Lisa grew up with Elvis Presley. I do not refer to Lisa Marie Presley, who actually really did grow up with Elvis Presley, but Lisa my traveling companion and main squeeze, who grew up with Elvis. Lisa the Squeeze’s dad was and is a big fan of Elvis. The Elvis Christmas album was an annual favorite in her girlhood home. I grew up with West Side Story and Allen Sherman. Not too many Christmas songs in my house.
And speaking of singers, Paul Simon does all right for himself. I hold him responsible for my compulsive belief that it is impossible to use the words “Memphis, Tennessee” without singing them, especially when it is included in the phrase, “Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee.”
And another thing, from the same album…
He ducked back down the alley
with some roly-poly little bat-faced girl.
That is the lyric from You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon. What a line. Perfect in the song, perfectly sung. Clever, creative.
…calls herself the human trampoline.
There’s another one. Brilliant writer. I never have any idea what he’s talking about.
Weeks before this trip, Lisa sends me what I think could be the first songs of the soundtrack for our upcoming trip. She plays Graceland by Paul Simon. Also, Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohn. Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Life without music would be a mistake.” I suggest you play these two songs as you read on. Guess where we are going.
The Steelers game begins at 1 p.m. Our flight into Memphis is scheduled to land at 1:17. Regrettable timing. Even if the airline is on schedule, we still need to retrieve our baggage, pick up a car, drive over to Graceland and take the tour, and then find a television that the folks who take care of Graceland would allow us to watch, maybe in Elvis’ bedroom. Even if all these tasks were to run smoothly, the game will be over by the time we are ready to watch. I sent a message to Dan Rooney, current chairman of the company that owns the Pittsburgh Steelers, explaining the situation. Strangely, he didn’t respond to my request to change game time. I’m even carrying my Steelers bandana. Why anyone would not be watching the Steelers game is beyond me.
Okay, all right, I’m resigned to missing the game. Karma. This is not good karma.
Flight is done. We land in Memphis. Guy in the airport is wearing a Steelers cap and talking with a Southern accent. We’re everywhere! But yeah, thanks for reminding me that I’m missing the game.
Graceland — Paul Simon
Walking in Memphis — Marc Cohn
Driving on Elvis Presley Boulevard. It’s kind of a pretty street with flowering trees and shrubs planted in the narrow island separating opposing lanes of traffic. Ah, here’s our address, 3764…
…and here’s the driveway. Oh look, on the other side of the street. An entire full-size airplane. One of Elvis’ possessions. This must be the place.
We tour through Graceland and I am simultaneously delighted and nauseated. Do you know that Elvis had 149 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 Pop Chart and sold over one billion records? Do you know that Elvis had floor to ceiling shag carpet installed in the Jungle Room and that Elvis intentionally selected furniture in a style that would piss off his dad?
The story goes on. But not here.
Nearby Graceland, we stop in a Harley-Davidson store to pick up a gift for someone back home. The cash register woman, after completing the transaction says to us, “Have a blessed day.”
This is one way we know we are in the South.
There are tons of attractions here in Memphis, too many for the time we have. But we squeeze in two more.
I don’t have a favorite Elvis anything but if you were to wander into the Memphis Visitor Center by the Wolf River Lagoon, separated from the Mississippi River by Mud Island, you would see my favorite Elvis statue. Look at the photo above, the one with Lisa sneering an Elvis-sneer, standing in front of the Elvis statue, Elvis without an Elvis-sneer, and you will find that you must agree with me. It is the best Elvis statue.
December 07, 1956 was designated “colored night” at the Memphis Fairgrounds. It was black radio station WDIA’s annual fund raiser for “needy Negro children.” WDIA was the self-proclaimed “Mother Station of the Negroes.” Traditionally, only black performers appeared at their concerts, but this night, Elvis took the stage. The Pittsburgh Courier reported, “A thousand black, brown and beige teenage girls in the audience blended their alto and soprano voices in one wild crescendo of sound that rent the rafters… and took off like scalded cats in the direction of Elvis Presley.”
A number of Negro newspapers printed photographs of Elvis with both Rufus Thomas and B B King. Supposedly, Elvis said to B B, “Thanks, man, for all the early lessons you gave me.”
Our trip covers three states in six days. A fair amount of driving and an entertaining assortment of sights. Based on these travels through the heart of Dixie, there are two personalities, two celebrities who might best represent the former Confederacy, two characters who are, it seems, equally revered in these parts. They are, of course, Elvis and Jesus. Those two have perhaps influenced the population here more than any others. And still do.
For one thing, no matter where you go, you are as likely to see signs proclaiming JESUS LIVES as you are to see ELVIS LIVES. Both heroes are claimed to have risen from the dead. Both are referred to as “the King.” (So is B B, but King is his last name.) Both are Capricorn and both are envied and worshiped with enormous fervor. You could even say they are both the object of supreme religious intensity. This is one way we know we are in the South.
I am not being sarcastic. Some things in life take on this kind of importance. Jesus and Christianity; both high on the list. So is Elvis. Ask any Elvis fan. The Pittsburgh Steelers can do this to people too.
Imagine: If there is ever a smackdown, you’ve got to give the edge to Jesus. Elvis, although his museum doesn’t admit to it, got fat. As Ray, who is not one of my hiking buddies but one who enjoys my hiking experiences, suggests, we never got a Fat Jesus.