Today marks the 34th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. He would be 76 years old if he was still with us. A lot of people have visited Graceland. I probably don’t even need to clarify that I’m talking about the once-home of Elvis Presley. Graceland needs no introduction. It’s perhaps an American icon almost as much as Apple Pie and Las Vegas. Maybe almost as much as Elvis himself?
After my visit last year, my first, I struggled for a long time with how to “report” on my visit to Graceland. Should I even, when it has been done so often, write about it at all.
When another one of his birthdays passed and today loomed, it hit me that I went to Graceland for mostly personal reasons. I didn’t go as a travel writer. I can’t talk about Graceland as if it is merely another tourist attraction or Elvis as if he was just another American celebrity. My mother has been an ardent Elvis fan for my entire life. It is her passion that used to inspire mine. But as an adult, I have begun to own my own little corner of Elvis fandom. It’s his early gospel music renditions I love. Wherever one stands on the subject of religion and faith, it’s hard to deny the passion and melancholy that is instilled in those songs when he sings them. They are comforting, they help me believe in something greater than myself, the passion which Elvis utilized when singing gospel songs is just plain compelling to me.
When I walked through Graceland, I recalled his gospel songs. I listened to the recordings of Elvis himself and Lisa Marie as she described him playing for her, on the piano, the old ballads of his Baptist church days. My eyes may have watered when I stood in front of the piano he played the morning he died, for Lisa. I listened to the voices of other people from his life who talked of his generosity and enthusiasm. I listened to Lisa’s voice describing how she was comforted like nothing else in life when Elvis played for her. And I felt sad. Graceland is like a tomb now. A beautifully decorated tomb, sure, but still, a tomb nonetheless. It’s dedicated to the memory and legacy of a man who died, in my opinion – far too soon.
He was a talented entertainer. I think he was also a loving father and son for a good part of his life. He was most definitely a generous humanitarian. And yes he was flawed, not at all perfect. But I like to think if he were still with us today, he’d be far more than all the things Graceland presents so obviously, this persona of “The King”. There’s so much concentration on his rock and roll awards and his movie stardom. I like to think that he would be a man wanting to inspire others to live passionately and without regret, a man who would remind us that living a perfect life isn’t as important as living a life that seeks to improve the lives of others; while still maintaining our own sanity so we have the strength to use our talents and passions to create a better world.
I like to think this is the life he was trying to live, despite the insane fame and pressure. This is the life that I want to live.
It’s hard to be at the very Disney-like Graceland and not get caught up in a story of fame and excess. Most stories tell you that side. I hope when you visit Graceland you see something else. As I did.
Elvis, wish you were still here!