Sunday, April 29, 2012

Memphis mania

April 28, Memphis, Tennessee
Visiting Graceland had not been something high on either of our lists, but traveling full-time in a motorhome has broadened our perspective causing us to seek out different experiences than what our former lives might have predicted. Vic grew up with Elvis more than I did. He remembers watching Elvis’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show and following the big news stories that followed his tours and his stint in the Army. Visiting his childhood home in Tupelo a couple weeks ago also piqued our interest making us curious about what this popular tourist attraction is really like. (It’s the second most visited home next to the White House.)

Our trip to Graceland began with a three-minute walk from our coach to the entrance gate—now that’s convenient. We opted for the Platinum tour which included seeing his car collection and the two airplanes he owned and some other special additions.

Impressions: Graceland was more modest than I had imagined it. It was a beautiful farmhouse with about 13 acres that Elvis purchased for 100,000 when he was 22 years old (in 1957). Since he lived in it until the ’77, the interior design reflects the late 60s and early 70s era—dark paneling, Formica countertops, avocado sink, shag rugs and big RCA console TVs—certainly evocative of our childhood homes. Of course, some of the d├ęcor was over-the-top glitzy just like his proclivity for bling and rhinestone-studded pant suits, but not too overdone. What I liked is that I could actually picture him, his parents, his grandmother, and daughter Lisa Marie living there. I can also relate to his desire to move from Tupelo to a city with more opportunities (after having experienced the contrast ourselves), as Memphis was already gaining a reputation in the early 1950s as an important place in the music industry because of Sam Phillips and his Sun Records recording studio.

Elvis heard about LBJ watching the news on three TVs, so he had to do the same.
This RCA TV was a gift to Elvis from RCA records.  I remember having the same RCA TV console growing up.
Lisa Marie's swing set

You don't see too many pools with diving boards anymore.

There were rooms and rooms of golden record awards like this.

Elvis' original Gibson guitar

The famous pink Cadillac that he eventually gave to his mother

It was warm while we here—in fact, Saturday tied a record high of 86—but there were many signs of spring—dogwood, magnolias, and azaleas were all in full bloom. There were photos on display of Elvis and Lisa Marie sledding in the driveway, with the Graceland acreage all blanketed with snow, adding to my appreciation of the climate here as a place where you can experience distinctive seasons. W e saw a film clip interview of Elvis when he was discharged from the Army and was asked what he missed most about Memphis. His reply was, “Everything.” Enough said. . . .

After spending about three hours at Graceland and its accompanying museums, we made our short walk back to the campground, got a bite to eat, and rested up for our night on Beale Street—about a fifteen-minute drive. We headed out about 8:00 and things were already in full swing. Entering the nightclub area requires going through a security checkpoint where they check ids, search bags, and wand you with a metal detector. Hmmm. Some young girls told me this was new, but necessary as the place gets a little crazy. About six blocks of Beale Street was cordoned off with police cruisers in front of the barricades. Inside this area it felt like a giant adult festival with a cacophony of music blaring from at least twenty different venues. Just as we entered the street, a girl approached me to buy vodka jello shots served from a large plastic syringe. Drinking in the streets was part of the festivities.

Jellos shot sales

Festive party goers

Street scene

Barefoot dancers in the street
Cool record store
Gotta love these toilet seats!
I had researched the music options ahead of time and the place to go for classic Memphis tunes was the Rum Boogie Cafe. Their motto here is Eat. Drink. Boogie. Repeat. and the place was a’hoppin. With only a five dollar cover charge, we were treated to a fantastic night of music from the hometown band called James Govan and the Boogie Blues Band. The atmosphere was great too—the walls covered with over 150 guitars from the likes of musicians such as Elvin Bishop, Leon Russell, Dave Matthews, Pearl Jam, Savoy Brown, and Bo Diddley. I have enjoyed Blues venues in several American cities, and only Chicago comes close to what I experienced in Memphis where  the historical vibe of the music pulses in your vein along with the melody.

James Govan, lead singer of the Boogies Blues Band
At one point during the evening listening to James Govan sing Al Green's "Take me to the River," I actually found myself thinking, "I could live here." Caught up in a moment of Memphis mania, I felt a special affinity with Elvis regarding his passion for this city.

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