid mobsters that afternoon. “The Firm” would have ended with him shot down by the locked gates to the cable cars.
When we finally saw the mighty Mississippi, I was taken back to see that there were no buildings on the Arkansas side. This is because that side is a major flood plain. Memphis is build up on a bluff and during the Civil War, Grant kept his troops busy during the time before the Battle for Vicksburg, by having the Union men build up the hills facing the river. Does this make Grant the anti-Sherman?
We did get to sample Lenny’s Sub Shop. Shame they don’t have Lenny’s around here. They knew how to pack a sub with all the good stuff - and freshly cut meat. Yummy.
BEALE STREET BLUES
A relative who will remain nameless since my Christmas gift still hasn’t arrived, kept going on about this Rum Boogie Cafe on Beale Street. So we decided to go there for dinner to get it out of the way. Well we showed up too early for the music. Although according to the guitars all over the ceilings, the place is a popular jam session for major bands. We ordered their BBQ dinner for two. They first brought us gumbo. And we should have just ordered the gumbo. It was a powerful cup of creole lovin’. The BBQ is a different story.
There’s a war in Memphis. But it’s no longer divided among races. It’s BBQ. There’s the dry and the wet factions. And you will eventually take a side if you have a hankering for pork. Rum Boogie was a deep wet location. Their sauce was extra sloppy on everything. And somehow I lost my appetite. We picked at the racks and the pile of pork. But nearly everything went into the doggy bag for lunch.
After all the hype about Beale Street, I was taken back to discover it’s barely two blocks long. It’s like strip mall that lets you wander with booze from store to store. With all the small tastes of Memphis, it was strange to find a massive Hard Rock Cafe in the middle of it. I would later find out that the head of the Hard Rock Cafe’s mother lives right off Beale Street. She’s a big mover and shaker in the art scene. She helped lure the Gibson guitar plant to the area. Plus she was instrumental in getting the Grizzles to relocated to the Pyramid arena from their Canadian home. Trouble is they swiftly built the new FedEx arena that’s next to Beale Street so now the Pyramid is empty. And supposedly the town isn’t exactly packing the FedEx to support their pro team. Oh well.
Along with Guralnick, Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Sermon’s work on the star’s catalog, restored a luster and glory to Elvis that had been turned into a joke. Their boxset of his 50s output immediately gave the King back his crown. And they’ve been properly mining the catalog ever since.
Their big project for the last few years has been the FTD label. This is there way of keeping the faithful happy with rarities, live recordings and studio outtakes without overwhelming the bins at Best Buy. The only real places you can buy these collections in America is at Graceland and the elvis.com store.
Walking into the music shop at the Graceland mall was like being in a candy shop as they had all the FTD titles in the racks. I probably would have gone completely nuts except for one thing: each CD was nearly $30. While I have over 100 Elvis CDs back home, most of them were gained through 12 for 1 record club deals. I probably paid $30 for all of them.
Since I didn’t want to tap into my hooker stash, I had to use restraint while touching the pretty collections. BMG has pruned the Elvis CD collection down to 40 titles. One of the biggest things you can’t get regularly are the soundtracks. To remedy that, FTD has been repackaging the film music along with tons of outtakes. I found it hard to get too excited at paying the price for “Tickle Me.”
But I did nab two of the best titles. “Elvis As Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis” was from his 1974 tour. When the record was originally released 30 years ago, RCA snipped the concert short - mainly because it was the third year in a row a live album was released and there was no need to completely duplicate the set list. This is the only “real” Elvis record that was missing from my collection because I had heard rumors of FTD giving it a complete release years ago. It was worth the wait.
The latest thing FTD is doing is focusing on giving the original albums expanded editions with the outtakes and singles recorded during the sessions. With that in mind, I nabbed “Elvis Is Back.” This contains all the sessions he recorded after getting discharged from the Army. It’s a two disc set that was also priced at $30. This was more like the bang for the buck FTD should be aiming for.
While I like the concept of the collector’s label, I fear that as it takes over the regular catalog titles, it’ll reduce the number of new Elvis fanatics. It’s just not good for the wallet to charge top dollar for “Harum Scarum” songs. It’s just not good to reduce his space at the regular record store to greatest hits collections.
RIB STORY 2
On our return trip to Beale Street we decided to eat at the first joint after the shuttle stop: Blues City Cafe.
They claim chef Bonnie Mack is world renowned. And his fame has now spread to my belly. Now they do the ribs the way they should be done. They cook them dry and then apply the sauce so it gives it flavor without making the meat taste like a sponge. Our biggest regret on this tour is that we didn’t come here instead of heading down to Rum Boogie (although we still liked their gumbo).
