Touring Elvis: More than Graceland

For Elvis Presley fans, Graceland is Mecca, Jerusalem and Bethlehem combined. Graceland is, in fact, one of America’s most popular tourist destinations. It is the Memphis mansion where Elvis Presley lived and died, named after his beloved mother, Land. I mean Grace. Actually, Graceland was not named after Elvis’ mother at all; her name was Gladys and I suppose Gladysland just doesn’t have the same ring. Graceland actually received its unique name-my house is named Fred, by the way-after a relative of the first owner of the domicile. Most of the first floor rooms are open to the public and has a wonderful out-of-time ambiance exemplified by those hepcat tiki lounge furnishings. Stepping into Graceland gives many the genuinely eerie feeling of stepping through a time portal. Many of those same people are taken aback by just how small Graceland really is. Compared to the extravagant waste of money on ridiculously over-sized homes bought by other far less talented “singers” Graceland is actually somewhat cozy. More disconcerting to Elvis Presley fans may be the tremendously stunning number of establishments within a mile of Graceland that sell overpriced, under-cooked, fatty foods with the ironic descriptor “fast” preceding their name.

Sun Records Studio

While Graceland is the Mecca and Jerusalem for Elvis fans, it need not be even the last stop on your tour. While walking in Memphis, take a detour to Union Avenue and instead of taking a step back in time, take a step into a magician’s den. The destination is Sun Records studios and the magic is the creation of a legend. When a young, impossibly good-looking man with a pompadour and a flare for rocking his hips while he sang entered the already legendary studio that witnessed some of the earliest recordings of Johnny Cash, the world of popular music got turned from an empty top hat into a sexed-up rabbit. By taking the Sun Records studio tour you really get a better sense of Elvis the way he would probably want to be remembered than you get from the arched consumerism at Graceland. If you have any psychometric abilities whatever, you will probably be inundated with palpable images once you walk into the very same room that an impossibly naïve Elvis Aron Presley walked into in 1953 to take advantage of the Sun Records studio’s ability for anyone with the cash to record their own personalized record. If Graceland seemed cozy compared to expectations, then the actual Sun Records recording studio may seem snug. It is hard to imagine that the world of pop music changed so radically in that cramped space, but it is true. And you are there.

Elvis’s Childhood Home

One of my grandmother’s prized possessions was a twig she pilfered–she was a full-blooded Gypsy palmist, after all–from the front yard of the house where Elvis Presley grew up. Contrary to popular belief among many, Elvis Presley was not actually born in Memphis. To get to that house with at least one missing twig, you’ll need to quit walking in Memphis and hop in your car and make the hour and a half drive or so to Tupelo. In what must be one of the most incredible coincidences of all time, Elvis was actually raised in a house on Elvis Presley Drive. I kid, of course, but today the street is named after the city’s most famous resident. The house is barely bigger than the Sun Records studio, a modest house popularly known as a shotgun shack, meaning that you could stand in the front yard and shoot a bullet through the front door and have it exit through the back door without having hit a wall. You may want to do this tour in reverse as the Presley house on Tupelo is a startling reminder of just how far Elvis Presley had to go to live the American Dream.