THE SECOND GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE
On my birthday, I was making out with my wife in the Jungle Room. It was such a beautiful moment that I should have asked the guard if I could get a copy of the security cam footage. It’s just a damn shame those velvet ropes kept us from humping on the deep green shag carpet giving a view to all the Hawaiian gods caught in the furniture. But we were good kids in Elvis’ house and just kissed and groped.
It’s what Elvis would have allowed.
The house has been opened for tours since the early 80s. And even as a hardcore Elvis worshipper, I had never had a chance to make the pilgrimage. I picked up various books that showed off all the rooms in the house. I knew every room - every nit-nack. Every door handle. I’m happy it took this long to make the trip for many reasons. The best is that there is now a VIP tour of the house. This entitles the user to visit the estate as many times as you want during the day. On top of that, you get a special shuttle bus so you don’t have to waste your time in line with the one-trippers. Plus you get to hang out in Elvis’ carport. They also guide you to the back of the 13.5 estate to get a good view of the horses and Elvis’ barn. Plus you see the mobile home park where some of Elvis’ entourage used to live. Now it’s the offices for the folks who run the tours.
This is truly a boon for the hardcore sideburn freak. Since we were staying at the Heartbreak Hotel, we could wander back to our room and take a rest before the last tour time. There was no rush. We were going to spend a day immersed in Elvis - whether my wife wanted to or not.
Standing at the front door of Graceland was like a childhood dream come true. As I opened the door to the house, I felt like I was entering the promised land. I’ve been to a lot of famous houses. But I never felt this buzzed at the door - without the promise of sex on the other side. The rooms were amazing. I almost cried at the beauty of the basement TV room. They had three sets built into the wall. The most amazing thing was “Dr. Strangelove” was showing on one set. Kubrick in the land of Elvis. I like Dr. Strangelove, too.
What truly sets a visit to Graceland apart from a visit to Mt. Vernon or Monticello is the ability to relate to the furniture. On a display of Elvis’ desk, I saw book I read as a kid. Lisa Marie’s toybox was just like mine. Sure dad didn’t own a giant shag bed or a crushed velvet tuxedo. But there were mutual elements between myself and Elvis. I grew up in a home with shag carpet - it’s still on the family room floor. It’s not like a tour through Donald Trump’s houses where he wants to outdo us all with his expensive lifestyle. If Elvis was alive today, he’d be shopping for stuff at Target like the rest of us.
A house like Graceland should be part of a mansion row. But instead as you can see into the numerous small houses with their backyards up against the estate’s wall. Normal little homes which looked better than nearby apartment complexes that come with high fences wrapped in razor wire. It’s just not a safe neighborhood. A local explained to me that back when Elvis lived there, the neighborhood of Whitehaven was one of the most affluent suburbs of Memphis. It had the best shopping centers. It was not the dumpy kinda section that it has become. The area’s name proved to be its downfall. It was a haven for whites. And when the first black families moved into the area, white plight went into overdrive. The local remembered how after the first black family moved two blocks away, about half of the neighborhood had for sale signs on their lawns. They moved in droves and the property values dropped. And the classy stores shut down and moved off to malls. And in came the used car lots and dollar stores.
While roaming the grounds of Graceland, it was easy to see how Elvis created his own little refuge from the world that shrieked whenever he stepped on stage. He even built a racquetball court building so he didn’t have to deal with the hassles of a club. We sat on a bench and took in the beauty of the world Elvis lived in for nearly two decades. This was his home. He didn’t build it. But he altered it. He opened it up to family and friends. He made it his world. And even though he’s been gone for nearly 30 years, I could share in his view. He choose wisely when he picked a homestead. And Elvis isn’t leaving anytime soon.
To the side of the kidney shaped swimming pool is the meditation garden. And there lays Elvis, his mother and father. Plus there’s a plaque for his stillborn twin brother. It was nice to finally be able to pay my respect to a man who did his best to keep me entertain. It’s easy to think of all the “crap” Elvis did in movies and songs. People always talk about he should have done this or that. But in the end, he’s still Elvis. Could we exist in a universe with a perfect Elvis? One who made “To Kill A Mockingbird” or “Last Tango in Paris?” An Elvis who could have sung music written by Elvis Costello?
But we have an Elvis who sang Dylan and the Beatles. We have an Elvis who proved a farmer’s boy from Mississippi could rock the world. I felt guilty when my shadow touched his grave.
Before the tours start, Graceland is open for people to walk up to the mediation garden. After my VIP day, I took advantage of this freebie visit. In the early morning, I walked up the long driveway towards the giant pillars that are guarded by the white lions flanking the staircase. Occasionally on the walk, I’d stop and stare around. It was easy how this land could mean so much to a man. How a visit could recharge the creative batteries.
On the morning before we left for St. Louis, I stood before Elvis’ grave once more contemplating my life that involved memories of him. I remembered my flight to LA where they had an channel on the inflight radio that played the 50s boxset. I remembered the record department at J.C. Penneys shortly after Elvis died. They had this giant box full of Elvis tapes. I was in awe of it. and decades later I’d have those titles in my record closet. I remembered John Swain at the Record Hole selling me the Sun Sessions album. And I remembered running for student body president at NC State with posters declaring “The Ghost of Elvis told me to run.” My memories were filled with Elvis moments. I didn’t want to leave.
But the time for the visit was ending. I didn’t want to say goodbye. But I didn’t want to be escorted off the property by the Memphis police. So I whispered the word he taught us, “Aloha” and slowly headed down the driveway soaking in his world. As I approached the guard booth next to the musical front gates, I came face to face with a Japanese tourist.
Memphis is so much about ribs, the kids learn to count in racks.
A guy running the gift shop told us we hadn’t eaten in Memphis till we hit Marlowes. And the place would come and get us for dinner. That’s more than my relatives do for us.
They sent a pink limo with tiger stripped seats to pick us up at the hotel. Talk about a class act. This is one of the few businesses that I can recommend on Elvis Presley Blvd. When we arrived at the place, we were amazed they had room for tables with all the trophies displayed. The place is mega-Elvis friendly. They even had the Sirius radio playing the 24 hour Elvis channel. Did I forget to mention that during the day at the Graceland plaza, the channel has DJs broadcasting from a booth attached to the record store. So they aren’t joking when they say they are broadcasting from Graceland.
And the gift shop guy wasn’t kidding us about Marlowes. The ribs were amazing. They also smoke them dry and apply this succulent apple sauce on them before the plate hits your table. Pure bliss. Supposedly towards the end of his life, Elvis would get ribs from Marlowes. I could easily see why Elvis would tear into a rack of ribs here. Although he might be a little uncomfortable having to see his picture all over the place.
I feel bad that we never had a chance to hit the Interstate BBQ - featured in John Landis’ amazing documentary, “The Slasher.” But Marlowes was so good, there were no leftovers. I didn’t want to risk reheating the beauty of the pork. The miracle of the pork - Jean Genet would write. As I sat in the back seat of the pink limo heading back towards Graceland, I knew the satisfaction Elvis must have had in his belly.
By our fourth day in Elvis World, my wife was overdosing. I think it was the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich that finally made her realize that she couldn’t hang with my obsessions. Luckily for our trip up to St. Louis, we listened to the Sun Records collection that didn’t have any Elvis. I promised her that next year we’d spend a week at Page Davis’ house - whether it’s open to the public or not.
COLBERT - STEWART ‘08
While at the hotel, I became glued to the double dose of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” These guys are doing the work Doonesbury did before Trudeau took his vacation in the 80s. Seeing how dull and boring the next presidential election is shaping up to be, I demand we draft Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart to run for the White House. Let’s make things interesting, America.
We were hoping to find an adult entertainment complex called Mamphis. No luck.
THROW ME A ROLL!
As we headed up to St. Louis, we were told to stop off for lunch at Lamberts in Sikeston, Missouri. The guy kept talking about how they threw rolls at you. I didn’t quite get what he was talking about, but I wanted to eat somewhere besides McDonalds. We weren’t sure what to expect, but when we walked into the joint, we were overwhelmed.
Imagine a Crackerbarrel with a soul. They had the walls covered in weird stuff - mostly Dale Sr. and other heartland icons. This place was packed and it was easy to see why. Fine family style food served all you can eat. They brought me a Coke in one of those mega-trucker cups. They know my ability to suck down fluids. And while waiting for our meatloaf, they brought us fried okra. Plus they had black-eyed peas. We had to order meatloaf because we had pretty much overporked on ribs.
And then we got to experience the rolls. This guy pushes around a cart with these huge hot rolls that cooked in giant muffin trays. And people would wave their hands and he’d throw the rolls across the room. It was amazing. I actually caught one without letting it bounce on the chair. We were completely blown away by Lamberts and wish they had one near us instead of a crummy Crackerbarrel.
You can find out more by visiting www.throwedrolls.com.
NO RUSH FOR YOU
Funny that Cape Girardeau has these giant billboards up for all the famous people connected to the town except they overlooked one person: Rush Limbaugh. I guess they didn’t want to attract the wrong element as people would assume you can get hillbilly heroin out of the bubble gum machines.
If you ever want to detox from overporking, attend a wedding with a kosher menu.
While staying in St. Louis, they released the list of the Most Dangerous Cities in America. Guess what came in #3? With that bit of news, we locked the hotel room door. Number #2 was Detroit or DetRiot as we called it during our stay there last year. This means that next year, I’ll be dragging the wife to Camden, New Jersey. Let’s see what it’s like to stay at the city that always shrieks.